That Malta’s music scene is consistently growing in both quantity and quality is no secret. Too often, however, we tend to overlook the fact that apart from our homegrown talent, the local scene also features a number of foreign musicians who, for some reason or other end up living here, eventually becoming part and parcel of the various sounds and styles this island produces.
Turkish musician Arda Baykurt, who many will know as the drummer in local band Scar, is one of them. Rock, however, is just one of the many sides to this versatile musician’s story, who in the space of five years has become a pivotal figure in Malta’s music scene.
Every style has its own rhythm, so I let the music guide me…
“My mother tells me I’d been knocking on doors with proper rhythm since I was three, but I think I was 10 when I decided music was my calling,” Baykurt tells me with a smile that confirms it was the right decision to make. He has every right to smile too, given the extensive list of artists and bands he’s played with in well over two decades of music performance, but like every other artist, he had to start somewhere.
“I was 13 when I joined my first band, Dead Mosh, in Ankara,” he reminisces. “We weren’t allowed in bars, but I convinced my uncle to help us get a permit so we could gig.”
Before that, Baykurt says he actually started out playing piano but took to the drums because they provided a form of release.
“I’m quite hyperactive, so the drums offered the perfect outlet for me to vent my excess energy,” he confides. Acknowledging that metal was a convenient stepping stone, Baykurt admits he was soon looking to other styles to challenge his drumming abilities, deciding to be a full-time musician thanks to the stories his father’s uncle, a great saxophone player who had played with icons like Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong, used to tell him.
“In Turkey, we are exposed to both Eastern and Western music, so there are a lot of elements to be inspired by,” Baykurt explains. “After a few years of playing metal, I wanted to dig deeper into music and explore other genres too – from Blues to rock, jazz, Latin and more.”
What he found particularly interesting and motivating was the general open-mindedness of Turkish musicians towards blending traditional and modern elements.
“The traditional musicians are understandably dedicated to the old ways,” Baykurt concedes, “but at the same time they are also open to experimenting with new sounds and styles.”
It is with this mindset that Baykurt approached his solo project – solo as in it is his brainchild, because apart from his wife Nalan on vocals, the Skin Vibrations album also features several talented musicians from Turkey, Malta and other countries.
While there are enough ethnic elements on the album to justify a world music tag, Baykurt insists the idea behind this album, which was dedicated to his mother, was to bring together all the musical elements he feels inspired by.
“It features anything from Eastern and Latin elements to funk, pop and even electronic sounds,” he elaborates. “Every style has its own rhythm, so I let the music guide me and reacted according to how it made me feel.” That said, he admits that his preferred styles are Latin jazz and funk.
While both styles now figure prominently in the gigs he regularly performs in Malta, finding his musical calling here wasn’t a sure thing when he first moved here from Turkey to escape the hectic lifestyle a professional musician has to endure.
“I honestly didn’t know what Malta would be like, and in the beginning I felt depressed because I couldn’t find anyone to play with here.”
After discovering BJ’s in Paceville, Baykurt played a few gigs there, accompanying pre-recorded backing tracks, but he craved performing with other musicians.
Through Ian Schranz of Beangrowers, he was introduced to Scar, whose drum seat he has filled since 2009.
Since then he has also performed regularly with guitarist Mark Rapa and violinist Simon Vella and, in 2010, formed the popular Latin outfit Este Mundo with Chilean musician Mario Urtubia and Marjan Neskovski, who is from Macedonia.
“I guess Malta is quite cosmopolitan in its own way,” Baykurt remarks by way of explaining the all-foreign line-up of this Malta-based band.
Asked about his views of the local scene now that he is part of it, Baykurt says he is very happy in Malta.
“I love it here; the life is easy-going, the people are very warm, and to be frank the only concern I have is that because being a small country, we don’t get as many foreign bands performing here.”
This, he feels, robs all the local artists – local and foreign – of the opportunity to rub shoulders with foreign acts whose experience could also inspire and motivate them further.
“Luckily, the internet kind of compensates for this,” he adds.
Apart from his activities with bands and artists, Baykurt is also involved in Samba Malta, a project set up with the Why Not organisation which he plans to revive at a later stage.
“The idea was to put together a drumming ensemble performing a batucada,” he explains.
Initially it worked, but with a good number of foreign students involved, the numbers dwindled when their Maltese vacation was over.
“I’m planning to revive the project at a later stage, but this time I want to build it around locally-based, permanent participants,” he says.
“I want to build Samba Malta into a group that can take its energy and rhythm to the people whatever the event or location, but to do this it needs to have a more permanent formation.”
Meanwhile, he’s busy trying to find sufficient backing to co-ordinate a project that will bring together Turkish and Maltese musicians in a collective live performance, and of course, there’s a second album in the pipeline.
“This one will have a stronger Mediterranean feel and a livelier Latin beat along the lines of La Isla,” he says, referring to the song on his album that was inspired by the feel-good factor he has felt since moving here.
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