Last Sunday, just prior witnessing a mesmerising performance by the Whirling Dervishes we caught a smaller version of this Mehter Jannisary marching band in my local park. I’d heard snatches of their drums and the zurna (an oboe-like instrument) on the wind throughout the week and couldn’t resist checking them in the flesh. These bands date back to 1299 and during the rise the Ottoman Empire if you heard those drums and horns in the distance you had good reason to get worried. Today, they tour the globe, singing, beating their drums, dressed in fineries and carrying poles adorned with the crescent moon and tassles of horse hair. In their full percussive glory they could rock a crowd in Bahia and in line with that, the vibe of these bands undoubtedly prepared the way Sun Ra’s Arkestra who, when playing from the back of moving truck in Instanbul, reputedly acquired a following of thousands.
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