These songs stem from a perilous time in Turkish history when ethnic strife between Turks, Greeks and Armenians was beginning to make itself manifest. Oddly, perhaps, the precarious mood of the day doesn’t seem to infringe on these bubbling early seventies Istanbul meyhana (tavern) tunes. “All is well in old Stambul,” one might be seduced into thinking.
At the center of this Greek, Armenian, Turkish outfit was Rişar, a Greek chap, who cut a suave pre Anadolu rock & roll figure, singing in Turkish and Greek. Rişar was vocalist and gifted drummer, who could sing while playing drums standing up. He looks a bit like Aris San, in the liner notes, with his ubiquitous tinted wrap-around shades. The Aris San nod was no coincidence – in “Tamba Tumba” Risar sings the refrain to the tune of Aris San’s hit Boum Pam, with some fleet organ playing going on, veering off into wild arabesk soundscapes.
The most striking number is “Neredesin Sevgilim” (Where are you my love), a time-honored Zeibekiko, begining with crawling maqam-like intro, with some memorable Bouzouki style guitar playing going on and Rişar giving just the right quavering, sobbing lilt to his lines.
Listening to these songs today it’s a bit sad to realize that this was the last flourishing of an urbane golden age of multicultural meyhane life in Istanbul, before the fascist pogroms and ensuing population exchanges. Ultimately people like Rişar were the last of a doomed breed. And yet there doesn’t seem to be any premonition of their dire situation built into the songs; a hinting at the tragedy to come. The mood, rather, is cool and blithe. This is, after all, pre Anadolu rock, before the sneering vocal style of a Cem Karaca, or the hippy, trippy vocal come-on of an Erkin Koray. The songs have a honeyed air. There is no anger here; nothing dissonant. It’s not a music that kicks against the pricks. But all the same, with just enough emotion to ensure that that the songs don’t fall into the domain of bland, easy listening.