The Real Middle Eastern Revolution: Disco

With more global colour and flare returning to European clubs, DJBroadcast looks at those involved in bringing 70s Middle-Eastern sounds to the dancefloor through various re-edit and re-issue labels.

Bring up the Middle-East in conversation and everyone you speak to will have differing connotations. Some will think of the political strife that keeps the nations heated up. Then there’s the food, religion and something about a controversial world cup. But there’s one thing that’s getting everyone moving at the moment, and that’s the barrage of great music –new and old- coming out of the region. Whether it is Syrian wedding singer Omar Souleyman, the disco edits of traditional Turkish rhythms served by Bariş K or the amazing selection of re-issues as provided by the folks at Fortuna Records, western crowds are now getting down to an Eastern groove.

One of the more famous peddlers of the Eastern sound has been Brainfeeder’s The Gaslamp Killer. On his 2012 debt LP Breakthrough, GLK teamed up with Deadelus and Amir Yaghmai to write what was to become one of his better-known songs, ‘Nissim’. The track, heavily influenced by the psychedelic sound of 70s Turkey, borrowed from the likes of Özdemir Erdoğan and Zafer Dilek, bringing to the forefront this period of Turkish psychedelic music – otherwise known as Anatolian rock.

Over the past ten years there has been a steady influx of American artists who’ve been sampling these Anatolian cuts. Mos Def and Fat Joe pulled from the same record bag, sampling the music from 70s Turkish pop-star Selda Bağcan. Nelly Furtado, Jay Z and J Dilla have all been at it, and more recently Action Bronson used a classic 70s Turkish cut with his 2014 single ‘Easy Rider’.

Outside of the hip-hop community and the Turkish sound is far from underground. Even Elijah Wood (the original Hobbit) has proclaimed his love for the retro recordings and often plays classic tracks from the period when he DJs as Wooden Wisdom. DJ Harvey outed his love for the scene during his appearance on cult New York radio show Beats in Space, when he surprised listeners with an hour-long mix of Anatolian disco back in 2013.

But where has this modern resurgence come from? Well some of the scene’s recent success can be attributed to the re-issue work by labels such as Finders Keepers and Fortuna Records; all of which have done fine work in researching, digging and re-issuing a lot of classic and forgotten records from the 70s. These crate diggers however are being replenished by a younger troupe of dancefloor enthusiasts, who are reimagining the music for the modern day movers and shakers.

Credit to the Edit
It is predominately this Anatolian sound, along with other erstwhile Middle Eastern hybrids from the 70s, that has been caught up in the dancefloor orientated revival. Edit labels Disco Hamam, Hamam House, Ostra Discos and Disco Halal have been adding house grooves and disco tinged flavours to these classic sounds. Meanwhile French production team Acid Arab, have been drawing from Eastern sources issuing remixes and reissues as well as encouraging more contemporary producers to compose their own iterations based on rhythms from this part of the world. Combining modern productions, acid and their love for the orient, the duo has released a mixed array of tracks, including a remix of Omar Souleyman.

Disco Hamam and sister label Hamam House are the brainchild of former Freaks (Luke Solomon) guitar player Jonny Rock, who releases his Turkish edits as Afacan Sound System. The labels have also released re-edits from the likes of Berlin based producer Mehmet Aslan and Bariş K in addition to Rock himself, as well as spawning several hit tracks, including MMT’s (aka. Mehmet Aslan) reworking of ‘Denizalti Ruzgarlari’ by Okay Temiz, in addition to Paralel Disko’s (aka. Bariş K) edit of the legendary Turkish singer Bariş Manço’s track, ‘Egri Bugru’.

Ostra Discos, based out of Lisbon, operates with more subtlety. The label first kicked things off last year with a Bariş Manço edit by local producer Los Miedos (aka. Sebastião Delerue). The label is better known however for its 2015 release Turkish Delights featuring edits by Turkish and Israeli producers kozmonot and FOC edits, in addition to original material.

