Tuesday, May 01, 2012


Istanbul Spring 21012

Today was a wonderful day!  I woke up and straight away did the ashtanga primary yoga series in my beautiful bohemian flat with all the windows open letting the spring breeze waift through my flat while and blasting Indian music.   A fantastic way to start the day.

After a nice breakfast I made my way down Istiklal to go meet Saleh, a setar player from Iran who has been showing me Iranian makams.  Today we worked on a makam calld Charga. So dark, so beautiful!He taught me an ancient Persian wedding song in Charga.

He left and I got to practice on my own. I feel myself craving to create something new after 3 months of learning new things and shedding, so I’m starting to put all the new material into original compositions!

In the afternoon the drummers began arriving. Today it was Bunyamin, Suat Borazan, Ibo and Tarik.  We started jamming (everyone holding a rhythm and taking turns soloing over it).  This time something happened to me that’s never happened before. I entered a state ofjoy and fearlessness, and beautiful flawless phrases started effortlessly flowing out of me. It was one of the best feelings I ever had!  It felt like I was flying!

This is after more than 3 months of intense pratciing every day. In over three months there have only been two days where I didn’t go practice.   And it’s not always easy.  Even though I do love practicing, I’m not always in the mood and sometimes it more of a struggle than fun, especially when I’m practicing with such high level players.

But moments like I had today make it all worth it!

My Move!

This is my 4th year spending the winter in Istanbul, and I’ve decided it’s time to relocate and have this magical city as my home! I just got my 3 year residency permit, so after the July retreats in NY I will move here!  I’m so excited!

I'm working on some new musical projects here including a duet with a wonderful saz player Orhan Bilge and a new rhythm group with my teacher Bunyamin Olguncan and some of our other bad ass drumming friends here.  I also will start a darbuka school in Istanbul. I’m hoping to become active in Europe as well now that I’m so much closer.

I’m very excited about this! I will miss the awesome community I’ve build back in NY but I’m sure that most of my favorite people will be coming to visit, and I know that some of them are hoping to move here as well!


We had our second year in a row of March Istanbul Retreat!  We had participants from America, France, Italy, Spain, Israel, and one guy came all the way from Australia!  It was a wonderful group.  I taught a composition of Bunyamin’s called “Balik Pazar” in the early class and the afternoon was technique class w Bunyamin and Hakan Kaya.  There were crazy jam sessions every night at Bunyamin’s studio.  Everyone got a boost of inspiration!

It is customary to take off your shoes when you enter somebody’s home in Istanbul, but they don’t like to walk around barefoot, so every house provides a bunch of “Terlik”(house slippers) that are found at the entrance where you take off your shoes.

I love the custom of taking off your shoes to enter a home (I’ve always practiced that in my own house).  BUT I’m not crazy about having community slippers that I share with everybody.

So for the studio, I had a great idea.  Since I’m pretty much the only girl who hangs out there regularly I’ll get the girliest pair of high heal slippers and so there won’t be any chance of somebody else wearing them.

However, little did I know that these guys have absolutely no complex about wearing girly things.  In fact, I’ve never met more guys that wear pink than my Turkish guy friends.  So the result was that all the guys at the studio were not disuaded by the girly slippers and continued to wear them, especially Bunyamin (who happens to be my same shoe size).  He looked so cute in the high heeled girly slippers that I actually bought him his own pair (but mine are brown and his are gold and shinny) so now we have matching slippers that we wear in the studio.

Princess Island
There are some beautiful princess islands that are a ferry ride away from Istanbul.  My friend Danny and I took a trip to the biggest one called “Buyukada” (Big Island).   There are no cars so you rent bikes are ride around.  It started out as a beautiful spring day.  We got our soy lattes right before we boarded the ferry and spent the ride throwing pieces of simits (bagles) to the seaguls that followed the boat.
We rented a couple bikes (of course I got a purple one) and proceeded to ride around the Island.  We had a map that showed very clearly two routes to choose from – the short route or the long route.
How I managed to get us completely lost is beyond me, but I did.  We ended up riding up this huge hill for quite a while that led to nowhre.  Just as we realized that we were totally lost, the sky turned black, and the temperature dropped like 20 degrees and it started raining and winding.  We ended up totally bushwacking, carrying our bikes. 
Eventually we did manage to get back to the main road!  But before we made it back to the docks I saw a heartbreaking thing:
A beautiful while horse that was lying in the middle of the road, trying to get up but couldn’t!
I went up to it and tried to help it up but it couldn’t get up.  I ended up sitting on the road with its head in my lap giving it water and petting it for two hours until somebody came and called the vet.

I had to catch the boat back before the vet showed up so i dont know what happened.

One of my students was coming from the States and asked what to bring Bunyamin as a present.  So I asked Bunyamin what he wanted and and he said “vitamins”.  So I asked the student for a mens multi vitamin of some kind. 

