Mercan Dede | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

A lot of electronic music producers look upon the music of the Middle East as useful sample fodder--nothing evokes exoticism as instantly as a melismatic minaret wail or a twangy oud figure tossed into the mix. Talented Asian producers like Karsh Kale, Bally Sagoo, and DuOud work at a higher level, thanks to a real understanding of the traditions they're stealing from. But no one's pulled off this fusion more intelligently and convincingly than Istanbul-bred, Montreal-based producer Mercan Dede (aka Arkin Allen). Dede was raised to be one of Turkey's legendary dervishes, so he knows plenty about the trance-inducing power of melody and rhythm; he's also a skilled player of the Turkish reed flute called the ney. In concert with his excellent Turkish-Canadian band, Secret Tribe, Dede controls tightly programmed beats and samples of everything from muezzins to bullfrogs from behind a console topped with a pair of turntables. He's accompanied by clarinet, kemence (a three-stringed fiddle), kanun (a hammer dulcimer), several killer percussionists, and--at the show I caught in Germany a few years ago, anyway--whirling dervishes. The music is rich and moody, stamped with the melancholy lyricism of Turkish Sufi music, and Dede varies the beats with the skill of a good club DJ. His most recent album with the band, 2002's Nar, is finally receiving a stateside release on July 29 from the Mi5 label, as part of a double-CD set called Sufi Traveler (the other disc is 2001's Seyahatname); these performances constitute Dede's long-overdue Chicago debut. Wednesday, July 21, 9:30 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707 ($12). Thursday, July 22, 7:30 PM, Spirit of Music Garden, Grant Park, Michigan between Harrison and Balbo; 312-742-4007 (free). He'll also do a free opening DJ set as Arkin Allen for Miles Maeda on Wednesday at 6:30 PM at the Spirit of Music Garden.

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