Brenna MacCrimmon & Kulak Misafiri
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Brenna MacCrimmon & Kulak Misafiri

Toronto, Ontario, Canada | SELF

Toronto, Ontario, Canada | SELF
Band World Acoustic


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"Brenna MacCrimmon - Kulak Misafiri"

Brenna MacCrimmon is a Canadian singer who has for many years been a respected fixture in the music of Turkey. She has appeared on numerous recordings, the most notable being Karsilama with clarinettist Selim Sesler (Kalan 1999). As well being a fine artist she is also possessed with intellectual curiosity about her music and is aware of the peculiarity of her status as an ‘outsider’ with a deep knowledge of Turkish culture. As well as being an excellent CD of music from various parts of the Turkish world, Kulak Misafiri (from an expression meaning ‘to overhear’), which was recorded in the US and Canada, is a musical expression of these issues. Most of the musicians are non-Turks and there is no bogus striving for authenticity – rather, these are interpretations of the repertoire by musicians who, by and large, did not imbibe it with their mother’s milk. That said, the quality of musicianship is very high – there is no on here who could not cut the mustard in a more traditional Turkish setting. The performances and production perhaps express a restraint that one might not always find in a Turkish equivalent but I prefer to see this CD simply as an excellent collection of Turkish song performed by eminently qualified musicians.

These songs are in the main traditional and well-chosen for the variety of melody types (the CD includes pieces from Bulgaria, western Turkey, the Azeri tradition, etc.) and the quality of lyric – Bir Allahi Taniyalim (Let Us Recognise One God), for instance, has a superb poem by Ali Izzet Özkan.

The close of the CD is both clever and delightful, consisting of a song in English sandwiched between two taksims composed of birdsong and urban sounds. The English song connects with the rest of the CD in its instrumentation but is otherwise in a wholly contrasting style. In this way, MacCrimmon asserts her unique musical identity, one which is informed by her long immersion in the music of Turkey but which also informs the trajectory of that immersion.

The CD comes with a 32-page booklet that contains translations of all the songs as well as full details of the songs and musicians.

Chris Williams - fRoots


Kulak Misafiri (2008)
Ayde Mori (2001)
Karsilama (1998)



Kulak Misafiri (literally “ear guest” but in meaning more like an “ear witness”).

Canadian singer Brenna MacCrimmon spent years living in Turkey, to learn traditional music and to try and understand how it fit into the modern city of Istanbul. In the course of her explorations she worked with a diverse range of musicians, from Rom clarinetist Selim Sesler to Turkish alt-art-rockers Baba Zula. It was the sounds of the music and the instruments and the life that drew her and kept her there and she met many others like her, from Europe and North America. When she set out to record her latest CD “Kulak Misafiri,” she drew on that pool of like-minded musicians, people who had traveled and lived abroad to learn more about the music that enchanted them, the musicians who made it and the culture that it was a part of.

The CD has garnered rave reviews. For each song on it, Brenna chose musicians and instruments that would bring out a certain character or flavour, whether typical or traditional or not. As a departure from the way most recording is done in Turkey these days, the bulk of the tracks were recorded live in the studio to maintain the spontaneity and the spirit of the music. Though the tunes were recorded in 7 different studios with 30 different musicians over a period of two years, they have been carefully mixed and mastered to create a unified listening experience from start to finish. Since it’s release in Turkey in the fall of 2009, where Brenna is something of a cult figure, it has been a top seller for Turkish label Kalan.

The idea of listening and interpreting what we hear is fundamental to this undertaking.
The project is about making good music and respecting the time and process that goes into it. It is about allowing the listener the space to hear and feel. There is an interesting word in Turkish “duymak”. It means literally to feel, to sense, to hear. To perceive. When you hear a song, you also feel it. So too, a poem. The things you feel, your feelings, are translated into another form and “heard”. It becomes a cycle.

Just as we gain an outside perspective on life in another culture, we also have an “outside” ear. How we hear and express what we perceive is a part of our culture and while we may strive to learn as much as we can about the ‘other’, we still filter this all through our selves. We are who we are. Yet at the same time we speak another musical language. Maybe with a hint of an accent. Enjoy that accent. It is a character, too.

In January of 2009 Brenna began the first in a series concerts to perform as much of the album live as possible, gathering musicians according to locale, adapting the arrangements to suit the ensemble and allowing the songs and music evolve as the situation dictates and not be held to one canonical version. The songs also develop a life of their own. In the way that for decades jazz musicians have been able to get together and play standards, the community of musicians that can really play and understand Balkan and Turkish melodies and rhythms has grown to the point where.....we are everywhere.

The touring form of Kulak Misafiri features some great friends and fine musicians. At the core is a solid rhythm section provided by the “Americans”: bassist Paul Brown & percussionist Polly Tapia Ferber. They have together played in numerous ensembles over the years, as well as pursuing their own specialties beyond Balkan music. Adam Good, now resident in Berlin, is one of those people who can pick up and play anything, though he has thoughtfully limited himself to plucked strings so that us mere mortals aren’t so intimidated. A Berkelee grad, he found more to love in Macedonian music than jazz or pop and over the past few years he has studied Turkish makam (musical theory), oud and tanbur. He has worked with Paul and Polly often over the years and the three have developed a tight relationship on stage. Violinist Jesse Kotanksy grew up steeped in Balkan music and has studied and performed with the best musicians in all genres in New York City's vibrant musical world. A multi-instrumentalist he also plays oud, cümbüs and keyboards. Added to the mix is Brenna’s voice which is strong and flexible, powerful and subtle and delivered with an infectious love and respect that draws the audience in. The overall sound is a balance of the traditional and familiar with the new and unlikely. It is all really tasteful. And Joyful. And Beautiful.

Brenna & her ensemble members are also committed teachers who frequently give workshops and classes. In 2008 Brenna joined the board of directors for the EEFC (, an American non-profit organization devoted to the teaching and dissemination of Balkan music and dance. The EEFC stages two workshops each summer which have become meccas for students of all levels and a place for master musicians and dancers to connect and exchange skills and knowledge. They are also a heck of a lot of fun, which is what