The student arrived with two HUGE bottles- one of vitamin C and another men’s multivitamin.  I’ve never seen Bunyamin so excited.  He was like “how many per day?  what time?  should I take them with food”…  ect.  I was like “Its just vitamins – not medicine – it’s no big deal.” But to him it’s a very big deal.  When friends come over he makes a big ritual of taking out the vitamins and offering everybody.  Also when a student is struggling with a pattern Bunyamin will make them take the vitamins and then say “ok – now try it”. Actually, they usually do play better after the vitamins!

Date w KK
Kayhan Kalhor is one of the greatest Iranian kemenche players today.  He tours all over the world.  He’s also the only person besides me who plays the Shah Kemen – the incredible 12 string kemenche created by Peter Biffen in Australia.
He and I also happen to have the same birthday!  How odd is that?
He has a wonderful duet project with the Turkish saz player Erdal Erzincan and they played in Istanbul last month! It was one of the most stunning shows I’ve ever seen – only saz and kemenche.  It was like a beautiful dream! 
Erdal Erzincan is actually the teacher of Orhan, my saz player, who also attended the concert.   We both got so inspired since we are like their junior group.
The next day I got to meet Kayhan Kalhor for coffee!  It was great to see him in person and get to know him a little after listening to his albums for the last 10 years!  I hope one day to get to study with him.

I Can’t Stop
I know that it’s healthy to take a break sometimes.  Even Allah created the world in 6 days and then rested on the 7th.  I also should probably should have at least one day a week where I don’t touch a dumbek or kemenche.
But I can’t stop.  In my 3.5 months here so far there have been only two days that I didn’t come practice in the studio. Please, somebody take me on a trip or something so that I am forced to take a break!!!!

Anyway, here is the latest version of my duet with Bunyamin!  Next week we are going to Athens Greece to make a video of us playing it on Descarga Percusssion Drums!

Q drum is a big hit!
My friend Quentin Shaw from Chicago has been making these very unique metal drums with real skin heads for our store.  I brought one of them to Istanbul and it’s making a big hit!  The guys over here love it!

Identity Crisis
I’ve always played the 4 peg Raquy Dumbek in my shows and recordings.  But now after practicing on the clay drum w Bunyamin for several months, I’m having an identity crisis.  The clay drum is so warm and has the kick and the slides and all these things that the plastic skin doesn’t a have.  Then again the plastic one really cuts through on stage and is so much more durable easier to carry around.  I don’t know what I’ll use in my future shows!  Maybe the Q drum is a nice compromise.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


My Dumbek Apprenticeship

My Apprenticeship

I grew up taking Westen style classical music lessons. I would have a “lesson” with my teacher for 1.5 hours a week, pay a certain amount, and spend the rest of the week practicing on my own preparing for the next lesson. This is the way most Westerns experience learning music.

What I’m experienceing in Istanbul is more Eastern style of being an apprentice to a master musician or “Ustat”.

This is my fourth winter in a row living in Istanbul in order to study with Bunyamn Olguncan, and incredible master drummer and very unique being. This is such a wonderful experience for me I want to write about how I spend my days.

I start the day sitting in meditation. It happens that my schedule is such that by the time I get up and start meditating, it’s time for the noon prayer, so my meditation is accompanied by the beautiful, haunting call to prayer.

After having some breakfast I make my way over to our “office”.

The way from my house to the office is one long pedestrian walkway called Istiklal. The walk takes 20 minutes and I see no cars! The only transporation on Istiklal is one little quaint old fashioned trolly that goes up and down the walkway. The walkway is lined with musicians. Saz players, singers, jazz groups, you name it. Buy my favorite is the Laaz (Black Sea) kemenche player. Whenever I pass by he takes a cigarette break and lets me play a few songs.

Our office is a beautiful magical place. Bunyamin decorated it to be perfect for practicing. He keeps it nice and warm and cozy. Besides a bunch of beautiful drums there’s my yoga matt, Bunyamin’s prayer matt, a koran and a tea station where we make turkish “chai” continuously throughout the day.. He made a special area for me consisting of a big soft rug lined with pillows – perfect for sitting on the floor to practice or doing yoga

I try to arrive a few hours before Bunyamin so that I can have “Tek Antraman” meaning practice time by myself. But before I sit down to practice I clean anything that needs cleaning. Bunyamin is obsessed with cleanliness and it’s very important for him to have it nice when he arrives.

First I practice kemenche and throat singing for an hour or so. The throat singing is coming along. Somedays I still sound like a growling moster but some days something clicks and I start to get beautiful almost electronic sounds.

Then I pick up the dumbek and do some very deep listening – to really focus on the beautiful sounds and to fall in love with them. I also use the alone time to go over the hunderds of pages of notes that I take when I’m practicing with Bunyamin and others.

Bunyamin arrives at around 5 every day. First he cleans (even if I just cleaned and everything is spotless). For example he’ll wash the clean dishes again just to make them super extra clean. The man also mops the floor every single day even though nobody wears their shoes in the studio. Oh, for those who don’t want to take off their shoes Bunyamin has these blue plastic thingies that go over your shoes. They look so funny!

