Arkin IIicali, known worldwide through his many musical endeavors as Mercan Dede (and also DJ Arkin Allen) was born in Bursa, Turkey in 1966. He got his musical education in the ney flute, the bendir drums, and various other instruments through Sufi music masters. Starting out with a plastic water pipe he fashioned himself to resemble a ney, Mercan Dede has dedicated his life to creating art that brings people together. Through projects that span the globe, each one as different and special as the one before, Mercan Dede is much more than one person, he’s can only be called an entity; one that encapsulates his style, his personality, and even his other persona as DJ Arkin Allen. He’s original in his style and message, and his unique creativity will certainly leave an imprint in this world.
Mercan Dede believes that when you put digital, electronic sounds together with hand-made, human ones, you can create universal language, capable of uniting old and young, ancient and modern, East and West. It’s a bold claim, but the Turkish-born and Montreal-based musician/producer/DJ has the career and the music to back it up. When he takes the stage with his group Secret Tribe, he hovers at the side behind his turntables and electronics, occasionally picking up a traditional wooden flute, or ney to float in sweet, breathy melodies, while masters of the kanun (zither), clarinet, darbuka (hand drum) and whatever other instruments he’s decided to include that night, ornament his grooves and spin magical, trance melodies to match the whirling of the group’s spectacular dervish dancer, Mira Burke. Not to mention the many great international artists appear as guest musicians both in his albums and his concerts.
This contrast between electronica and classical or folkloric arts cuts to the core of the Sufi philosophy that guides this one-of-a-kind artist. ‘Those things are not really separate,’ says Dede. ‘The essence of Sufism is counterpoint. Everything exists with its opposite. On one side, I am doing electronic music. The other side of that is this really acoustic, traditional music.’ Dede doesn’t just bring in any traditional sounds and sights as adornment to his techno beats. He is ever on the lookout for new collaborators, and they might come from any tradition, any country, any generation. For Secret Tribe’s U.S. debut in January, 2004, he flew in three, teenage prodigies of Turkish classical music from Istanbul and two of the pieces they played were improvised during the concert. ‘When I choose a musician,’ says Dede, ‘I need to be connected with them in terms of personality, heart-wise we say in Turkey. We should have a similar energy and feeling about life. The second thing is they need to be done with the technical part of music. Once they’ve done that, you don’t need to worry. They can play anything not from mind but from soul.’