Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Enriching Rhythms of Emrah Kotan

Courtesy of the artist

Drums, percussion, cymbals.  They all give voice to a magical beat – one that can transform music into a lively crescendo, or a shimmery stroke across the cymbal.  These are the varying moods on Kotan’s debut CD, The New Anatolian Experience, where the well-versed percussionist offers a spectrum of invigorating beats and soothing ballads, fused with modern jazz, Latin rhythms, Turkish connotations and more, all creating an innovative take on classic jazz.

It’s the striking compositions as, “Tanya” – dedicated to his wife – to the upbeats, “Ottoman Slap,” “Istanblues,” “Odd Time Is It,” “Nardis (Miles Davis),” and the soothing ballad, “Yemen Türküsü” that showcases his range with cultural and [legendary] influences, making The New Anatolian Experience a sophisticated work of art.

Following up on an introduction to Emrah Kotan,(EM-rah ko-TAHN) – via my January 1st “Links to Excellence” series – I am pleased to close out this month with an interview on Kotan’s music and cultural heritage; his playing for India.Arie; and his sacred advice to aspiring musicians.

Interiors of Man: Your debut CD is titled The New Anatolian Experience.  Tell us a little about Anatolia … its history, music, culture, and the modernization you’ve inscribed to Anatolian music throughout the CD.
Emrah Kotan: Well, Anatolia is another name for Asia Minor, the land that separates Asia and Europe, and is regarded as the gateway between Eastern and Western cultures. My country, Turkey, is situated on this land.  Asia Minor was home to many great civilizations such as the Hittites and Lydians as well as grand empires such as the Roman Empire and Byzantine Empire.  The land was eventually conquered by my ancestors, the Ottoman Turks, and the Ottoman Empire was born.  When the Ottomans took over, they did not force Ottoman culture or Islam on the inhabitants of Asia Minor.  We brought our culture from Central Asia, they already had theirs, and the Ottoman Empire expanded to include parts of North Africa, the Middle East and Europe.  This infusion of cultures is what I believe makes Turkey interesting and unique. We are a mixture of cultures, religions, races and ethnic groups united under one flag.  The richness of our diversity can be heard in our music.  
The reason why my project is called The New Anatolian Experience is because it is a musical interpretation of my new and exciting experience as a Turk living in the United States.  I tried my best to bridge my culture with American culture, and by “American” I don’t mean only The United States of America, but The Americas, which includes the Caribbean and South America as well.  There are so many American musical genres that I wanted to explore in this album, but I settled with the ones that resonated with me the most, which were modern jazz, Afro-Cuban, funk, and jazz fusion.  The background vocal part in “Odd Time Is It” is meant to be reminiscent of traditional chanting that can be heard in Turkey, North Africa and the Middle East.
IOM: Your experience as a percussionist encompasses classical training, to an exposure of various cultures from Turkish roots, to living in Atlanta.  How do all of these experiences define your rhythm?
EK:  I connected all of my education and experience to create a rhythm that is my own. My music is a rhythmic exploration that crosses cultures and mixes styles.  With that said, I would define my rhythm as being classically eclectic and a bit unconventional. However, that is just my opinion.  The listener may hear something totally different.  
IOM:  What or who was your key influence to becoming a drummer?
EK:  There was no one key influence.  My teachers/mentors were my greatest influences.  I have been blessed to be taught by such an inspiring group of music educators.  They are (in chronological order): Phillippe Garcia, Hasim Yedican, Jack Bell, and Sonny Emory.  I also learned a lot by watching great Turkish percussionists such as Yener Erten and Soner Ozer.  Some notable influences from America are Vinnie Colaiuta, Dave Weckl, Steve Gadd, Tony Williams, Dennis Chambers, Steve Smith, Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, Chris Dave and Jeff “Tain” Watts.
IOM:  And how did your collaboration with India.Arie come about?
EK:  God put me in the right place at the right time.  Khari Simmons (India’s bass player) is a friend of mine. He and I have worked on several performances and studio sessions over the years.  I have known him for a long time. He and I had a recording session, and we were talking.  Somehow, our conversation turned to India’s latest project, SongVersation.  He mentioned that she recorded some of it in Turkey, and she was looking for a percussionist who can play Turkish and other world percussion styles as well as drum set.  He referred me to India and her manager.  They checked out my work on YouTube and scheduled a percussion audition and interview at India’s house. They were happy with me and asked for a second audition on video playing drum set, and then I got the gig.
IOM:  ... Amazing.  In Chicago’s inner city – as other urban communities – one can hear the “beat” of a culture with young men impressively drumming buckets on the streets.  This is raw talent that can be developed or sadly, lost.  What suggestions would you offer to cultivate such talent, and what advice would you impart to these young men?
EK:  Pray to God and thank God because the talent comes from Him.  Don’t forget that. Always play with love and passion, respect the music, be musically diverse, get educated to develop your musical vocabulary and find your own voice on your instrument. Always be an open-minded musician.  Keep learning, and be humble. Try to become an artist and a well-rounded musician, not only a great performer.