After everthing is spic and span, Bunyamin lights the candles. He loves candles and every day at sunset he lights up 10 or so candles all over the room, and other than that there is very little light Thats one reason I haven’t taken so many pictures or videos in the studio – I don’t have a flash and I don’t feel like ruining the romantic atmosphere by turning on the big light.

Then he sets up his matt and prays. I always stop drumming when he prays – I’ll sit in meditation or an asana to hold space for him wile he parys.

After prayer the drummer friends start “stopping by”. The problem with having a really nice space is that everyone wants to come hang out. We love the friends who come by but latetly its been a little too much and we need to have a talk with the friends about perhaps coming by a little less often so that Bunyamin and i can practice alone together.

But there are advantages to being surrounded by some of the worlds best drummers while I’m practicing. No matter who is over, nothing interrupts my practicine. I sit there and practice and practice All day long. The drumming friends can really appreciate what I’m doing. If I’m doing a complicated cycle they will count it and clap on the one. Or sometimes one of them will pick up a bendir and hold a rhythm for me to solo over. Many of them have suggestions and exercises for me and they take turns sitting with me and showimg me things.. And multiple times throughout the day it turns into a big jam with everybody playing.
Perhaps the greatest advantage to having these folks around is, I figure that if I can play in front of these great drummers and keep my cool, there is nobody in the world that will make me nervous (Zakir Hussein is in the audience? No prob! President Obama is in the audience? Piece of cake!)

Yesterday while I was practicing, one of the friends picked up a bendir and said, “Raquy, lets have a solo!” and started playing a maksum. I gave them a nice solo and when I was finished, he turned to Bunyamin and said something like, “Raquy’s technique smells like yours!”

Some of my duties as Dumbek Apprentice inlcude:

Being Bunyamin’s Rhythm Bitch
I spend a good amount of time every day holding a rhythm while Bunyamin goes crazy over it. This is no easy task, and it takes much focus and stability to hold it down!

Chai Lady
Now that I know the secret to making the Turkish Chai in the little glasses and saucers and spoons that reminds me of something I used to play with as a kid, I make the tea for the guests and students of the studio. People here are chain chai drinkers. They like to have another glass handed to the as soon as they finish the first one, so it’s a pretty time consuming job!

Bunyamin’s Poster Studnet
A good student is a wonderful advertisement for the teacher. Whenever a new person or potential student comes by, Bunyamin has me play for them.

Bunyamin’s Teaching Assistant
Bunyamin has started having me help teach. He will show a pattern to a student and then go away and drink chai while I sit with he student and break it down until they get it.

Drum Painting and Henna
I love painting drums and doing henna on the drum skins so Bunyamin will have me decorate the drums of his friends.
I’m also honored that he just asked me to henna “Allah” in Arabic caligraphy on his prize favorite drum. Here’s what it looks like now:

Red Tent Ban
I had a rough “Time of the month” last month – I had horrirble cramps and was lying around the studio all day like a bloated moaning mess. As a result Bunyamin said I’m not allowed in the studio on the first day of my cycle. I’m thinking of suggesting that I make a little red tent in the corner of the studio for such occassions.

Having Bunyamin all to myself
My favorite times at the studio are when everybody else leaves and it’s just me and Bunyamin alone practicing together. We’re working on a beautiful composition and when we alone we can really focus on it. His playing never ceases to astonish and delight me. I sit there next to him and absorb the beauty that effortlessly flows through him. What an inspiration!

Time Warp
Bunyamin's studio is a time warp! I get there in the afternoon and the next time I look at my clock, it's 11 at night! The time goes by so fast! Somebody will serve me chai while I'm practicing and I'll think, "ok I'll just play this pattern a little more and then drink my chai" and then next thing I know the chai is totally cold!

Candelit Koran Discussions
When the friends are over Bunyamin loves to take out his koran and pick out phrases and discuss them. He won’t even turn on the lights for that, so the result is a few guys reading the Koran by candlelight. It’s a beautiful scene that could be from 200 years ago!

The Damn Drum Lamp

When we practice in Istanbul we don’t touch the metal drums. We only use the clay drums with natural skins. When you practice on those it’s nice to put a light inside to warm up the skin and make it tight, so that you end up playing this warm glowing orb! We have a couple lamps at the studio but I’ve never in my entire life seen such a fragile and finiky devise as a drum lamp. The lamp has about a 5 hour life span – it rarely makes it to the next day without breaking. Every day Bunyamin and friends spend a good amount of time futzing and fixing the lamps only do have them break shortly after. I hope somebody will invent a drum light that is a little more reliable!

Bunyamin is getting me gigs this year! Very nice easy, well paying gigs in fancy places. Acutally I have a feeling that I can make a much better living here in Istanbul as a dumbek player than i could in New York.

