Necmi Cavli, the driving force behind new Anglo-Turkish worldbeat outfit Oojami, doesn't really know what to call the kind of music his band plays. The name is a derivation of the English term 'oojamaflip', used when youcan't remember something, and thus, he claims, an appropriate reflection of the band's indefinable musical identity. "We reflect the North London culture and sounds," he explains. "Some people call us 'Sound of Green Lanes' - and that's fine, I think that's what we are."
Inspired by Natacha Atlas and Transglobal Underground's pioneering work in blending together modern beats and traditional Arabic elements - "It reminded me of the music I heard when I was a child," he says Necmi started deejaying a few years ago at clubs and parties including Islingtons Union Chapel.
From there, it was a short step to grappling with computer music software and creating his own pieces, demos of which received positive reactions from people like Charlie Gillett. Necmi to set up a home studio and recorded an album, Salut De Constantinople, which received great reviews in magazines such as The Wire and fRoots. Almost by default, he and his fellow musicians (Sangey Varma, Phil Winter, Ahmed Mohammed, Nicola Taylor, Kate Hands and Suleyman) became a live band in 2000, when a friend at Brighton's Essential Festival suggested they play a set, and Necmi couldn't think of a good reason to refuse. It was an invaluable learning experience for the fledgling combo.
"It was not the best gig, but I realised that the music we were doing was difficult to play live, so then I started writing music that we could perform live," he explains. "It's a different thing, playing live and communicating with the crowd - you get to know what they like. I promised a new song for every gig we played last year and by the end of the year we had made Bellydancing Breakbeats, the debut album from Oojami."
Though Necmi was born in Turkey - in the small fishing village of Bodrum, long before it became a bustling international resort with its own airport. He moved to Britain when a military coup made the social conditions less stable. His Turkish qualification as a teacher was not recognised in his new home, so he studied economics and became a business studies teacher, eventually specialising in work with refugee children.
At the same time, Necmi found himself drawn to the capital's thriving rave scene. He was excited by the crossover culture in evidence at the Glastonbury and WOMAD Festivals, whose eclectic spirit he would emulate at his own Hubble Bubble Club at the Union Chapel in Islington. There the traditional sounds of oud and darbuka would share ear-space with electronica and techno from UK dance culture. So he decided to do something different and try and break into the English market with Turkish influenced breakbeats.
With bellydancing and trapeze artists augmenting the mix of traditional instruments and modern beats, the club developed a flavour all of its own, and soon attracted a substantial audience, drawn from a wide spectrum of music fans. It has the energy of dance music, but also has more melody, and more cultural content. With the BBC broadcasting live from the club, and CNN and Japanese television spreading the word further abroad, the Hubble Bubble Club has quickly carved its own niche in the London scene, with Oojami set to develop the burgeoning interest.
"Oojamis music is rhythm orientated, but I like to use melodic parts to make it different: there are Turkish influences as well as Asian and African. I used samples of Kalahari bushmen from South Africa. I sampled musicians in Indonesia, the Ghana, Morocco. Although the major element is Turkish, because that's what I'm most familiar with, I aim to be more global. A global band with Turkish influences, rather than a Turkish or Anglo-Turkish band.
However it is not very easy to identify what Turkish music is. One of the band members is from Syria, and every time I come with a Turkish song, he says, 'Oh, this is a Syrian song!' We're always joking like that, but it's really very difficult to tell where they originate from, whether from the Middle East, North Africa or the Ottoman Empire. I'm lucky in that there's a lot of Turkish music bars in North London so I can work with lots of Turkish musicians that play traditional instruments, without having to go to Turkey!"
Necmi and Oojami are different from most young Turkish performers in Britain, who are heavily influenced by the Turkish market, and not particularly interested in succeeding in Western Europe.
"They all want to make it in Turkey, because the Turkish market is very rewarding if you succeed, and it's not as competitive as the UK market. Sadly, there is no equivalent to the Hubble Bubble scene in Turkey itself, where most clubs really copy Western style, rather than supporting musicians to stretch the indigenous forms. They're just importing Western ideas and sounds. It's fusion from the head down, rather than from the heart - they're putting together musicians from different cultures and experiences without really understanding and feeling each other. Although I have to say there have been a few good exceptions."
With their vibrant, crossover Bellydancing Breakbeats, Oojami look set to change such entrenched attitudes by bringing his own personal identity and a child like enthusiasm to music.
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