IOM:  Indeed.

The New Anatolian Experience

Saturday, January 18, 2014

An Interview Film Discussion with Deborah Riley Draper

Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution chronicles the events leading to America making history in the world of fashion, which began as a charity event to raise funds for the restoration of the Palace of Versailles before turning into a presumed rivalry between five renowned designers from Paris, (Couturiers) and five leading designers from New York.  

Organized with the help of Palace of Versailles curator, Gerald Van der Kemp, and visionary fashion publicist, Eleanor Lambert – who long anticipated the world seeing America’s value to fashion and her ability to compete with French haute couture – the event took place on the night of November 28, 1973 at the Chateau de Versailles to a packed audience of French royalty, socialites, financiers, and performances by Josephine Baker and Liza Minnelli.

Yet, before history ensued, the Americans encountered obstacles, setbacks, and rehearsal dramas, leaving them with little prep time and no choice but to rely on the models to present their designs and carry the show oppose to elaborate staging.

Facing off with the best couturiers in the world – Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, Pierre Cardin, and Emanuel Ungaro, the event, (also known as Le Grand Divertissement à Versailles), was publicized as the “Battle of Versailles,” vs. top American contenders – Anne Klein, Stephen Burrows, Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, and Halston.

Redefining the catwalk, marked by haute couture’s rigid presentations at the time, the Americans electrified the runway in revealing Halston ensembles, to a sinuous collection of colorful jersey dresses by African American designer, Stephen Burrows.

Adding more diversity to the American voice was Anne Klein’s female perspective and the original design aesthetics of de la Renta, Givenchy, and Blass, accompanied by select African American models putting “the strut” on the runway.

It was Bethann Hardison’s defiant stomp; Pat Cleveland’s famous twirl; Billie Blair’s magical allure – along with other noted models of various ethnicities, including trailblazer, China Machado – that led the transformation in fashion while breaking cultural barriers.

Interviewing the filmmaker of Versailles ’73, Deborah Riley Draper shares an informative discussion on a charity event, turned fashion revolution and the sociocultural connections between society and fashion.

Interiors of Man: With Yves Saint Laurent being the first couturier to launch a pret-a-porter collection informed by street culture, how much of an influence do you think his admiration for Burrows design aesthetic had on the future of American ready-to-wear?

Deborah Riley Draper: YSL’s pret-a-porter collection’s first store debuted in 1966 and a few other French designers debuted ready-to-wear collections the same year.  The inspiration was more about looks from the art and culture scenes of the early 20th century.  In 1973, Stephen Burrows brought down the house at the famed fashion gala, Le Grand Divertissement à Versailles.  Stephen’s uses of black models, disco music and jersey fabrics that danced and moved wowed the audience, including Yves Saint Laurent.  Yves had always created new and different styles for the women compared to the other designers of the time in France.  And, Stephen further liberated Yves’ approach to dressing women. The influence could be seen in Yves’ decades-long muse Mounia, black model who became one of the top stars of the runway in the 80s.