My cold hands
I think I have a problem w my circulation. My hands and feet are always freezing! Like icicles!
That is a huge disadvantage for a dumbek player because when your hands are frozen they don’t move.
It was really frustrating the other day because I was playing the black sea fiddle out on the street on a very cold day with my Laaz friend and then I went to drop something off at Emin percussion. At this point my hands were literally frozen. When I got to Emins, some people were jamming, including one guy who once told a friend of mine that women don’t make good drummers and shouldnt drum. They saw me and told me to jam with them. Of course I couldn’t resist, but it was so frustrating because I wanted to kick that guy’s ass (and I know I could if I was warmed up) but but my hands were icicles and just wouldn’t move! Just as my hands were thawing out, they took a break for lunch. I vow to go back to that guy on a warm day and then hell see how women play drums!!!!!

“The Look”
My students have told me for years that I have a terrifying way of looking at them when they’re playing that makes them mess up things that are usually easy for them. Well it’s the same way for me with Bunyamin! I’ll be doing just fine, playing along, and as soon as he looks at me- -----Bam! I lose it! So I try to imagine that he’s looking at me all the time when I’m practicing so that I’ll be prepared when he actually does! Now I know how everybody feels.

No Lound Playing Policy
Bunyamin could play very loud if he wanted, but he HATES loud dumbek playing. He plays quite soft. When we have new guests over who start playing loud, Bunyamin will actually stop them and tell them that they can't play loud at his studio! He gets everyone to play soft but with control. Not an easy thing! But it's beautiful having a group of amazing drummers all playing soft and really listening to each other!

Laaz Kemenche Guy Tries my Kemenche
Ha Ha! Check out the look on his face trying my kemenche!

Wednesday, February 08, 2012


Istanbul Adventures - February 2012

Istanbul Blog Feb 8th 2012-02-08

It’s amazing to me that I’ve been here almost a whole month. I feel like this is the happiest time of my life. I wake up every day full of joy, excitement and gratitude for this incredible opportunity life is offering me. I savour every day here in Istanbul as a precious gift.

The Best Antraman Ever!!!!!
The antraman this year has been intense! Now that we have a beautiful, comfortable , smoke free place to practice, Bunyamin and I are practicing like crazy.

I’ve had a few hard days with practicing, when I feel like I’m swimming upstream – that everything is a struggle, that nothing is sounding quite right, that my body and mind aren’t relaxed. When I see the speed and dexterity of the other guys I feel discouraged and hopeless of ever getting to that level. I witness such beauty effortlessly streaming out of Bunyamin – such mastery, perfection and pure expression and I feel frustrated and impatient that I’m not there.
Sometimes when I’m playing with Bunyamin I have a mental image of a mother giraffe (Bunyamin) walking so beautifully and gracefully with no effort, and the baby giraffe (me) stumbling along trying to imitate its mother. I get insulted when he tells me the things that I always tell my students – that I need to be more relaxed, slow things down and articulate more. I’m like “That’s what I say to MY students! You shouldn’t have to tell me that!”
On such days the best thing is to leave the studio early have a shot of Raki and chill- maybe go hear some live music and dance a little or go home and read my awesome murder mystery book that takes place in Istanbul.

However, most of the days at the studio I’m absolutely soaring. I realized the importance of arriving at the studio a couple hours before Bunyamin so that I have some time to go over stuff by myself. Then by the time he arrives I’m all warmed up!
I’ve had several realizations about the hand position that has taken my playing to a whole different level. My rolls are getting so flowing and smooth and my ability to come up with cool solo phrases is improving daily. The drummers who come to the studio regularly can’t believe my progress. Ibrahim yesterday was saying that he can’t imagine how I’ll be playing after 4 months of this! My biggest compliment is that everyone’s been saying that I’m sounding more and more like Bunyamin.

When other drummers are there we spend a good amount of time “jamming” where everyone is holding a rhythm and everybody gets a turn to do four measures of solo. It used to be that as soon as my turn was over I’d spend the whole cycle planning what I was going to do on my next turn.
Now I have a different approach which is so much better! I don’t plan AT ALL. Whatever I do is a direct response to the person who goes right before me. Either I imitate him or contrast him or do a variation on his thing, but whatever it is, it must have something to do with what he did. It makes the drum circle so much more enjoyable! I can actually listen to everybody else because I’m not so busy planning. I also am more connected to what’s happening around me since I’m responding to a spontaneous phrase as opposed to planning my own thing. I end up doing phrases that are new and refreshing when I get out of my own head! I’m so happy about this new approach! I encourage everyone to try it next time you are jamming with people.

Because our studio is so nice and comfortable, many of the Turkish drummers have made it their daily hang out – yesterday there were ten drummers who just happened to stop by and spent all evening there! Everybody brings snacks so we are bombarded with nuts and dried fruit and chocolate and cookies and stuffed grape leaves and of course Turkish Delight. It’s nice, but it’s been getting a little too much, so some days when they call Bunyamin tells them”Sorry, today Raquy and are working on our composition – come tomorrow”, because when everyone is there we don’t work on or composition.


