The Empire strikes here
Most Canadians are aware that this country is considered a premiere destination among those looking for new experiences, a new start or an entirely new life.
It’s no surprise then, really, that when Ozgu Ozman and Ozan Boz were casting about for a new direction in their life a decade ago – outside their native Turkey – they looked west toward Canada.
The pair, the heart of seven-piece Toronto band Minor Empire, will be in the valley to play The Banff Centre’s Club Series, July 27.
This time around, though, they’re hoping for a little better result than their first experience a decade ago.
Not long after moving to Canada, the Rockies called and the pair answered.
They found themselves in Banff, out on a trail, but then they found themselves turned around, lost and wondering what to do next. But then, like a nicely scripted plotline that could be used for Parks Canada advertising, a warden rode up on her horse and escorted the pair to the nearest trailhead.
“We were in Banff in the woods and we lost track of the time,” said Ozman, “there were no signs, it was getting dark and I saw some animal bones. I thought we were going to be food for animals, but out of nowhere a woman rode up and led us out. I really thought we were going to be food for other animals.”
This trip, said Boz, they’ll pack along a GPS unit to avoid a similar incident. “We’re going to get there a day or so early and do some excursions – and we’ll try to get back for the show.”
Minor Empire’s The Club gig is one of several in Western Canada the band will play, including in Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland, Edmonton, before they head back east.
The tour is in support of the band’s album, Second Nature, and to expose Western Canadian audiences to the Minor Empire blend of Turkish and western folk music – avant garde folk, as Ozman said it’s been described. The album received airplay on CBC and college radio, and reached the number one spot on National Campus and Community Radio World Music Charts.
Minor Empire is Ozman, Boz, Didem Basar, Micheal Occhipinti, Chris Gartner, Debashis Sinha and Ismail Hakki Fencioglu
Minor Empire has a style that is both contemporary and traditional, adventurous yet accessible. After starting out with western-style music in an earlier group, Auxetic Pulse, Ozman and Boz turned to the music of their homeland for fresh inspiration.
“Auxetic Pulse (one EP produced) was the first project in Canada,” said Boz. “I was influenced by psychedelic bands like Pink Floyd. But then we started deviating from a totally western sound because we wanted to add music from our own roots. The idea just evolved.”
Choosing to make a move to this country wasn’t difficult, said Ozman. “Canada has the best reputation in Turkey. There is such a curiousity about native indian art and culture and we watch Canadian TV shows. We really build it up there. Everyone in Turkey wants to go to Canada.
“It was part adventure and part curiousity,” she said. “And we wanted to go to Banff initially, to see the glaciers. It was one of our main reasons for coming here.”
For his part, Boz said his father being a forest engineer and the family moving around Turkey when he was a child may have had something to do with choosing heavily forested Canada. “At least subconsciously,” he said.
After landing in Canada, the pair said it took some time to adjust, learn the language and get a feel for a new country. Their families remain in Turkey.
Learning the language, said Ozman, was a challenge and she read Canadian poetry and fell in love with Leonard Cohen, but it was the fact that Canada is possessed of widely divergent seasons which whetted her artistic appetite.
“I was fascinated with the transition of the seasons,” she said. “I couldn’t stop writing lyrics about them. The seasons are very intense in Toronto.”
Oddly enough, Minor Empire lyrics are in English, she said. “I can’t write lyrics in Turkish, it’s very challenging.”
Boz said with English being a second language, “you’re more free to play with the words and experiment because there is less structure.”
Of the 14 tracks on Second Nature, most are based on the melodies of traditional Turkish music. “Many of the songs are 150 to 200 years old,” said Boz. “So chunks of our songs are traditional, but then we built around them from scratch.
“My thought in arranging is if I wrote the music today, how would I approach it? It took two years to write and arrange and a year to record in Toronto and Montreal. It’s definitely a unique sound.”
Turkish music, said Ozman, “is more for voice than instrument, so we have very elaborate arrangements and take parts of melodies and lyrics from the traditional.”
The pair have been working on their music full-time for the past three years and are constantly creating new material for a new album.
Minor Empire 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.
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