Baba Zula: more than a band

With influences from Anatolian folk music, psychedelic rock, and electro-dub, Baba Zula’s music reflects the mind-bending mix of styles and eras that we see every day on the streets of Istanbul. Twenty years after the band got its start, Murat Ertel is still leading it with his neon robes and electric saz riffs.

With performances that involve an absorbing mix of dance, electronics, live music, and costume, Baba Zula is more than a band. According to Ertel, it is a multidimensional art experience. “Some people only see one layer, for example saying, ‘They’re just an empty group that goes on stage in colorful outfits,’ or ‘They only play folk music.’ I don’t agree,” Ertel told The Guide Istanbul. “Baba Zula should be evaluated as a part of many forms of art, and its simplicity is the product of a great richness.”

Ertel comes from a family of cultured Istanbullites – his father, the graphic designer Mengü Ertel, became a State Artist of Turkey in 1998. One regular visitor at the house was Ruhi Su, an influential aşık or folk poet who accompanies himself on the saz. While the band is well known outside Turkey, these native ties are vital to its success. “Universal art only goes so far. You have to form a bond with the soil where you work,” he says. “The water you drink and food you eat are part of a legacy given to you. Of course Bob Dylan and the blues are also important, but [famed poet] Âşık Veysel is closer to me.”

Tracks on their album Do Not Obey include “No room for weirdos” and “Epic of resistance,” with lyrics that challenge the political mainstream. When asked whether Baba Zula has an ideology as such, Ertel points to the past. “Some people say, ‘We used to do that, but now we’ve realized it isn’t like that and we’re doing the opposite.’ We’ve seen this from leftists, people who should be progressive, writers, artists. But my parents and their generation of friends – like Yaşar Kemal or Turhan Selçuk – stuck to the end with what they believed was right.”