It’s only been a couple of years since BaBa ZuLa first blew my mind with their 20th anniversary retrospective two-disc set XX, so it’s a real treat to have a new studio album already. Derin Derin is something like ninth studio recording for the Istanbul psychedelic rockers in their career that now spans nearly a quarter-century. It does not disappoint.
BaBa ZuLa is Osman Murat Ertel on electric saz, vocals, other stringed instruments, and electronics; Periklis Tsukalas on electric oud and vocals, Levent Okman on drums and percussion, with Özgür Çakırlar on chiefly Middle Eastern and Levantine drums and percussion. Their music is a wild and heady melange of Anatolian rhythms, psychedelic strings, krautrock-influenced percussion, dubwise bass and passionate vocals. They’ve worked extensively with electro-dub producer Mad Professor as well as the late Jaki Liebezeit, drummer for the influential krautrockers Can.
Derin Derin is ushered in with the acoustic oud intro of the theme-establishing track “Haller Yollar (Ways & Circumstances)” and ends on the hypnotic-rising-to-urgent instrumental electro-dub of “Transendance,” a contrast that perfectly outlines the band’s and album’s range. The lyrics of “Haller Yollar” were co-written by Osman and his wife, Esma Ertel. As delivered by Osman in near-stranged vocal style, the lyrics pay tribute to people who live life fully and with eyes open to art and beauty: “The ones who become one and united/ the ones who worship life/ the ones who give birth entering the cycle of life / the ones who are born embracing the cycle,” as it says in the final verse.
One of the most affecting songs is “Salincaksin (U Are The Swing),” which involves Ertel’s children and is something of a tribute to Can’s Liebezeit. It also rocks the hardest, at least in places. The minimalist lyrics were in part composed by the Ertel’s son Erel. “We were at the park and I was pushing him on a swing,” Osman says. “He started singing the words to me. I was crying with happiness, it was such a strong experience for me. I tried to get down everything he sang, and later I added more.” Then in the studio, the drum part was played by Ertel’s children on a kit Liebezeit had modified.
“Kervan Yolda (Caravan On The Road)” has a rolling rhythm and relaxed vocals that call to mind Tuareg desert blues, with the addition of BaBa ZuLa’s trademark psyched-out oud-and-saz sound. The accompanying video is suitably psychedelic.
The songs are interspersed with instrumentals that the band created for a documentary about falcons, and which in turn inspired those songs. “We learned a lot about the birds while we were making the soundtrack,” Osman says. “After we’d completed it, we began to think about new layers and elements we could add.” The brief “Falcon Potion” is particularly dreamy, with clicking bones, deep dub bass, swooping Theremin and delicately plucked strings. “The Flow Of The Wind” is beautifully atmospheric and punctuated by celebratory ululations. And the penultimate track “Eagle Gets Wolf” is just outrageous, with sections of human-made eagle and wolf screeches and howls (Osman’s kids again) and the band’s whole panoply of psychedelic instrumentation intersperesed with drum-driven pulse-racing metal rock.
Though deeply psychedelic, with all that implies of influences from American rock circa 1967, these 10 pieces for the most part are succinct, at three to six minutes or so. But there’s plenty of transcendant sound packed into each song and tune. Derin Derin is a wild, soulful ride.