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Minor Empire

“Second Nature is more than just an interesting record, it marks an important way forward for Turkish and world music, in general…” Errol Nazareth, CBC Radio and Toronto Sun music columnist

An electrifying new sound recently exploded onto the Canadian world music scene. In 2011, Toronto-based ensemble Minor Empire released a debut album, Second Nature, that deservedly created a major buzz. It has received unanimously positive reviews, both in Canada and beyond, and brought the group a number of impressive awards.

Minor Empire has forged a style that is simultaneously contemporary and traditional, adventurous yet accessible. The group is the brainchild of guitarist/composer/producer Ozan Boz and vocalist/composer Ozgu Ozman. After mining modern, Western-accented music in their earlier group, the trip-hop inflected Auxetic Pulse, this dynamic duo turned to the music of their homeland for fresh inspiration. Minor Empire and Second Nature is the superb outcome.

Ozan stresses that their style isn’t a fusion of Turkish and Western music, but the result of both a collision and confluence of these disparate elements. “I see them as coexisting together while keeping their original shapes,” he explains. “We definitely kept the original vocal melodies while fitting them into modern song forms we composed.”

The bulk of the compositions on Second Nature are based on traditional Turkish folk tunes. This material is given new and contemporary life by Boz and Ozman’s adventurous arrangements, Ozgu’s enchanting vocals, and the empathetic accompaniment of a stellar cast of supporting players. Montreal-based musicians Ismail Hakki Fencioglu (oud) and Didem Basar (kanun) and Torontonians Debashis Sinha (darbuka, bendir, and asma davul) and Sidar Demirer (saz) excelled on these traditional Turkish instruments, while internationally-acclaimed Turkish-based clarinet player Selim Sesler guested on four songs. Adding more contemporary sounds on, respectively, guitar and bass were Michael Occhipinti and Chris Gartner, two of the most respected Canadian jazz and world music players.

The resulting album takes you on a fascinating musical journey, full of scenic sonic detours. Contributing to the record’s rich diversity is the fact that the music traditions revisited here come from all the different regions of Turkey.

The pair’s style as Minor Empire has evolved organically. Michael Occhipinti, a longtime friend, observes that “I think they have a great partnership in knowing what suits Ozgu’s voice and choosing the material around that beautiful instrument.” The gestation of the Minor Empire sound took place in Ozan’s own High Park Studios in Toronto. Boz had no hesitation in allowing these elite players creative freedom, and the results on Second Nature are warm and spontaneous sounding.

Reaction to Second Nature since its release has been wildly enthusiastic, beginning with the official CD launch with a full house at Toronto world music hub Lula Lounge. Alan Davis, head of Small World Music Society, wrote that “Minor Empire’s CD release concert was an impressive affair all around. Musically sophisticated and well-played, they also demonstrated their ability to draw the community and a broader audience together.” “I love how their sound blurs the lines between electronic and traditional Turkish music,” declared Errol Nazareth. Exclaim’s David Dacks called the record “a slinky, dub-y Turkish soup of knotty rhythms.” Folk World reviewer Holger Brandstaedt wrote that “Ozan Boz creates a dynamic virtuosity and masters the balance between electronic and acoustic instruments,” while another Folk World writer, Eeico Schilder, called it “a perfect symbiosis between Turkish traditional elements and contemporary jazz and electronic sounds.”

Writing in The WholeNote, Tiina Kiik termed Minor Empire “a smart band creating intriguing sounds and melodies set to a backdrop of funky beats.” World Music Central’s TJ Nelson noted that “the group coaxes both western and Turkish music into a delicious dance that is both fresh and stylishly hip,” while Songlines writer Li Robbins called them “a group of talented musicians with a deep understanding of what it takes to create dreamy and cinematic textures that unfold with a seeming simplicity.”

The album received impressive airplay on CBC and college radio, and reached the No. 1 spot on the National Campus and Community Radio World Music Chart. Performances at such notable festivals as Luminato in Toronto, Sunfest in London, and The Markham Jazz Festival have again shown them to be a simply dazzling ensemble onstage, and they have quickly become sought-after additions to a wide range of fests.

This July, they play three major folk festivals in B.C., followed by gigs in Edmonton, Banff, at Harboufront Centre in Toronto, and then their debut appearance at the very highly regarded Hillside Festival in Guelph,Ontario.

The building momentum of Second Nature also helped Minor Empire win a couple of major music industry awards. They won a 2011 Canadian Folk Music Award as World Group of the Year, followed by the 2012 Sirius/XM Indies Award for Best World Music Artist/Group or Duo.

Kerry Doole, 2012