Write: Jülide Karahan Photos: Onur Çoban
It’s Not Whirling That’s Hard, It’s Stopping
A man chasing after new stories, with a little enthusiasm and a little excitement, with more than a little sensation, and with quite a bit of a hustle: Burhan Öçal, artist and master percussionist.
A wooden house in Sarıyer, in Istanbul, gigantic and magnificent. It is quite obvious that it has already turned over a hundred years, has already swept the drags of past lives under the carpet, and is excitedly looking forward to new stories. The district is lively, but the house is desolate. Looking at its windows, it is barely evident that the house is occupied. The doors are tightly locked. Music can be heard, coming from inside a soothing rhythm. The residents of the district are content; the shopkeepers are happy. At times, particularly when coming home at night, all sorts of music leaks out of this house. And what music unheard on the verge of discovery... I wonder who gathers in this house. - who plays this music, especially in that room that overlooks the ramp, which is decorated with lots of cushions?
We are in the right place. There is a lonely man standing by the door, Burhan Öçal. He looks a little enthusiastic, a little excited, more than a little perturbed and in quite a bit of a hustle. Although he claims to lead a seminomadic life, he is at home at any chance he can get. Rightfully so,too: This is the kind of house that will push one to stay.
After getting past the typical introductions and niceties demanded by courtesy, we wait to ask our questions. This is, however, in vain: the stories never end. Sentences follow one after the other in such haste that all the questions just evaporate in the end.
“The Sufi & Bach album has just come out, and Sultan Murat is around the corner. This is the fourth album in the series. There will be more to come. An empire of six hundred years and thirty-six sultans sounds easy enough. But it will happen” says Burhan Öçal, and adds “I’m actually after my own music and original rhythms, something brand new. The majestic memory of the sultans is only a background. Still, giving life to the traces left in history by the Ottoman Empire through music pleases me.” “Everything is attempted, one by one, novelties immediately start to age, and as the world spins at such a great speed, it must be hard to capture a different tune; in fact, it must consume one’s nights,” we say. The answer? “Exactly. But it does happen. For instance, the Paganini Trio is totally like this. We set out with the intention to establish a brand new bridge between classical music, jazz, and world music, and I think we succeeded.”
Burhan Öcal is accompanied by renowned pianist Tuluğ Tırpan and award-winning violinist Atilla Özdemir in Paganini Trio, which aspires to interpret the caprices of Paganini - the 19th century musical genius - with piano and traditional percussion instruments. The crew delivered its first concert at Hagia Eirene during the Akbank Jazz Festival a few months ago and earned full marks from the audience. Burhan Öçal had not even rolled up his sleeves.
These are what come up immediately. The artist has so many projects, first in his mind, then on the desk... Though none of them have been made clear at this point, we’ll toss out a hint to the reader: we will be seeing more of Burhan Öçal on the silverscreen than on the stage in upcoming days.
BECAUSE THIS IS A DREAM
This - that is to say, acting - is one of the artist’s dreams.Like most of his dreams in the past, this one has also come to life. After a few commercials and television, Burhan Öçal has proven his mettle in cinema as well. Having portrayed as Colonel Mehmet Kara in “The Turks Must Be Crazy” and Godfather Numan in “He is now a Convict,” Öçal now has his mind set on three roles he would like to portray. One is a strong and famous commander such as Genghis Khan, the second is a very clever and witty double agent, and finally a godfather affords the necessary respect to all aspects of life.
Be prepared for anything, as this is a man who turns all of his dreams into realities. He hesitates for a moment and thinks when we ask what dreams are in line. He pauses because he doesn’t know whether to divulge this information or not; otherwise, his ambitions are very clear. This must be why he likens himself to the man in that song he loves so much. Now it’s the perfect time, and he starts mumbling the lyrics to the song: “I’m looking for a fifty year-old man / Who has dreamt of everything and has lost them all / Who has wanted everything / And who now know what he wants...”
The subject changes, owing to the charm of dreams. Life is in flux, work is complicated, and the desk is messy. The sun shines brightly and calmly outside the window; inside, however, there is a perpetual flutter. “Living! That is very important. I got to understand many things after the age of forty” he says, and adds “I have spent, and continue to spend, a very colorful life which is filled with adventure. Like a film... In fact, Abdullah Oğuz will make a film of my life; work on it has already started. But what was I saying? Time. Yes, with time and through gaining experience, everything settles in its place.
THE BENDS AND SPARKS IN LIFE
There are so many things that have happened and so many stories that have accumulated that he muddles the times when he speaks of them. Though we say “we know, we know,” we hear it over and over again: everything begins in Kırklareli in 1959. Öçal receives a drum as a gift on his fourteenth birthday. Music is now part of his life. He attended middle school in Kırklareli and high school in Ankara, which he followed with a half-finished attempt at a state conservatory. At the age of twenty-four, after numerous weddings, parties, and instruments, it was time to pursue his dreams. “I will go to America; I want to get to know jazz” is the sentence which sparks it all. With 350 dollars in his pocket and the line “Your uncle Muzaffer is in California,” he first makes his way to Switzerland. For fifteen more years, he remains in Switzerland. A new turning point: a poetry festival in Zurich and an acquaintanceship with a rich, aristocratic, charitable, and - most importantly - art-loving family. The rest comes as a quick succession of discoveries: of himself, of his music, of his life...
Nowadays, Burhan Öçal spends most of his time in Istanbul, in a majestic and gigantic wooden house in Sarıyer. He is dreaming up, living, and telling many new stories without interruption, some of which perhaps will be swept under the carpet, some of which might be framed and hung on the walls of that house. As said by the whirling girl in Fatih Akın’s film “Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul,” “It’s not whirling that’s hard, it’s stopping. One feels as if they will fall not when whirling, but when falling.” And it’s just like that for Burhan Öcal, who nomadically wanders from one story to the next.