Saturday Night in the Capital of the Turks – Ankara, Turkey


The trio at Café Pampero looked cozy and inviting in the cold and snowy night so I stepped inside and was immediately welcomed by the staff who all looked like this was home to them. I was hungry and settled at a well lit table so that I could continue reading while consuming a light meal.

The food that I ordered turned out to be more solid than anticipated and the wine was distinctly robust. I was perfectly content with my existence in this warm and intimate place when suddenly the live music started. A group of three musicians had assembled in the corner between the bar and the entrance to the kitchen of the small establishment. From the very first chords the music grabbed my attention.

With just two Spanish guitars and percussion the young men established their presence with a clear and strong sound firmly anchored in the tradition of their Ottoman homeland. The voice of the singer was powerful as he hurled himself into the abysses of the Arabic scales of his music. The two guitars mingled creating a web of tones and rhythms that was both complex and completely absorbing. The juvenile percussionist with blondish wisps of beard on his thin face was clearly no novice to the hand drums despite his young age. The trio enticed me to stay well beyond my bedtime.

Even the pop songs all sung in Turkish sounded fresh and never trite in the hands of these devotees to the music that transcends eras and geography. The small but dedicated audience requested more songs. There were those who were clearly the friends of the band, mixed groups of young men and women, as well as more mature couples drinking, eating and enjoying life on this Saturday night in Ankara.

One could clearly hear the Andalusian sounds in the guitars influenced by the Moorish conquerors of the Iberian peninsula since the eighth century. Such was the influence of Arabic culture all around the Mediterranean in its heyday and the Ottomans much later.

The Middle East is truly the cradle of western civilization. Musically Turkey, alongside Lebanon, remains at the vanguard of this wonderful culture.

When the band finished its gig, I decided to check out another place that the nice lady in my apartment hotel had recommended. After all, this was my first night in Ankara and tomorrow would be Sunday with precious little program.

The next joint was crowded and the cigarette smoke quite thick. A handsome young singer with dark hair carefully coiffed to give a casual look was cavorting on the stage to the rhythms generated by his band. Dressed in tight black pants studded with glittering ornaments back and front and a green paisley shirt open halfway down his chest, he would dance close in front of the women sitting on low chairs wiggling his body in a way that the Taliban would certainly disprove. More people arrived. Burly men kissed each other roughly on the cheek.

In Turkey everyone touches and kisses each other. The music was inspiring with its evocative oriental melodies and twirling sounds created by the young man with a studded ear and a goatee behind the Korg keyboard. The percussion set was identical with that at Café Pampero where I had enjoyed the acoustic trio just before: a pair of bongos perched on top of the congas; a row of small tubular bells and a beautiful traditional treble drum that the player held sideways in his lap.

Additional authenticity was added by the seated and subdued man skilfully picking on a traditional zither. The joint was hopping. Two small glass angels, one with golden wings on its back, hung suspended above the bar. I decided to leave when the band took a break and the sound system switched to mechanical Euro beats. The bartender was practicing his Tom Cruise tricks from ‘Cocktail’ precariously hurling bottles into the air behind his back.

While I was composing these notes on my palmtop I suddenly noticed the singer had sat next to me on a high stool. In a fresh shirt he himself looked refreshed. “Where are you from,” he asked in better English than I had yet heard in Ankara.

When I confessed to being from Finland, he rapidly professed his love for ‘Suomi’, as my country of origin is called in the native lingua. Definitely gay—and nothing bad about that, of course. Having already paid and with the bad music on the stereo I couldn’t think of a reason to stay. “Are you going already?” the prancing crooner asked me. “Why?” “I liked your music, not this piped junk,” I explained.

He accepted this explanation and smiled sweetly as I eased myself to the cold outside.There were plenty of young people on the street on this cold February night. Many of them were drunk in a decidedly un-Islamic way. Bottles were being passed around. ”One for the road,” I too thought to myself. And there it was, the City Lounge, just next door. It turned out to be as comfortable as the name suggested so I lounged there for a good while.

The clientele consisted of both girls and boys chatting and drinking beer. More interesting, in fact, were the personnel: a friendly young fellow with a thick Afro hairdo à la Jimi Hendrix who brought me my Efes beer; a middle aged guy with a head as bald as a boiled egg and the same shape (clearly in some sort of a supervisory role); another fellow with long brown hair tied in a sort of a ponytail wildly practicing his dance moves on the tiny floor when he wasn’t sharing snacks with his buddies amongst the customers. The flat screen TV was showing the raunchiest videos from MTV Turkey. Hot stuff. Who claims that Ankara is a boring place?

photo by Koray Gokhan on Flickr

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