The Turkish Chai (Tea) is a huge thing. There is a certain way that Turks may tea. They are very picky about it. One day I was like “I’ll make the tea” and I started doing it and three different people ran over to me frantically giving instructions about how to do it. So now I know and am officially qualified to make the tea. It’s very bitter and strong and they serve it in these cute little glasses. I’d say Bunyamin drinks about 15 of those every day. One day the tea pot broke and it was a big crisis. Bunyamin was on the phone for hours trying to get a friend to bring another one! Thank god the next day we got another one!

My Awesome Saz Player!!!

I started a new duet project here, saz and kemenche, with a wonderful saz player named Orhan Bilge. He's awesome and his studio is right next door to ours so we rehearse a few times a week. He's learning my compositions and it's turning out soooo beautiful! Saz and kemenche are just gorgeous together! Plus he's a really nice guy and not so bad to look at either! Right now we're just rehearsing but I hope we'll do some show in a couple months!

My Tantrums at TurkCell
Every time I come back to Turkey my cell phone doesn’t work and I have to have two or three tantrums at the TurkCell office.
I’ve come to look forward to these tantrums. This year I had to go so many times it became a part of my daily routine – have breakfast, study Turkish, go to TurkCell and have a tantrum, go antraman, ect. It was so much fun.
Unfortunately after about 12 visits this year, my I phone is working perfectly as a Turkish phone, so I have no more excuses to go back, I hope something will stop working soon.

My Laaz Kemenche Friend

When you walk up and down Istiklal, the pedestrian walkway you see amazing musicians all along the way. My favorite is this Laaz guy from the Black Sea who plays the pontic kemenche. I love him. One day I mentioned to him that I play to so he immediately handed me his kemenche, had me sit down in his seat and told me “I need a break – bye!” and left.
Fortunately I know how to play one song on the pontic kemenche so I sat there for a while and played that song over and over (people are walking by so its okay to play the same song on repeat) and made a little money for him. It was so much fun!

My Mom is Coming!

After four years of me living part time in Istanbul I finally convinced my mama to come visit! She has work to do on her Masters degree, so I can still antraman while she’s here. I’m so excited to show her my favorite city! She’s coming Feb 18th for 6 days. I think she’s gonna love it here!!!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


First week Back in Istanbul, 2012!

Beautiful reunion after not seeing each other for 9 months!

I'm back in Istanbul, my favorite place on earth! This is my fourth year in a row spending the winter here and I find myself falling in love with this city more and more each time. I keep extending my trip each time. The first year I stayed one month, the second, two months, the third three months and this year, I'll be here for four whole months!
Since it is 2012 and may be the last year of the world as we know it I decided to go all out this time and spare no expense to make it the most magical experience ever.

My Bohemian Flat with Murals

My kemenche is right at home in my new place!

This is the first year that I'm living in my own place without my students. I must say I LOVE having my own place. I found it on airbnb which is an incredible site for finding places to stay in foreign countries. The flat is on my favorite street, a 5 minute walk from Emin Percussion and the music street and a 15 minute stroll down the beautiful pedestrian walkway, Istiklal, to get to Bunyamin's practice studio. Basically I never see a car.
It's an adorable one bedroom apartment that is in a gorgeous old building but has been lovingly renovated to be sooo comfortable without losing the exotic charm. The heat works great, there is an awesome shower with hot water, the kitchen is small but totally workable and there are beautiful kilims and pillows with seating on the floor just how I like it. And the walls in the living room have beautiful murals! I felt at home as soon as I stepped into this place! It's totally inspiring!

Bunyamin's Slick Antraman Studio

He's so happy in his new studio!

When I first met my teacher Bunyamin four years ago he had an "office" which he used for practicing. He was like the King there - it was the place for all of the best drummers to get together and jam. Then he lost the place and for the last couple years he didn't have his own space.
This year I decided to splurge and help him get a new office. He took it a couple months before I arrived and spent some time painting it blue and preparing everything so by the time I arrived it was all ready.
He is so happy there! He is there every day from 4pm till the early morning. He installed a heater so its super cozy. He put candles all over the place and burns incense. When I first arrived it was so cute - he couldn't stop putzing around - making tea, adjusting the heat, adjusting the lighting cleaning, ect. I've never met anyone so neat and clean. He fanatically cleans and mops the place every day!
It's the perfect place to practice- there's a big rug and pillows for those like me who like to sit on the floor (and it's awesome for practicing yoga as well!) All of the great drummers have been coming by every day to practice. And here's the best thing about it - NO SMOKING!!!!!! I think it's the first time in history that a Turkish drummer has a no smoking policy in his practice studio! Whoever wants to smoke is kindly asked to do so on the balcony! What a pleasure to practice and breathe clean air! Plus he has a no shoes policy! It's sooo awesome!!!

