Always intrigued by scratchy 78s and strange ghostly sounds, Brenna MacCrimmon first heard Turkish and Balkan folk music in the vinyl collection of her local public library in the early 1980’s. As a result she embarked on a slow and inexorable descent into the world of Turkish and Balkan music. In Toronto, she worked with local Turkish and Macedonian ensembles before eventually deciding to “go to the source” and learn more about the music and the cultures that produced it. She spent a year as a guest student in the folk music division of the Turkish State Music Conservatory in 1985-86. Back in Toronto she continued to work with community groups and lead the Altin Yildiz Orkestar – arguably Toronto’s first Balkan-Gypsy Band. In 1995 she returned to Istanbul with the intent to sojourn for “six months to a year”. That stay lasted 5 years. While she loves all types of Turkish and Balkan music, she was drawn to the points where that music overlaps in Turkish musical culture. During her years in Turkey she was most fortunate to work with and learn from many wonderful traditional musicians, accordionist Muammer Ketencoğlu and the late Rom clarinet maestro Selim Sesler among them. Not a strict traditionalist, she has also frequently collaborated with Baba Zula, a Turkish Psychedelic Folk Art Rock band. She has recorded several times with the aforementioned musicians, has appeared as a guest on many albums and film soundtracks in Canada, the US and Europe and has released her own recordings to critical acclaim abroad. She is a featured performer in “Crossing the Bridge’’, Fatih Akın’s 2005 documentary of the Istanbul music scene. Her theatre work includes musical director of the multiple award-winning Volcano production of Michael Redhill’s “Goodness” and musical direction for Soulpepper’s “Wedding at Aulis” by Sina Gilani. In 2010, she found herself in Moscow as a member of the cast of “Bobble” with Bobby McFerrin and in the summer of 2011 she toured across Europe with Balkan beat DJ Shantel and the Bucovina Club Orkestra. She has taught Turkish and Balkan song at workshops across North America, in France, in Turkey and in Japan.
These days she is often found singing and playing songs of the Eastern Mediterranean with Jayne Brown, Sophia Grigoriadis and Maryem Tollar as Turkwaz, or with Demetri Petsalakis and Jaash Singh as Zephyr, learning and singing old blues songs with pianist Bill Westcott (aka Ragtime Orioles), running ukulele sessions and events (The “Storefront” and seasonal “Doodles”), thinking about poetry and reading a lot about shadow puppets, crankies, The Thousand and One Nights and snakelore. Other recent projects include a retrospective of influential Turkish song-writer Fikret Kızılok with Toronto musicians Jack McRae and Deb Sinha, an electro-acoustic mélange of Turkish and Greek songs with Berlin trio Alcalica.
A 2015 recipient of a Chalmers Fellowship has allowed her to delve into her murky ancestry of Scots. Something will come of all that, to be sure