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At the Palladium: World music from Kafkasso

Bill DeYoung



Daryel Kafkasso Erdem, left, onstage with the flamenco/Mediterranean/gyspy music band Kafkasso. Photos provided.

Since his arrival in the bay area in 2009, guitarist Daryel Kafkasso Erdem has been played his fiery, mystical Mediterranean-imbued music in every county, in every city, in west central Florida. And in just about every venue. He plays solo, in small groups and as the anchor of a 12-piece band called Kafkasso.

The band – including belly dancers, flamenco dancers and ballerinas – performs Sunday in Hough Hall, the big room at the Palladium Theatre. Kafkasso has been a regular draw at the theater since director Paul Wilborn caught their exotic act in a local restaurant, circa 2016.

An accomplished flamenco and gypsy player, and composer, Erdem was already an accomplished musician in his native Istanbul, Turkey, when he was awarded a scholarship to further study guitar at Northwestern Michigan College.

Florida? Never heard of it.

“It was a funny thing,” Erdem explains. “I was studying in Michigan. My friend was a bass player from Florida, his wife was going to school in Florida. As I was leaving, I called them to say thank you very much for everything. He said ‘Man, Michigan is not a very good example of the United States. Let me show you Florida – it’s more musical, it’s warm and there are lots of things to do.’

“I came to see them, with my wife at the time, and we both fell in love with the place.”

His first job was demonstrating acoustic guitars at Sam Ash Music in Clearwater. He soon became a guitar teacher, working over the years at numerous educational centers, including Dunedin’s Musicology, “a great hub for meeting lots of amazing musicians.” By 2011, he was playing somewhere seven nights a week.

He took to the instructor life. “I think teaching is the best way to learn something,” Erdem says. “Because when you teach something, you have to understand it all around, right? Processing the thing.

“My father, he teaches astronomical navigation at the Maritime Academy in Istanbul. He always studies before he goes to class, to make sure he has everything right – so the smart students cannot get him! Because they ask the tough questions.

“He always tells me ‘If you want to learn something, teach it, because it’s the best way to learn.’ I really agree.”

His musical vocabulary grew over the years, as he met – and gigged with – more people. The current lineup of Kafkasso includes players from India, South Africa, Russia, Iran, Venezuela and the USA. Some brought pronounced Latin influences, too.

It’s world music, in every sense of the phrase. “You name it, we have it in the band,” Erdem says. “We are really proud of that.”

Although Erdem takes what solo or combo gigs please him (“I want to play at the places I feel joy”), Sunday’s show will be Kafkasso’s second since the pandemic slowed things down in 2020. In March, the full contingent opened for Albanian pop star Aurela Gaçe at the Floridian Social Club.

They’re working on an album to be produced by noted guitarist and record-maker Alfredo Rivero.

“My goal in 2024 is to just do concerts,” Erdem elaborates. “Because from playing so much, I couldn’t really put together the album I’d like to do. I’m telling myself ‘OK man, it’s time to put 100 percent of your focus on this album, and do something with it. I really owe this to my band as well, because these people with me … they’re all amazing people.”

He’s particularly proud of his collaborations with dancers Johanna Zenobia and Omaris, from Hip Expressions Belly Dance Studio.

Although vocalist Jenna Denee has joined Kafkasso, “I don’t write lyrics,” Erdem says. “The moment you put lyrics in any tune, then it’s an English song. Or it’s a German song. Or a Turkish song. I prefer to use dancers in my compositions.

“I share with them the story; I tell them how I wrote the song – every mood that I was feeling writing that particular melody. And I’m very blessed with amazing dancers. I explain the stories of the songs and they create these choreographies, which I really like a lot.”

More info and tickets at the Palladium website.





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