Bunyamin is Flying
Ever since he got the studio Bunyamin has been practicing more than ever. His level now is completely off the charts - nobody can believe it, including the other amazing Turkish drummers. His hand have just become one big blur. We are slowly putting together a new composition based on the stuff he's coming up with - mostly in 9, but some cool stuff in 7 as well.

The other day Suat Borozan came over to practice and after complaining that he never has time to practice anymore proceeded to completely kick my butt playing this stuff in unison about three times as fast as I could. I love it - there's nothing like a good challenge! But even though I'm still not as fast as these guys, everyone here noticed that my level is much better than last year - I guess all of those drill series and office hours are paying off!

Bunyamin and Suat Jamming

Today Mehmet Akatay is coming! This other guy Ibrahim comes almost every day as well as this guy Tarik who plays tabla.

A couple people have already come with me this year. Yufi and Sam who were with me last year came back again! They've both been taking lessons from Bunyamin. Also Osama Farouk, perhaps the best Arabic style drummer living in America came just for a few days,but he took a lesson from Bunyamin as well! It was beautiful to see them jamming together, masters of two very different styles!

Osama having his lesson

My Routine
I still haven't really adjusted from New York time, so I have to drag myself out of bed at 1pm. After meditation I take a walk around the neighborhood. First I stop at Emin Percssion to have a tea and see who's jamming. Then I got to my juice guy and get a pomegranate juice and say hi to the Galata Tower. There are so many cute little cafe's all around my house - my mission is to try them all. I sit at one of the cafes and study Turkish. Then I go back home and practice kemenche and throat singing for a few hours. Then I walk down Istiklal, the beautiful pedestrian walkway to go to Bunyamin's studio. I try to take different little side streets each time - there are so many quaint little ally ways to explore!
From 6ish till late late night, it's basically practicing with Bunyamin and friends with a short break for dinner. After a few years of being here, I now know where to get amazing food. The salads here are absolutely stunning and ridiculously cheap. When I'm here I live on raw veggis, beans and dried fruit and nuts.

One of my favorite places to eat

At around 2 am Bunyamin and I go back to my place and "fig out" - we make a pot of hibiscus tea and snack on dried figs and nuts. After he falls asleep, since I'm still jet lagged, I do my yoga practice and go to sleep at around 5. I hope I'll adjust and get on a slightly more normal schedule, but there is something I'm enjoying about this vampire - like existence!

New Project!

Since I plan to spend more and more time in Istanbul I want to start a musical project here. I've been dreaming for years of finding a saz player to learn my compositions. It just so happens that the studio next door to Bunyamin's is owned by a saz player! It turns out he studied with Erdal Erzincan, the saz player who plays with Kayhan Kalhoor! I gave him a cd of my music and tomorrow we will have our first session playing together.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Drama on the West Coast Tour!

Usually I only keep a blog when I’m having my adventures in the Middle East, but I’m on a west coast tour with Raquy and the Cavemen and there has been such drama that I feel compelled to write about it.

Drama #1 – No Passport
So the plan was for us to fly in to Seattle and for Euphrates to pick us up and take us up to Van Couvar.
However, after driving 14 hours she realized she hadn’t taken her passport! In her defence, she had come straight from Burning Man where she spent all night flogging people and didn’t get any sleep.
We quickly recovered from this first drama by changing the plan – Euphrates would stay in Seattle with a friend while we took her car to Van Couvar and she would meet us a couple days later after her mom sent her her passport.

Drama #2 – Fishky Disappears
Euphrates finally made it to Van Couvar just in time for my advanced dumbek workshop. Fishky wanted to practice back at the house where we were staying so he said he would pick us up at 9:15 when the workshop was over.
9:15, the workshop ends and no Fishky. We wait for 20 minutes and no Fishky. “That’s strange”, I thought. Although he is a wild crazy musician he is always extremely organized and reliable when it comes to being places on time during the tour.
“Maybe he fell asleep at the house” we thought. We picked up some Indian food and another friend brought us back to the house.
We get to the house and still no Fishky. I try to call him and his phone is turned off. I start worrying. Euphrates says, “ lets just eat, I’m sure he’s fine!” but by this point I was starting to freak out and had no appetite. “He would never just disappear like this on tour”, I thought, “Something terrible must have happened!”
I start looking for clues. I see that his Dum Set is only half set up. “What does that mean? Why would he set up half of his Dum Set? Did he leave the house in a rush?”
Another hour goes by and I start seriously freaking out, so I called the Van Couvar police station. Here’s the conversation:

Me: My friend is missing!
Police: How old is he?”
Me: 32
Police: When was the last time you saw him?
Me: Three hours ago
Police: (After some silence) He’s 32 and you saw him 3 hours ago and you’re reporting him missing?”
Me: But he would never just disappear like this! Something terrible must have happened!”

At this point we hear the car drive up and Fishky comes upstairs throatsinging.

Me: Never mind, he’s back

It turns out he was at an ice cream parlour with 80 different flavors and it took him so long because he was having trouble deciding.

