Montreal Band Esmerine Talk Turkey

Interview with Rebecca Foon of Esmerine

This article was commissioned by CultMTL to run the day of the Dalmak record release concert, however it was published the next week due to problems with the web host the day of the show.  The version below is a slightly more in depth version. 


Esmerine released a pair of impressive albums in the early aughts, but aside from periodic performances around Montreal, the group was relatively silent for six years until the release of 2011’s La Lechuza, dedicated to the memory of departed Montreal vocalist Lhasa de Sela.  The core of the group remains Rebecca Foon (A Silver Mt Zion, Set Fire to Flames, Saltland) and Bruce Cawdron (Godspeed, Set Fire to Flames), though various local musicians have fleshed out the ensemble over the years, most recently percussionist Jamie Thomson (Islands, the Unicorns) and multi-instrumentalist Brian Sanderson.  Their latest is Dalmak, released by Montreal’s Constellation Records, inspired by time spent touring in Istanbul and their most drivingly rhythmic and accomplished work to date.

Esmerine’s core compositionally has always explored the range of melodic percussive music.  Past contributors to the ensemble have always resonated with this guiding exploration. Sara Page’s Harp and Andrew {)’s percussion fit pretty seamlessly into this sound world.    La Lechuza also featured many other guests, including current Cst labelmates Colin Stetson on sax and Sarah Neufield on violin,  as well as vocals from Patrick Watson.  That album was one of the most moving of 2011 for me.  Foon and Cawdron’s erstwhile bandmate  Efrim Menuck also released an album that year, his solo debut, Plays “High Gospel,” which dealt with loss, for instance a song for Vic Chesnutt, with whom Menuck and Foon had both recorded two albums.

But things have changed since 2011, we can see a bookend to backwards glances.    Dalmak is Esmerine’s most accomplished work to date, and it took a residency in Istanbul to catalyze this latest chapter.   The groups immersion in Turkey and engaging with local musicians their surely brings aspects of Turkish style into the mix, but this collection of songs remains coherent within the larger Esmerine ouvre.

Relative newcomers Brian Sanderson and Jamie Thompson  add a variety of instruments (marimba, drums, melodic percussion), along with return contributions from Sara Neufeld.  However a bunch of Turkish musicians bring a whole new rhythmic energy to Esmerine, and the tracks they recorded with the ensemble in Istanbul remain the core of Dalmak.


Can you tell us more about the residency in Istanbul and how the city shaped the direction this record has taken?

Rebecca: This was all a bit of a spontaneous adventure. Our European booker was living in Turkey and we were invited to play a show in Istanbul when we were touring La Lechuza. During that trip we met incredible musicians and were very moved and inspired by the city – we all fell in love with Istanbul.  It turned out to be a bit of an epic logistical journey – but we managed to rent a beautiful loft in the heart of Istanbul, set up a little mobile studio in it, and brought the band together with musicians from Turkey for almost 3 weeks.  Those recordings form the heart of Dalmak.


Have Middle Eastern musics influenced Esmerine prior to this stay in Turkey? The massive finale of [sophmore LP] Aurora, “Histories Repeating as One Thousand Hearts Mend” had tinges of influence throughout.

It’s interesting to look back at it now – yes absolutely that piece has Middle Eastern influences.  It’s a song we’ve been re-interpreting with the 8-piece “Dalmak” band as well, not surprisingly.   Bruce and I have each explored that sensibility in our respective prior projects (Godspeed, Silver Mt Zion, Fifths of Seven) and through the music made by others in our community, like Sam Shalabi (Land Of Kush), Radwan Moumneh (Jerusalem In My Heart) and Pierry-Guy Blanchard (Pahca). It was also pretty awesome to watch Esmerine’s drummer Jamie rock out for the first time with Hakan (an amazing Turkish percussionist) – you could tell it was a dream come true for both of them.

Does Istanbul really have the best bread on Earth?

Istanbul not only has the best bread on earth – but the best food on earth. I pretty much melted in my seat every time I put food in my mouth!

What can you tell us about the record release show?

We have grown from a quartet to an 8-piece band for this Canadian tour of Dalmak and we’re thrilled to have two musicians from Turkey joining us who were part of the original recording, James Hakan Dedeoglu and Hakan Vreskala, as well as two amazing local players who’ve been immersed in “eastern” styles for a long time, Jérémi Roy and Hraïr Hratchian. This is the most energized and groove-based music Esmerine has made and we’re super excited to be able to present with the big band in our hometown at our favourite venue [La Sala Rossa].  With the incredible Matana Roberts coming in from NYC and Mark Molnar’s contemporary ensemble Kingdom Shore coming in from Ottawa, we do humbly feel that it’s going to make for a pretty special night of music!

And it certainly was.  Thanks!


Show Info / Links

Esmerine + Matana Roberts + Kingdom Shore

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013
Sala Rossa

2 responses to “Montreal Band Esmerine Talk Turkey”

  1. SP* Episode 14: LISTENING THROUGH MIMAROĞLU – with Serdar Kökçeoğlu [podcast] | a closer listen Avatar

    […] and have been looking for an opportunity to return ever since. This desire was reinforced when I interviewed Esmerine in 2013 about Dalmak, a record they recorded in Istanbul which would become the winner of […]

  2. LISTENING THROUGH MIMAROĞLU | sound propositions Avatar

    […] and have been looking for an opportunity to return ever since. This desire was reinforced when I interviewed Esmerine in 2013 about Dalmak, a record they recorded in Istanbul which would become the winner of […]

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