On The Greatest Album Ever Made

Incredible Bongo à la Turc

For the last few months I’ve been greatly digging a record entitled Gençlik İle Elele by a Mustafa Özkent ve Orkestrasi.  Recorded in Istanbul in 1973, Gençlik Ile Elele is a prime example of Turkish funk and is so far beyond amazing that amazing looks off into the distance and thinks, “Fuck it, I’ll never catch up to that.”

Basically, Gençlik İle Elele sounds kinda like The Incredible Bongo Band if they had been fitted with the 16 cylinder, 4 turbocharger engine used in the Bugatti Veyron and fuelled with stellar plasma laced with the sweat squeezed from James Brown’s pantsuit (which would account for the high cocaine content).

Some audio-visual illustration courtesy of The YouTube:

Goddamn! It’s got everything.  Every track pretty much sounds exactly like that, but it never gets dull or tired.  Right from the start, it grabs you by the balls and doesn’t let go until you’re totally funked up.  It’s well-nigh impossible not to move when listening to this album.  In fact, in many hospitals, patients are administered listenings of this record to determine if they really are crippled and not just trying snake some workman’s comp.

Not knowing who any of the uncredited musicians are, I can only assume this was the product of a team of super hi-tech, ultra-advanced Funkbot 5000 prototypes (possibly from the future).  The double-drummers and all manner of bongos, cowbells, and tambourines provide a dense, propulsive rhythmic cloud – not unlike a rocket exhaust — over which the insistent organ and slinky guitar can ride effortlessly.

Fig. 1: Visual Representation of Gençlik Ile Elele

I mean, this record just shits awesome break after break.  Did I mention it has two drummers?  It is an established fact that having two drummers on a track, let alone a whole album, is a recipe for awesomic fantasticality (cf: Make Say Think, Do).

This awesomeness is brilliantly – and helpfully, for the consumer – illustrated on the sleeve:

Fig. 2: The Greatest Album Cover Ever Made

Look at that chimp!  Yeah, he knows what time it is.  That is one happy chimp.  In fact, he’s got himself so excited by what he’s hearing at the console that he’s wrapped himself in the multi-track tape as part of some type of totemic ritual. Sure, it ruined a take, but such antics really get the best results out of musicians or, in this case, Funkbot 5000 prototypes.   I have great faith in any record which purports, as this cover does, to have been produced by a chimp.  Apes know their shit.

I recall the time when I produced a session for a group of orang-utans.  Knowing their fantastic strength and unpredictable demeanour, I opted for the more hands-off, Bob Johnston approach – really let the orangs explore their own creative space.  Man, could those monkeys play.  Apes, I mean.  I remember three of the primates teaming up to get some sick polyrhythms out of a giant log drum while a bunch of others were flailing their elongated limbs at a variety of vine-strung apparatus – the bass part involved swinging across the room.  Vocal stylings were provided by way of communal brachiation.  Fun fact: due to their prehensile toes, orang-utans are able to play both necks of a double-necked guitar simultaneously.  It was indeed with great regret and annoyance that I discovered upon waking up that the Great Ape Session was but a dream, Phil Collins’ efforts with The Bonobos notwithstanding.  A beautiful, beautiful dream.

Anyway, back to Gençlik İle Elele:

I like how the captions on the sleeve – “Rhythm ‘n’ Soul”, “Blues ‘n’ Jazz”, and “Rock ‘n’ Pop”— are emblazoned beneath the more general, and slightly misspelled, heading “folc”, as if to say, as I certainly would, that folk music isn’t some old, traditional roots music played on wooden instruments without godlike electricity, the sort of thing gathered up and collected by and for well-meaning ethnographers who nonetheless see folk music as a quaint object to be preserved in a museum.  No, folk music, broadly speaking of course, is any music enjoyed en masse by The People, and these days, this is in large part the mass-produced, electrically processed rocket soul music we all know and love.  As Gençlik İle Elele clearly demonstrates, the best way to reach The People is with sick beats.

The amazing thing is, though, that despite their funk arrangements, all these tracks are credited as traditional and so are genuine certified Folc music.   It’s seems fitting that a record which consists literally of thirty odd minutes of pure samplability is itself part of the endless chain of quotation, adaptation, and remixation that links contemporary industrial pop with the folk tradition of old.

Make no mistake, however, this is no “world music” (a condescending term that really means “rest-of-the-world music” as if Anglo-America was some other planet altogether).  While fuzz-toned guitars run through all sorts of Anatolian riffs here, this record sounds as equally at home in the block parties of The Bronx as the bazaars of The Bosporus.

Rather than being some ossified cultural artifact to be appropriated by pony-tailed primitivist tourists demonstrating their global consciousness, Gençlik İle Elele and other Turkish psychedelic funk, like Ethiopian soul, Peruvian cumbias, and West African funk, represents a liminal space where Western culture has colonized a Non-Western culture with its Rock ‘n’ Soul music and Turkish musicians have colonized a Western genre-form with their local styles and conventions.

The upshot of all this PoCo gibberish is that this sort of music provides music nerds raised on, but now jaded with, the usual Anglo-American Rock ‘n’ Soul with an interesting twist on the form.  Just like what good poetry is supposed to do for language, this sort of international rock defamiliarizes a sometimes spent genre and thus refreshes it for those not interested the staid banalities back home.  It’s like the coolness of Captain Beefheart without the abrasive weirdness.


~ by Isaac Bickerstaff on February 27, 2010.

3 Responses to “On The Greatest Album Ever Made”

  1. I must say that the first time I heard this album I wasn’t too excited about it. After reading this article and listening to the tracks via your youtube clips I may be wrong. I think I’m definetly going to give this one another go.

  2. Man oh man. Upon rereading that post after your comment, I discovered that it was riddled with lots of typos and unfinished sentences. All fixed (hopefully). Quality control needs some improving…

    Anyway, if you liked that Original Popcorn record, this should be right up your alley. I think there’s a fair trade-off between the two: “Popcorn” has those incredible gonzoid vocals, but this instrumental record has better tunes, and is generally more solid.

  3. Best quote ever “Look at that chimp! Yeah, he knows what time it is.”

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