Drama #3 – Turkish Delight
Euphrates got me the best gift for the tour – a book called “Making Out in Turkish” about how to flirt and date and have relationships in Turkish, which I predict will prove extremely useful during my upcoming winter pilgrimage to Istanbul.

As luck would have it, we happened to be double billing in Van Couvar with an ADORABLE Turkish DJ! Sooooo cute! He was gracious enough to only speak to me in Turkish although his English is perfect. It proved the perfect opportunity to try out some of the phrases from the book!

Drama # 4 – My Kemenche gets smashed on stage

While I was in the dressing room before the show in Twisp Washington, apparently a lamp fell on my 12 string kemenche tarhu and crushed the bridge. Nobody who saw the fall realized that it had been broken.

We began the show with drumming and then I picked up my kemenche to play a song, saw that it was broken and screamed in front of the whole audience.

Some backgound about my kemenche. There are only two of them in the world. They are made by Peter Biffen in Australia, who now has a three year waiting list if you want to order a new one. The design is extremely unusual and complicated so any normal oud or violin repair man would be terrified to touch the thing.

Fishky and I were stunned – I’ve often had nightmares that I’m on stage and my kemenche is broken. I felt like I was dreaming. We were just beginning our tour – what will we do for the rest of the tour?

“Is there a Luthier in the house” Fishky desperately asked the audience.

Suddenly one of the most beautiful men I’ve ever seen in the front row says, “I’m a Luthier, let me have a look!” He was like an angel sent from heaven with the most incredible eyes.

He took the kemenche to the dressing room and proceeded to operate while Euphrates and I looked on hugging each other and weeping, In the meantime Fishky played some of his solo pieces.

Miraculously this stunning man got the maker of the kemenche in Australia on the phone and with his advise put it back together so that I could use it for the rest of the tour! And I was actually able to go back on stage and finish the show!

I’ll still have to send it back to Australia for a more permanent fix, but in the meantime it’s sounding better than ever and I have a new appreciation of my instrument.

I can’t wait until I’m rich and famous enough so that I can bring the luthier from Twisp with me on all of my tours just in case!

By the way , Euphrates and I usually have opposite taste in men and the exact same taste in food, making for the perfect friendship, but this was the first time we both agreed that the luthier in Twisp is absolutely dreamy!

Monday, February 07, 2011


Istanbul Feb 7th 2011

Well I’m almost halfway through the Istanbul part of my Middle Eastern Winter Adventure! I can’t believe how fast this trip is flying by! I still wake up every day thinking, “oh goody, another day in Istanbul! What a treat!

Poor Egypt!
For the past six years I’ve spent a good part of my year in Egypt. Last year was the first time I officialy had a dumbek retreat in the magical Sinai Desert, and it was such a success that I was planning to do it again this year.

But now there is a revolution happening in Egypt. I hope that this revolution will lead to better times for the Egyptian people but in the meantime its a big mess and there’s no way I can bring a group over there. My friend Marjory is a journalist in Cairo for the AP. I just skyped with her and she is determined to stick it out and not be intimidated by Moobaraks thugs! She now refers to her apartment as “Revolution Headquarters”. Go Marjory!!!!

I decided to make the best out of the situation and instead of canceling I moved the retreat to Istanbul! I’m actually getting really excited about bringing my students to my favorite city, introducing them to the greatest dumbek players on the planet and showing them the rich turkish culture! For more info about the istanbul retreat check out http://www.raquy.com/retreats/images/istanbulposter2011.jpg

Pistachio Thumb
The best snack for practcing is dried figs and pistachios. SOmething about the combination of the sweet mushy figs and the crunchy salty pistachios is so addictive and gives amazing energy for practicing!
But unfortunately, Euphrates and I have both been afflicted with an ailement that I’ve named it “pistachio thumb”. It happens when you eat way to many pistachio nuts so that the nail on your thumb with which you pry the pistachios open actually breaks. In this condition, it’s almost impossible to open your own nuts so you need to have a friend open them for you (until the friend gets “pistachio thumb”!)

Going Away Party for Sam
The day be fore Sam left to go back home we had our first (and probably last) big party at our place! It was really fun. We had a few celebrities such as Okay Temiz, Emin (of Emin Percussion) and of course Bunyamin!
During the jamming I was experimenting with holding a throat singing droaning under someone’s solo. I thought it was working great, but for some reason every time I started throat singing, Emin would throw popcorn at me!

Here is some footage of us jamming at the party:

Classical Music Gig
My friend David Kucherman was supposed to come to Istanbul to play this classical baroque concert with and orchestra. At the last minute he hurt his neck so he asked if I could substitute for him! So I find myself playing dumbek and frame drums in this orchestra with a conductor! What a flashback into my past! It was fine, but boy did it make me glad that I’m playing my own original music!

Our Restaurant
Euphrates and I found the BEST restaurant! They have this thing called mixed vegetable platter and every day there is a different variety of delicious vegan vegetable dishes. The guy likes us alot so he gives us extra free food every time and tops off our wine glasses. And the wine glasses keep getting bigger and bigger! The last time we went there was like a half bottle of wine in each glass!