Disco Halal on the other hand is run DJ and producer Moscoman alongside Berlin’s Oye Records owner Delfonic. The label started when the two met in Tel-Aviv, and aims to create a bridge between the Israeli and Arab-Turkish world. Disco Halal (Halal, as well as refering to objects or actions permissible for use by the Koran, also means ‘space’ in Hebrew) is home to a wide range of sounds, including Persian, Israeli, Yemeni and North African music. The label’s first release saw Mehmet Aslan’s edit of Zafer Dilek’s ‘Yasadim’ picked up by the right DJs, while the second EP was released more recently. “You hear DJs from all over the spectrum playing the vinyl,” says Moscoman, “whether it’s in Panorama Bar or the smallest bar you can imagine.”

Istanbul 70
Easily the largest proponent within the edit community has been Bariş K. Hailing from Istanbul, Barış Karademir came to the attention of Western music circles through the release of his ‘Eurasia’ mix series – a trilogy of downloads that explored Turkey’s music history, and blending them with contemporary Western styles through his use of edits and remixes. They were, as he described, ‘an introduction to Turk Cosmic Space.’ Following this there was an EP on Disco Hamam (which is currently going for a staggering amount of money on Discogs), and a compilation of edits on New York’s Nublu label, entitled Istanbul 70. Karademir has also been heading up the Turkish band Insalar whose single ‘Kime Ne’ (and subsequent Villalobos remix) has been doing the rounds in all the right clubs.

Although the Anatolian sound’s return to pop-culture has long been a formality, its move to the dance floor has been an interesting one. Talking to The Attic in 2014, Karademir talks about rediscovering his Turkish roots; a move which seemed to be contrary to the direction his peers were taking. “My generation learnt about global music, or the music worldwide from jazz, funk, all kinds of experimental music, hip-hop, electronic music, whatever,” he describes, “so when we focused back into Turkish music, it was way too different than what they were doing. We were more focused on the fusion and expression of the musical styles, not on the lyrical, verbal approach.”

New Fortunes
While these labels deserve credit to the edit, the original toil and graft by the aforementioned re-issuers needs to be noted. Finders Keepers, already renowned for unearthing lost gems from around the world, released the classic album Selda by Selda Bağcan back in 2006. The label also released a Persian anthology of 60s and 70s psych-rock and folk called Pomegranates, an album well worth investing your time in. Bouzouki Joe’s Turkish Freakout compilations provide a solid-background for anyone wanting to explore the music further while Habibi Funk digs into the North African Arabic scene from the same time period, a point in history the label states, “has zero info on the Net.”

There is one particular outlet however which is doing a rightful job in digging out forgotten Eastern treats, and that’s the Israeli imprint Fortuna Records. Based out of Tel-Aviv, the crew has been ‘championing the obscure sounds of Middle Eastern groove with a string of top quality vinyl reissues.’ They came to prominence in 2014 by re-releasing the Grazia LP, which coincided with an exceedingly entertaining Boiler Room session. The 2015 release Belly Dance Disco, originally recorded by keyboard player Ihsan al-Munzer in Lebanon during the late 70s, was heavily supported by the likes of Gilles Peterson, The Gaslamp Killer and Kutmah.

The label, run by Zach Bar, Ariel Tagar, Maor Anava and Yoav Magriso, originally came together after coming across a long-lost record by Tsvia Abarbanel, a Yemenite singer who had emigrated to Isreali. Having spent some time in Los Angeles, Abarbanel had picked up on American music styles, mixing the varied genres together into something profoundly unique. It was Abarbanel’s record, Soul of the East EP, which was to be the label’s first re-issue.

With so much great music already out there, it’s clear these re-issue and re-edit labels are just getting started, with a vast archive of Middle-Eastern jams still to be rediscovered. There's also a potentially larger audience who are also ready for it, as Moscoman stated during our conversation; “We think it’s done in a way that can apply and appeal to everybody, even our mothers love it.”