Recognized worldwide as a virtuosic percussionist Burhan Öçal has made the bridging of musical cultures his central mission. A native of Kırklareli in Thrace region, he grew up in a musical family. From his father, he learned a variety of percussion instruments, while his mother introduced him to religious vocal music. After his first contact with Western music, he became interested in combining other genres and cultural traditions, such as jazz and Western classical music, with his own.
Burhan Öçal’s instruments are as diverse as his music. In addition to a wide variety of percussion, such as the Darbuka
(a vase-shaped drum played with the fingers), Kös (kettle drum), Kudüm and Bendir, he is a highly skilled player on a number of stringed instruments, including the Divan-Saz, Tanbur and Ud. His expressive voice adds to the spectrum of musical elements at his command.
Öçal has become widely known for touring and recording with his Oriental Ensemble, who performs traditional gypsy and Turkish folk music. As a much sought after musicians, he has also performed with Maria, Joao Pires, Joe Zawinul and Eliot Fisk.
Burhan Öçal made his US debut in February 1998 joining Eliot Fisk for performances in Los Angeles. Shortly after, he toured with George Gruntz Band, performing at the Montreal Jazz Festival, in Vancouver, at the Ravinia Festival, and at the Knitting Factory (NYC). Other highlights of his engagements have included two performances with the İstanbul Oriental Ensemble at 1998 WOMAD Festival (U.K) and three performances with the Ensemble at EXPO’ 98 in Lisbon. He also gave a solo performance in London at the Royal Festival Hall at Rhythm Sticks (1998).
Öçal’s 2000 season was highlighted by a series of major concerts: In March 2000, he released in Europe and in Turkey a tour with George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band special guest with Burhan Öçal. Then he appeared at the St. Irene Museum withnin the Istanbul Music Festival and in San Fransisco with Kronos Quartet. At the Istanbul Jazz Festival, in July, he was one of the guest stars along with Djivan Gasparian playing with Andreas Vollenweinder. His second project in this festival was “Meditroni” featuring Massilia Sound System. In October 2000, he performed at Womex, in Berlin, accompanied by his group Istanbul Oriental Ensemble.
His album, “Groove Alla Turca” (1999-Doublemoon), in which he collaborated with the American bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma featuring Natacha Atlas, was first released in France by Birds and Blues (2001) and then in North America by Night and Day. Burhan Öçal in 2001 did two big tour in Europe with “Groove Alla Turca”. He appeared on the General Motors Big Event, at the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, together with İstanbul Oriental Ensemble and the special guest participation of Mercan Dede, in a concert of exceptional acclaim called “East Meets West” watched by 150.000. Again in July 2001, at the Istanbul Jazz Festival, Burhan Öçal shared the stage with Sting. In April 2002, Burhan Öçal with İstanbul Oriental Ensemble toured the USA with ICM.
Burhan Öçal won several awards including German Record Critic’s Award with Oriental Ensemble (1995), another one with Sultan’s Secret Door and Prix Choc for his solo album “Ottoman Garden,” (1996).
His “Trakya All Stars” is a highly special project where Öçal collaborates with master musicians from Thrace region, paying tribute to the musical heritage of his birthplace. The Roman-Balkan influenced album possesses a timeless character which manages to take deep tradition to a contemporary level. It is produced by the Tunisian born French musician, sound engineer and producer Smadj, highly respected for his knowledge of oriental music and for his digital innovations.
His latest appearance was with the flamenco guitar virtuso Paco de Lucia at Istanbul International Jazz Festival (2004).
A second collaboration with Pete Namlook, a prolific composer in contemporary electronica and the founder of Fax label of “ambient/chill out” was released in November 2004 as a tribute to Sultan Orhan. His next album “ The new dream” is released on Doublemoon Records in June 2005.
Burhan Öçal also captured the attention of directors and critics with his role as a Mob Boss in the Abdullah Oğuz produced and directed “O Simdi Mahkum”, proving that Burhan Öçal is in a small group of musicians who truly have acting chops to make the jump to the silver screen.
Aside from recording and acting, Burhan Ocal also continued to play in front of audiences with the Zurich Chamber Orchestra and piano virtuoso Fazil Say.