The spirit of music

Turkish musician Omar Faruk Tekbilek spreads goodwill,as well as good vibes.

Omar Faruk (photo credit: Courtesy)
Omar Faruk
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Omar Faruk Tekbilek has proven to be one of the more popular foreign artists to visit these shores. Over the last decade and a half he has performed here about 10 times and has been well received by the audience.
“I haven’t been to Israel for about three years, and I always enjoy going there,” says the 62-year-old Turkish-born longtime US-resident multi-instrumentalist.
Tekbilek will perform at the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem branches of the Zappa Club on December 13 and 14 and at the Haifa Auditorium on December 15.
Tekbilek has been composing and performing music for more than 40 years, offering more than just his sonic excellence to audiences around the world.
There is a strong spiritual element to his work that feeds off Sufi music, and he exudes a sense of calm and almost beatific tranquility.
“Everything is beautiful, and the Tree of Life is bearing its fruits,” he says simply when asked how his life and work have been going since he was last here. “I was just in Turkey, and before that we had a four-week tour around the States, organized by the US Cultural Department.”
The latter provided Tekbilek with a new opportunity to spread his message of goodwill, in addition to displaying his polished musical skills.
“The Cultural Department has been inviting musicians and dancers and other artists from places like Afghanistan and Africa, to give insight to American people about Muslim countries. So I presented Turkey in places like Idaho, Alaska and Washington, all over. We went to elementary schools, to third and fourth grades, and high schools, and gave all sorts of concerts,” he says.
Tekbilek is a strong advocate of how to bridge political, religious and cultural gaps and overcome phobias through the universal medium of music.
“All over the world, people want peace. It is all those political games that create chaos. We have so much in common. We forget to say ‘ours.’ There is all this ‘Mine, mine,’ ‘Get away, this is mine!’ But this is all ours.
There is enough for everybody.
Why do we have to kick each other as we have done so many times over history? Why don’t we just share? The Earth has an abundance of beauty, but some people are in a different place in their head,” he says.
Judging by his past visits here and his discography, Tekbilek’s Israeli audiences will leave the upcoming gigs feeling well entertained and, no doubt, feeling good about themselves and the world around them.
In addition to his infectious bonhomie, Tekbilek will offer us the benefit of his top-class instrumental skills and musicianship which, in addition to heady Sufi vibes, feed off a wide range of disciplines and sonic sensibilities.
Tekbilek was something of a musical wunderkind. He hails from a musical family from Adana in southern Turkey and set off on his musical road at the age of eight,quickly mastering the kaval, a small diatonic flute. As he was growing up, he also considered devoting his life to religion, but he came under the sway of an uncle who owned a music store, who helped the youngster along his musical path by giving him lessons.
Tekbilek began working at the store and, between serving customers, steeped himself in learning the intricate rhythms of Turkish music and learned scales and other rudiments. He was trained on and eventually mastered several instruments, including the ney flute and the zurna, a double-reed oboe-like instrument with a distinctive tone, as well as the baglama and oud from the lute family and percussion. By the age of 12, he was performing professionally at local venues.
He moved to Istanbul when he was 16 and quickly became an in-demand session musician.
He was also exposed to other avenues of music and began exploring Arabic and Western musical genres and developed his own composition skills.
He also encountered the Mevlevi Dervishes, an ancient Turkish Sufi order. While he did not join the order, the order’s head ney player, Aka Gunduz Kutbay, became another source of inspiration. The young Tekbilek was strongly influenced by the dervishes’ mystical approach and by the fusion of sound and spirit. He was also introduced to hatha yoga and later to tai chi and chi qong, which he continues to practice daily.
While living in the Turkish capital, Tekbilek played with many of the country’s top musicians, such as flutist and saxophonist Ismet Siral, percussionist Burhan Tonguc and singers Ahmet Sezgin and Huri Sapan.
After establishing himself as one of the top session musicians in Turkey, he began touring Europe and Australia. In 1971 he toured the US for the first time as a member of a Turkish classicalfolk ensemble. The tour changed Tekbilek’s life in a non-musical sense too, as it was then that he met his future wife. They married in 1976, and Tekbilek relocated to upstate New York.
But Tekbilek soon discovered that the US was not just waiting around for him to take the stage, and it took a while for him to make a name for himself outside his local musical community.
Things really took off for him in 1988, when his path crossed that of multiple Emmy and Grammywinning musician and producer Brian Keane. The two have put out six well-received albums to date.
Tekbilek has also worked with leading artists from across a wide range of market sectors, including jazz trumpeter Don Cherry, keyboard player Karl Berger, ex-Cream rock drummer Ginger Baker and late Israeli singer Ofra Haza.
Now, at 62, Tekbilek feels that things are only getting better for him.
“I feel like I am still 11 years old, until I look in the mirror and see the white hair,” he laughs.
“But I now feel I can freeze the moment and that my sense of time is stronger. There is so much beauty in the world, and I would like to express some of that with my music.”
For tickets and more information: *9080; (Tel Aviv and Jerusalem); (04) 866- 6235; 054-306-1020; /Event/700 / (Haifa)