Release Date: May 19, 2023
Location: Istanbul, Türkçe / International
Where to even begin with this one, there’s so much complexity and meaning behind both Danûk as a collective and Morîk as an album or maybe the better term is project. This isn’t your run of the mill recording, this combines history, tradition, culture, identity, musical innovation and deeper, more complex abstract concepts such as ‘homeland’ and ‘exile’.
I’ll start by sharing a paraphrased version of the band’s explaining of who they are:
“Danûk are group of exiled Middle Eastern musicians that have come together over a shared consciousness of the value of homeland through the discovery of centuries-old sounds. Founded in Istanbul in 2015, the band remixes Kurdish folk songs creating mementos of a complex geographic and audible past. Having left the war in Syria, the group, graduates of Syria’s best fine arts and music programs, became street performers in Istanbul using their talents as a means of survival. Here, they were discovered and hired by a social enterprise to help compose film and radio scores. Danûk’s success was followed shortly by the opening of their own recording studio, festival performances in Turkey, and most recently, support from the British Arts Council. In 2020, Danûk received the British Arts Council’s Develop Your Creative Practice Award, ultimately leading to the creation of the band’s debut album. The group is made up of Ferhad Feyssal, Tarik Aslan, Hozan Peyal, Yazan Ibrahim, Ronas Sheilhmous.”
Next I feel that its crucial to understand the complexity of the album itself:
“Danûk manifests archived phonograph recordings of Kurdish folklore and wedding songs that have been preserved in wax cylinders since the beginning of 20th century, in The Berliner Phonogramm-Archiv and Phonogrammarchive in Vienna, into phenomenal auditory icons of profound cultural heritage and identity. Made by Austrian and German explorers at the start of the 20th century, sounds of a Syrian priest singing in Jerusalem (“Axir Zemana” , “Lo Lo Li Mino”) Kurdish shepherds’ songs, and locals singing Kurdish folklore in Sendshirli excavated sites (present-day eastern Turkey) (“Xelîlo Lawo”, “Lê Lê Mi Go”), are recomposed, giving new life to the aural aesthetics of a multicultural time and place. Four songs adapted from wax cylinder recordings and five traditional Kurdish folklore and wedding songs (“De Çêkin”, “Finciko”, “Şewqo”, “Girê Sîra” and “Lo Şivano”) transmit an experience of inflexible symbolism through sound. Morîk, meaning pearl, resonates with the band’s discovery of light and meaning from what might have been forgotten.The album was produced by Michael League (Snarky Puppy) with the support of the British Arts Council, in 4-time Grammy Award-winning League’s Studio 20.”
With that crucial understanding out of the way we can now discuss the music itself. The album is a stunning collection of varied tracks, both musically and thematically. Each song gives us a glimpse into another world, another culture, and another period in time. There’s a deeper meaning to this music than most albums hold, and that passion, conviction and emotional depth can be felt in this music itself. The band present this album with a sense of both pride and joy, as well as sadness and longing. They honour their heritage and culture but express how much they miss it and mourn for the parts of it that have been lost through conflict, instability and natural disaster.
There’s a solid mixing of traditional folk instrumentation and modern flourishes and inspirations. Folk instruments such as Buzuki, Darbuka, Bilur, Zurna, Def, Bendir nd numerous others meet flamenco guitar, electric guitar, and electric saz a seamless harmony. It signifies a marrying of worlds, between the artists’ past life, their current journey, and their future trajectory. It unifies tradition and modernity, looking both backwards and forwards. I think that after heritage and tradition, it’s safe to say that transition and adaptation are two of the other central themes of this release, themes that are on clear display instrumentally throughout.
The band have constructed and arranged these songs expertly. Each element shines through the mix, simultaneously standing out on its own merits but also working cohesively as part of the larger whole. Wind instruments are given their place to shine without drowning out the string elements, while the wide range of percussion instruments do their job perfectly, while sitting at just the right volume. Each element is given the care and thought that it deserves on this album, and it really shows in the end product. Vocally we have a wide range of different styles presented, some from Ferhad, some from Tarik and some presented as unified group vocals, giving additional harmony and dramatic effect. While the instrumental elements are of crucial importance on the album, the vocal and lyrical elements are where the true meaning behind these songs exist. They tell stories, offer praise, profess undying love and much more. Lyrically much of the album presents almost like poetry, with a beauty and complexity that transcends most normal song writing. A prime example is Lo Lo Li Mino:
They say it’s the end of time
The earth and the sky will collide
A loose galactic wheel is getting ready to fall
I regret and mourn over the greenery of spring flowers,
chamomile and iris It (the greenery) has thrown away its colours like a fish that died of thirst.
At the time when God leaves the earth without wind and brings
my opportunities for good and sinful actions
He will read them in front of the world and the angels
And they will tell me, don’t be fooled like us
What will be my souls answer?
God loves me.
Overall, I was extremely impressed with the album, and I truly hope that there is more to come. Even without its deeper meaning and significance this would be something worthy of praise. However, once you add in all of the additional depth to the mix it becomes something even more powerful, something that deserves our respect and attention. So, take some time today and explore what Danûk have to offer the world.
Listen to and order the album: