17/02/2012

Istanbul Welcomes The Wailers and Sattas

I'd known for a whole month that the Wailers were on their way to Istanbul to play at Besiktas' Kucukciftlik Park, but even waiting outside the event, I still didn't really know what to expect.

The original line-up had already - both literally and metaphorically - "moved on" before I was born, with new leads, drummers, guitarists and backing singers to boot. In fact, only Aston "Family Man" Barrett on bass is the sole survivor of anyone who played with the band in their heyday.

'Who are these Wailers?' I thought. 'Should I be excited by their musical lineage, or would I be gearing myself up for disappointment?

If you're waiting for the answer don't hold your breath - I'm as undecided in retrospect as I was at the end of the set.

The concert took place in Kucukciftlik Park, down the road from the Besiktas Stadium. In the summer the park holds large outdoor gigs and Electronica festivals, but in the biting February cold a canvas was erected, carpets thrown down and an impromptu bar fitted at the back. The whole thing could have held one and a half thousand, although possibly half that number arrived - tickets still being sold on the door. The thing I love about Istanbul is that my musical taste is eccentric enough to experience bands in a way I would never be able to in the UK (I am recalling especially high-fiving Manu Chao on stage in a tiny bar off Nevezade). 
One of the greatest discoveries of the evening (just seconded by the presence of punk chicks - who confirmed my hope that the late 70s' Reggae-Punk fraternity might be all but dead) was home-grown support act Sattas, who delivered the best warm-up act I've seen in years. I vaguely recall watching Sattas' clips on Youtube a while back, and simply dismissed them as average Turkish reggae. 

Shame on me. After all, what Turkish reggae? Oyku, the group's bassist states in an interview that "Until now Turkey has never seen this kind of music, we're trying to be the first." When seen live however, Sattas are no immitators. The entire outfit, with a special nod to the enigmatic frontman Orçun Sünear, have undoubtedly imbibed themselves with nothing but classic reggae since the age of fetus. Notable songs included Savas Bitmeli (War Must End) and Disko Krali (Disco King). Tight backing melodies set most songs up for well integrated riffs which despite their simplicity, literally dripped off the guitar and frothed in the audiences' mouths. And believe me, I am familiar with the correct usage of the word literally.

Obviously for some of Sattas' fans I imagine it was all too much - Turkey's only reggae fans, witnessing Turkey's only reggae band, followed by the Wailers. 

The Wailers delivered a great set. This is no lie. I hadn't listened to any of their  post-Marley work on the assumption that the group was no more after Bunny Wailer and Pete Tosh went their separate ways, but the first few tracks constituted live reggae at its best. The selection of older tracks was spot on: Crazy Baldheads and War/We Don't Need No Trouble were a nice suprise parenthesis formed around predictable old favourites like Get Up Stand Up and I Shot the Sheriff.

However, I have some misgivings which I attribute to a number of factors:

  • The intro to the set was a three chord reggae beat without vocals, which may well have fermented the crowds anticipation at other gigs, but following Sattas' charismatic performance, it just seemed a bit, lazy.
  • Of the two young leads singers, it became more and more obvious as the set progressed that one had been chosen purely for sounding the most like Bob Marley, which was great for some of the classics, but when it came to the Redemption Song finale, it just didn't feel right.
  • Redemption Song has been ruined for me by white men with guitars at bar fund-raisers in Birmingham.
  • Redeption Song is not a good way to end a gig for the above reason.
All in all, it felt like watching a cover band. A good cover band by all means, but a cover band none-the-less. The discovery of Sattas, hearing some Marley classics done professionally live and witnessing hip movement in dance (it's not very Turkish) definately made it worth the trip.


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