[16 April 2007]
Necmi Cavli was born in the Turkish seaside village of Bodrum. As an adult he moved to the UK, where he worked as a teacher and helped to establish the Hubble Bubble nightclub in London. The Hubble Bubble’s in-house style was a combination of UK dance music and Turkish flutes, Turkish ‘uds, Turkish folk melodies, and the visual decoration of Turkish folk exotica: a whirling dervish named Talip Elmasulu spinning around, and female bellydancers wearing coloured veils and harem trousers. There were trapeze artists hanging from the ceiling. Today, the club still focuses on Turkey, but other areas of the world have been represented there as well. On their website is a purple poster advertising the Bollywood Brass band. Near it is another advertisement, this time for West African dancers. But Turkey is at the soul of their fusion.
Oojami is the name Cavli uses to cover his independent activities as a musician. He makes albums of his own and goes on tour, taking bellydancers and dervishes with him. As Oojami he produces music that sounds like an extension of the Hubble Bubble’s dominant passion. Even his firmest piece of dance has silk ribbons of Turkish folk wriggling through it. He gives Boom Shinga Ling a hot, heavy, enclosed nightclub vibe. The beats he uses are hard and powerful and they’re there for almost the entire album, closing you in. His MCs have a deep voices and accents that sound Caribbean (even the one whose name is the un-Caribbean Aktar Ahmed), and they rap in short, forceful, sexy grunts.
“Move your body like a snake / Let me see that body shake”, says Simon Twitchin in “Hey Yo”. The dancers are, “Beautiful and so delicious”. “Dark Ages” begins with a tough-boy introduction: “Straight from the streets—Oojami”. Boom Shinga Ling is like that all the way through. It’s a cocky album with a head-bobbing strut; it has the attitude of the man who gets onto the dance floor proudly before anyone else because he is confident that he is going to be admired.
The folk instruments act as a buffer, winding through the heavy thuds and lightening the mood so that the weight of the music never becomes too stifling. They fill the spaces between the beats, keeping the action of the songs moving forward. The twirling is exciting, club-dervish, if you like, without the Sufi religious ecstasy. It picks up the dance-bounce and sweeps it forward. Boom Shinga Ling is full of speed and jumping, pushing us onward, pushing, pushing, strongly pushing, wanting to make us twitch and move in time to the music: moving your head if you’re sitting in a chair, as I am now, or shifting your feet if you’re standing. My resident layman is doing a knee-raising bounce across the floor and waving his elbows in time to the music. That’s unusual. Normally he doesn’t dance at all.
There’s brass in “Like That” and clarinets in “Zor”, and an accelerated tango in “Wake Me Up” coupled with an American-accented voice complaining that she’s afraid to sleep; one of the male MCs comes in quickly, followed by a flute. “What Kind of World” starts off sounding classically Arabic, then it segues into a flamenco swank, an electric funk guitar, then the rapping, the flute, the American-accented R&B voice again, this time announcing that her soul is on fire. Joanna Grant surfaces on “Shake That Belly” playing an Irish fiddle, twisting herself nimbly into the thumps and pushing.
The entire melange hangs together beautifully. It’s hot, it’s hard, it works. Cavli has said that he wants “to take my music beyond this niche and patronising ‘exotic sound and culture from other countries’ ghetto and be accepted first and foremost as a credible artist,” and no one, no matter how attached they are to homegrown music, could call his combination of world styles niche or ghetto. The only people who might be annoyed by it are those professional bellydancers who want to de-sexualise the public perception of their art. We move our hips, they say, but it doesn’t make us prostitutes or strippers. It’s a friendly community dance. We think that perhaps it has its roots in a birthing ritual. It’s personally empowering and good exercise for our abdominal muscles. Maybe we could all take out the word “belly” and replace it with “Oriental”? What about that? How about “Middle Eastern Dance”? Even the website for Cavli’s home town, Bodrum, now a seaside resort, insists that the dance “was a fertility ritual, it had its exact meaning in the religious rituals and ceremonies… In pre-Christian time the dance was religion and the religion also referred the sexuality…”
Boom Shinga Ling isn’t doing these people any favours. Any dance you did to a tune like “Hey Yo” or “Shake That Belly” would be sexual almost by default, with no reference to religion or ritual. It doesn’t help that the MC is telling the dancers to “wind and twine” because your body is “so fine”—which, if you’re exercising your abdominal muscles on a professional basis, is going to be absolutely true. Copeland International is promoting Boom Shinga Ling in tandem with their line of bellydance albums, but it doesn’t seem as bellydancer-friendly as another recent release of theirs that combines the sound of traditional Arabic music with modern electronica, Turbo Tabla’s The Belly and the Beat. That album doesn’t have the overloaded sexuality of the MCs or Boom‘s permeating thump. It doesn’t pen you up. It leaves you with room to breathe.
Boom Shinga Ling is an energy drink in comparison, jamming itself straight into your brain. “Boom shinga ling, boom shinga ling”, sings Michael Madden with stern pleasure. “Tinga linga linga linga tinga linga ling”. Boom, preen, grin, bounce, strut. The flute hoots huskily, the fiddle jogs and makes a flourish, a voice whoops, “Wahhh-hoo!” in the background. K-chang, friends. You’re awake.