The multinational band Dirtmusic’s fifth album Bu Bir Ruya is a startling and timely recording that confronts the worldwide refugee crisis head-on. It’s also likely to make you want to listen to it compulsively, with its heady melange of techno and other danceable beats, Levantine percussion, Turkish psychedelia, Saharan rhythms and ghostly vocals.
Dirtmusic has gone through many changes since its beginnings in 2007 as purveyors of gritty hybrid Australian-American roots music. They’ve mostly explored the intersection of Western music with the Tamasheq desert music of the Tuareg, as well as other West African rhythms and sounds. This time American-born Chris Eckman (co-owner of the Glitterbeat label that has put out all of Dirtmusic’s recordings) and Australian Hugo Race hunkered down in a converted-garage studio in Istanbul with Murat Ertel of the Turkish psych-folk ensemble Baba Zula to record an urgent message.
With Race and Eckman playing guitars and bass and providing loops and programming, Ertel playing his trademark electric and acoustic saz and rhythm machine, all three providing vocals and Ümit Adakale adding all manner of drums and percussion, the music on Bu Bir Ruya is a bracing blend of West and East.
This music is cinematic in scope but intimate in detail. Take for example the second track “The Border Crossing.” It’s got that rolling gait of Tamasheq, with layers of surf-guitar reverb applied to it for an effect I think of as the Spaghetti-Western Africa vibe. Add to that Ertel’s psychedelic saz and Eckman’s sardonic baritone recitation of the lyrics, and it plays like some post-apocalyptic vision of a world where everyone is on edge. But those lyrics are basically a conversation between one seeking a favor and one in a position to grant it – a way across the border.
“Hey brother don’t you know
We are all other
We are all other …
People’s minds are closed to reason
They never understand how we are all connected…”
The album opens with “Bi De Sen Söyle,” a slab of Turkish psychedelia set to a marching techno beat. Eckman’s lyrics, which includes those quoted at the top of this review, sketch the mix of hopelessness and determination that drives the refugees across those borders. There’s a segment with Turkish lyrics as well, Ertel intoning lines the likes of “Where do we go from here?”
The insistent techno beat of “Go The Distance” is modulated by syncopated percussion, Ertel’s saz striding over layers of acoustic and electronic drones. Race’s vocals, when they come, spell out the anger and frustration of those forced away from their homes to beg on the world stage: “Gonna take the wrong road / Gonna split some hairs / Gonna shake the tree now / Till the fruit’s no longer there. / I won’t take it sittin’ down / I won’t watch it bleed / When I go the distance / Do not follow me.”
Guest vocalist Gaye Su Akyol lays down an ultra-soulful performance over a languid groove on “Love Is A Foreign Country.” Eckman and Race share vocals on the strident, loping “Safety In Numbers” and Brenna MacCrimmon contributes the spoken-word final section, a tale of endless walking in a search for refuge. The final two tracks “Outrage” and the title track “Bu Bir Ruya” both feature the otherworldly sounds of the yaybahar. The former, with its stuttering 5/8 beat and layer upon layer of drones and beats and its near-nonsense poetic lyrics, may be my favorite piece on this album.
If you like deep psychedelia, intelligently blended multicultural instrumentation, and music that is as danceable as it is urgently political, you’ll love Dirtmusic’s Bu Bir Ruya.