Euphrates is doing great! Her Turkish split hand technique is getting really good! She's been taking privates with Bunyamin! She's also fallen in love with the yayli tambur. She composed a beautiful piece on the yayli tambur one day after she started playing the instrument!

Feb 6,2011 Istanbul!

Remember Adama from the 2009 Istanbul blog? Well look what happened! She had an adorable half Turkish baby! It is soooo cute! She lives in England now but she was visiting Istanbul so I got to hang our with her and her baby. What a cute family!

Stupid Triplets
When will my triplets ever sound like Bunyamin’s???!!!!????!!!??? Somtimes I feel like they are really coming along and sounding good but then Bunyamin walks into the room and I lose it completely. I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard on anything as much as I work on those stupid triplets. It is so hard to make them even and clear! If you are in the least bit tense it all goes to shit. I really hope that one day they will sound like Bunyamin’s and in the meantime all I can do is enjoy the process.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Istanbul 2011

Greetings from Istanbul!

I’m back in the “Land of Antraman” and so far this is the best year yet! I have never been so in love with a city before. I wake up every morning with a huge smile on my face, so happy to be here in this beautiful exotic city that is home to the greatest dumbek players on earth and the sweetest people!

This year I came with two of my friends/ student, Sam and Euphrates.

Sam Tynker is an ADORABLE guy from New Mexico who makes his living as a circus performer. Some of you may have seen him at Pensic.

Euphrates was one of the students in my university dumbek class in Cairo, Egypt. She is an incredible fire spinner who just finished college. What a welcome into the real world, coming to Istanbul for the winter to practice dumbek!

We are renting two rooms at Studio Fabrica a music studio in the heart of the music discrict. I've been here for two weeks and have not had to take a single form of transportation other than walking. Everything is within walking distance - every music store, every music venue, all the great master musicians have their studios right around here. The building is full of music studios so we hear music all day long. Everyone practicing all day.

The studio is run by two brothers, Hakan and Vulkan (thats another thing I love about Istanbul. Everyone has names from Star Treck!) Hakan is a great darbuka player and Vulkan plays Turkish clarinet. There are musicians coming in and out of the studio all day long.

Here is a typical day for us
We wake up at noon, read some yoga sutras and sit in group meditation.

Then we go out for our morning excursion. First we have some pamogranate juice at a table outside facing the Galata Tower. Then we sit in a coffee place on a windy cobblestone street and study Turkish and then go to Emin Percussion the famous drum store/ drummer to hangout and practice with whoever happens to be there. Serdar works there. He used to study with Misirli Ahmet and he's very fun to practice with. He and I like to listen to Indian tabla rhythms and adapt them for dumbek.

Then we come back to the studio and practice. Euphrates and I begin by working on our Mongolian Throat Singing. Our friends here don't quite know what to make of it.

Bunyamin arrives every day at around 4. For those of you who don't know, Bunyamin is my teacher. I've been studying with him for two years now. I can't really describe the experience of seeing this man play in words other than "miraculous". I can't believe I get to sit and practice with this gifted being every day. Sometimes Euphrates and Sam have lessons with him but most often Bunyamin and I practice together. Lately he has been channeling so many incredible new ideas which I'm trying to organize into a new duet for us to perform. His ideas are flowing so fast I can barely keep up writing them all down!

Every evening there is a stunning sunset which I can see from my window overlooking the Galata Bridge. I just never get tired of watching the sun set behind the mosques with seagulls flying around.

I've shown Sam and Euphrates my secret Turkish Split Hand Technique Drill Series. They are obsessed and so the drills for hours every day.

A few times a week we go out to hear live music. There is incredible live music almost every night of the week, within walking distance from our place. Our more popular hang out is a place called "Araf" that has great Turkish bands.

We end each day with a late night yoga session starting at around 2am. Bedtime is around 4.

I'm finding more and more options for great vegan food. There's really some delicious veggis here! My latest discovery is "mercemek kofte" - these delicious balls made of lentils made to look like meatballs. And the salads are gorgeous. I'm still obsessed with simits, the Turkish style bagels.

As if it wasn't enough having two dumbek masters Bunyamin and Hakan practicing in our house every day, the virtuoso Suat Borazan has taken a liking to our place and also comes here to practice with us! We often end up all playing together trading off solos. What a humbling experience! But I'm happy to see that all the practicing has paid off - I can keep up much better that I could in the last trip.

Also, Hamdi Akatay, one of the fathers of the Turkish Split Hand Technique, has his group class right across the hall from us once a week, so we get to jam with him and his students!

Misirli Ahmet's studio is a five minute walk from my place. He's not accepting new students into his school now but he did promise me that he and I will practice together Friday at 6! Wish me luck!

So basically we are right in the heart of the Istanbul dumbek scene. I'm so grateful to be here and I can't believe the incredible opportunities we are having!

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