We all sometimes get lost in the routine of our lives. We work day in day out to earn the money we need to support our lifestyles. Trapped in this vicious cycle where our dreams seem to disappear, we get very few instances that remind us another life is possible. Walking down Istiklal Steet at any time of day, you might be lucky enough to stumble upon three young street musicians, who, with the strength of their music and personal stories, remind us that though we might live in a dark world, there is a light that shines at the end of the tunnel. With an incredible cultural mix in their sound, original compositions filled with poetry and mysticism, and a message of openness, respect and tolerance, Light in Babylon is a band of street musicians that shines a beam of hope in the heart of Istanbul.
Michal, the beautiful singer of Iranian descent, was studying Art Education in her native Israel when she came to the realization that art was severely constrained by the routines of daily life. In a moment of inspiration, she packed her bags and left for India where she would spend more than half a year. “Trying to make sense of it all, finding myself and figuring out what to do with my life,” Michal recalls, “I went to Europe and started heading East towards the Balkans.” Starting in Croatia and Serbia and moving slowly towards Bulgaria and Romania, she fell in love with the culture, food, lifestyle, and especially the music from this part of the world. It was during her travels in this region that she met the guitar player Julien.
The French guitar player of the trio, Julien, used to work in carpentry. Julien remembers how unhappy he was when he says, “I was sitting in front of the computer every day for 7 hours. The concept of sitting in front of a computer all day is impossible. I was getting very bad headaches. I think it’s not human.” After six months in the job, he threw in the towel and left France without a plan, without a destination, “just traveling for the sake of travel.” When Julien and Michal met somewhere in the Balkans, the musical chemistry between them was obvious. They continued traveling eastward, now playing music together, Michal and Julien were slowly being driven towards the Mecca of world music: Istanbul. This was 2009.
“We were expecting to stay in Istanbul for 3 or 4 days at first,” Michal jokingly explains, “but we kept meeting more and more street musicians and listening to more and more exciting music and a few days turned into weeks and then months.” One of those musicians was Mete Çiftçi. A very talented Turkish santur player, Mete had been playing in the streets of Istanbul for many years. Studying philosophy in various universities, it was his music that gave him comfort and meaning in life.
“It was the music and the chemistry we had as musicians that drove us together,” tells Michal. Previously self-entitled as amateur musicians, the trio was suddenly fully immersed in their new project Light in Babylon as full-time musicians. The band quickly went from playing covers of folk songs to writing original songs. Since 2010, they have released two demo albums, Istanbul and Life Sometimes Doesn’t Give You Space, with 13 songs each, sang by Michal’s powerful vocals in her native Hebrew language and co-written by the three band members.
Their eclectic music can’t easily be defined. Hip rock-style chords in the European guitar fuse with the mystical sounds of the Persian santur to create a fusion of the East and the West. Oriental percussion instruments, such as the darbuka, played by both Mete and Michal in the first album, add a Middle Eastern spiritual eroticism to their music. But it is in the authority of Michal’s voice and the mystery behind their poetical lyrics in Hebrew that the band elevates itself and envelops itself in a special aura. There is something about the passion she puts in her performance and the strength of her movements as she plays the percussion that captivates, hypnotizes, and inspires the audience, stopping them on their way to watch the band play.
What began as an amateur street music project is now gaining force as a full consolidated band. After completing their fully-independent studio album, which should be ready by June, the band will participate in various festivals across Europe throughout the summer. Their fan base grows every day, especially now that they perform at a variety of concert venues, such as Istanbul Live and Haymatlos. With the power of their music, Light in Babylon lights up the polluted skies of Istanbul encouraging people to think different and maybe dance to their mystical sounds.