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Arkın Ilıcalı (Mercan Dede’s real name) was born in Bursa, Turkey. He graduated in media studies from Istanbul University and moved to Canada as an art teacher, specialising in ebru (a traditional Turkish marbled printing) The Mercan Dede ensemble was founded in 1997, by which time Arkın had been working as a musician for some years. Their first album was Sufi Dreams, released in 1998. This album got a boost when the music was used in a German television documentary on Sufi music. The unique sound of the ensemble was (and still is) that they incorporate traditional instruments and ney from Turkey and other parts of the world, with horns, drum'n'bass dance beats, ambient electronic music and a Sufi spirituality. (The name Mercan Dede itself evokes sufism as "Dede" is the word for 'elder' in the Sufi traditions, although the name Mercan Dede in fact was taken from a character in a modern Turkish novel).

In 2001 he released his 3rd album Seyahatname, which means "Travelogue" in antique Turkish and evokes the era of the great caravanserai crossing Anatolia on the silk road. His 2002 album Nar (which means 'fire' in Turkish) continued in the same vein. And in 2004 he released Su (which means 'water' in Turkish) stayed at no#1 on European World Music Charts for two months. The album was recorded with an international line-up of musicians and has more vocals on it than the previous works. One track featuring folk singer Sabahat Akkiraz. In the same year he was commissioned by the Turkish Ministry of Culture as the music director of the Guldestan project to represent Turkish culture and arts all around the globe, working alongside choreographer Beyhan Murphy.

Over the years he played under different names and with different guests. For instance the names of the live ensembles vary from the Mercan Dede Trio, the Mercan Dede Ensemble, the Secret Tribe, Arkın Allen, etc. Among the guests are Montreal-based percussionist Scott Russell and Canadian violinist Hugh Marsh and Turkish clarinetist Hüsnü Şenlendirici. His live shows often include men and women in Sufi costume doing the Sufi whirling.

The February 2007 album Nefes (which means 'breath' in Turkish) included Transglobal Underground sitar player Sheema Mukherjee and singer Candan Ercetin in the line-up. This was followed by the album ‘800’ which got an international release in 2008. Guests on the album are (amongst others) Yildiz Tilbe and Nar. The album was been selected as one of the World's Best World Music Album of 2008 by the WOMEX organisation.

On the web:

- Mercan's official website: http://www.mercandede.com/

If you like this, you probably like.. / european counterparts:

Natascha Atlas (Belgium / Europe)

Bugge Wesseltoft (Norway)

Goran Bregovic (his instrumental work) (former Yugoslavia)

What do we think:


DB: I have a soft spot for these ambient techno-like electronics. Ever since i worked as a DJ this soundscape like music gave me a feeling of glimpsing into another dimension where only bits and pieces came through. And it was a welcome atmospheric break between all the BPM. No wonder i still like the music of Autechre, Speedy J and Biosphere. Mercan Dede's music fits into this segment but incorporates much more acoustic instruments into his albums. It's a mix you'll also find with certain jazz-musicians like Bugge Wesseltoft who also crosses the bridge reguarly between jazz, world and pop. '800' is the first album i heard but it sounds intriging enough to search for some more. The ratings below are thanks to rateyourmusic which is always a bit of a guess if these reviewers are world-music lovers or pop-lovers. At least it gives some guidance.

Recommended albums :

♪♪♪♪ - Sufi Dreams - 1998

♪♪♪ - Su 2003

♪♪♪ - Sufi Traveler 2004

♪♪♪ - 800 - 2008

Further listening: Journeys of a Dervish 1999; Seyahatname 2001; Nar 2002; Nefes 2007

♪♪♪♪♪ = outstanding album, an absolute must-have
♪♪♪♪ = great album, highly recomended
♪♪♪ = nice album
♪♪ = be careful, requires listening before buying
♪ = best to be avoided


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