IOM: Had all the American players conformed to a protocol of some sort, particularly the black models who brought their fierce strut to the runway under the sounds of Barry White, et al., I imagine the Americans would not have enthralled the French, nor would the revolution had ignited for lack of character. 

DRD: The Americans did not have a specific protocol.  Each designer selected their own music.  As the squabbling between the American designers ensued and rehearsal time at Versailles became practically non-existent, the models stepped up and brought their essence to the clothes and the runway.  The convergence of black models, fabulous clothes that were stylish and sexy, and disco music was indeed revolutionary.  Necessity is the mother of invention and with no rehearsals or props, Stephen Burrows brought his love of music and dance to his segment.

IOM: The film unveils the conditions that shaped the revolution: support from Fashion Publicist, Eleanor Lambert who envisioned and orchestrated the event; American designers bringing an accessible style to fashion; the couturiers understanding that times were changing; and black models bringing their own voice to the runway.

DRD: 1973 was only five years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, and the seventies ushered in more opportunities for black designers and models and a strong sense of pride.  The 70s were a period of great change in American society and popular culture.  And, New York in the 70s saw an emergence of music, gay discos, young, fresh designers who were artsy and creative and who mixed and mingled from uptown to downtown and from the upper Eastside to the Village.  Fashion was no longer just for the ladies who lunched. Fashion has and always will reflect the politics of the street and the people.  Fashion led the way of hippie culture and painted a cool canvas for hip hop from the 80s to now.

IOM: Versailles also alludes to the influence that the models had on Givenchy’s future presentations from then on – evident with Erykah Badu as the new face for Givenchy’s spring 2014 campaign. 

DRD: Yes, I spoke with Mr. Hubert de Givenchy, and his greatest memory of the event was of the black models who dazzled the stage with their movement and beauty.  Mr. Givenchy maintained a cabine of black models for years after the Versailles event. The presence of the black models had a tremendous impression on Givenchy.  And, Erykah Badu's photos for the Givency shoot were brilliant, beautiful and perfect.

IOM: Some people may view fashion as a shallow aesthetic, but with creativity, its allure is the tool that can draw attention to such vital issues as, hunger, poverty, education, and on. 

DRD: Fashion, politics and advocacy for issues are inextricably linked.  The timeline of fashion trends and statements align very clearly with what is happening in any culture.  From the turtlenecks for beatniks to black jackets and Black Panthers to the sapeur style in the Congo amidst war and poverty to the first all-vegan fashion show in 2013, fashion speaks volumes about what is on the minds and Facebook pages of pop culture.  The fact that the hoodie was an exhibit and point of discussion in the Trayvon Martin case sheds light on how fashion impacts culture both positively and negatively.

IOM: Versailles was a great production on a historical moment that many are unaware of.  Do you have plans for other historical documentaries pertaining to arts & culture?

DRD: Yes, I am currently researching the fashion model Donyale Luna, the 1936 Olympics and the 1925 La Revue Negre as subjects for my next documentaries.

IOM: Looking forward.

Fascinating and enlightening, Versailles ’73 is a remarkable documentary on a significant achievement in American fashion.  As with most revolutions, it required a collective effort to exact change, thus the runway revolution was a mutual victory involving black and white models, American designers, [and] progressive couturiers who understood the relational dynamics between fashion and a liberated society with an added appreciation for the presence black models brought to the runway.

To learn more about Versailles ’73 and filmmaker, Deborah Riley Draper, visit and

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Links to Excellence – Great Art, Great Music

The mesmeric cover of Emrah Kotan’s debut CD, The New Anatolian Experience was achieved via the professional services of photographer, Damaris, along with graphic designers, Ariel Fluerimond and Octavia Warren.

Surpassing its visual appeal, the ­­­­music of this Turkish percussionist – who plays for Grammy-winner, India.Arie – impresses with such tracks as “Ottoman Slap,” “Tanya,” and “Yemen Türküsü (Song for Yemen),” all of which can be sampled through the following links.