Alp Bora has been strumming his guitar and humming Turkish tunes since the age of 12. It’s been over 2 decades but his affair with music only seems to get stronger and more passionate. Calling themselves Nim Sofyan, (which took 3 years to put together), Alp and his colleagues have been busy travelling to countries from India to Syria, enthralling audience with their spectacular skills and innovative music – Music that refuses itself to be bound to any conventional style, rhythm or beat. Stunning music...
Alp Bora has been strumming his guitar and humming Turkish tunes since the age of 12. It’s been over 2 decades but his affair with music only seems to get stronger and more passionate. Calling themselves Nim Sofyan, (which took 3 years to put together), Alp and his colleagues have been busy traveling to countries from India to Syria, enthralling audience with their spectacular skills and innovative music – Music that refuses to bind itself to any conventional style, rhythm or beat. Perhaps the only way I can describe their music is – A collection of notes that are distinctly different from the preceding and the succeeding ones. Yet they produce a seamless sound with the best elements from various cultures across the world.
Alp hails from Turkey and has been in Austria for over ten years now, and lives with his wife. Excerpts from his conversation with Ankur Sharma.
Nim Sofyan is such a beautiful phrase. What does it mean?
Nim Sofyan - just 2/4 rhythm in Turkish music.
Is there some inspirational story behind it?
No not really. We just needed a name, and I came up with it randomly. My colleagues loved the sound of the word, and we decided to go with it. It was like love at first sound!
Tell us about Nim Sofyan’s beginning. How/where/when did you guys meet up, and how did the idea of forming a multicultural, interdisciplinary band occur to you?
I’d been a part of so many bands prior to Nim Sofyan. Almost 6 years ago, I gave up the idea of ever making a band, it was a lot easier to make a solo career. But fate had some other plans for me. The night I made this decision, I met Paul Dangl (our Violinist) who was then playing in a pub at a session in Vienna. His Irish touch [to his music] was so evident and so impressive, that I wondered how a mix of Irish and Balkan would sound. It would definitely be something worth listening to, and I was fairly certain no one had ever done this kind of thing before.
We waited almost three years to find the right folks, because a band is like a marriage – you have to be patient and find the right one. And the rest, like they say, is history.
How many albums have you released so far?
3 albums. Tuna, Dum tek and Divane.
How did you approach the music companies and how was the journey from being a startup band, to an award-winning, established Austrian band?
Our first CD was a self-launched album since we didn’t have a record company back then. We started with the recording of the second one without a record label as well but we won the Austrian World Music and Audience award that caught a lot of attention in Middle Europe and we got a little popular. A record label was no problem then.
Now we are the official ambassadors of the Austrian World Music, and we have the Austrian Exterior Ministry paying for our travel (jokingly), and that’s how we landed up in India.
Did you have formal training in music? If so, where did you study music and arts?
I studied Jazz Guitar in Vienna and now I am trying to get a master degree in ethnomusicology. All my colleagues have studied or are still studying music. So yes, you can say we have a formal training.
With so much diversity and variety in your music, you guys seem like the perfect mascot for the label of world music. You prefer that or would you go for something more generic like Jazz, Classical or Folk artists?
We have not been using Irish elements in our music for the past 3, 4 years. We are more about Jazz with Oriental elements.
Who do you look up to? Any favorite artists/bands that inspire you?
I am inspired by the musical heritage of Anatolia. Anadolu (in Turkish) comes from the word “the motherland”, a word that summarizes the essence of the region as the place where many cultures flourished.
Which song and album are closest to your heart and why?
This question is like asking a lady how old she is (with a wink)
Which has been your most memorable tour so far?
It was always like a dream - Our tours in India, Turkey, Serbia, Tunis, Syria, Lebanon, Poland, England, Belgium are memorable. However, I’ll never forget our tour of Serbia. I was so overwhelmed when the audience applauded for over five minutes after they learnt that I am Turkish.
Who writes the songs and composes the music (in case the songs are originals)? What does each of you bring to the table during this process?
Mainly our Violinist writes the music along with me occasionally. But we use mainly folksongs and arrange them together.
Nim Sofyan’s percussionist, played an awesome trick with the spoons at your concert that was really impressive. Tell us more about it.
Daniel is originally from Finland. To play spoons and accompany “Finish Polkas” with them is a tradition there. He always says that it is really difficult and it must be – after all he has been practicing for over 25 years and still learning.
Electronica, Hip-hop, Trance, Funk, etc seem to be the new in-things. You can produce almost any sound without touching an instrument. Why did you take up traditional music, and not, say, go the remix/fusion way like most artists do these days?
We are not big fans of electronic music. We love traditional music because it’s honest and from the heart. I say honest because they stem from our feelings, irrespective of our own cultural diversity.
What are your thoughts on digital remixing and heavy use of technology instead of plain traditional instruments like flute, guitar, sax, etc (without any heavy remixing)?
Well all that’s just plastic and honestly it doesn’t sound good.
Do you write and compose the songs yourself or are they renditions of traditional folk songs from Armenia, Turkey, Finland, etc?
In one word – Both.
At your concert in India, you performed with an Indian duo with Tabla and Shahnai and you did such an amazing job with improvisations, et al. Do you plan to include such eclectic sounds in your music in the future, or will you be only using them in particular concerts?
We loved the session with two Indian musicians. After that performance we were all more interested in Indian music. We haven’t decided anything about collaboration but we are open to any interesting projects with fellow musicians
What is the toughest part of being a musician? I am sure you love the music, the travelling, and the adoration of fans, but is there a flipside to it?
Well, let’s just say it’s not like a holiday. It’s more like a quick business trip in which all sightseeing you do are the roads, the airport, and the concert arenas. We sleep on different beds every night, but I admit I do prefer it to going to an office everyday on a 9 to 5 job. But it’s not easy at all. I have a wife in Vienna and it hurts to miss many moments that I’d like to be around for.
We don’t see your albums on the shelves of music stores in India (and possibly other emerging markets). Do you have a plan to tie up with some local music companies to make your music available in countries outside of Europe?
We don’t have the right connections here in India. If an Indian company is interested in licensing our CD, we’d love to do it.
Anything about your future projects?
A new album, of course! In September we will be rehearsing for two weeks close to Salzburg. Then we will see when we can commence with the recording.
So, all you lovers of world music, if you are looking for some refreshingly new sounds, I highly recommend Nim Sofyan. So by hook or by crook, try to get your hands on their music, because I tell you, it's something you have never heard before.
For the music producers, please get in touch with us if you'd like to acquire recording and distribution rights for Nim Sofyan in India or Asia. Their music is waiting to be heard!
Read the review of the Nim Sofyan performance in India