Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol is a Turkish-American composer, ethnomusicologist, multi-instrumentalist, Harvard research fellow, and Emerson College and Holy Cross faculty member. He is the co-founder of the DUNYA musicians’ collective.
I hail from the ancient and enchanting Middle Eastern landscape of Cyprus and Turkey. This is where I fell in love with music and bonded a deep connection. The sophistication of this mesmerizing and equally vast music diaspora may be unknown to Americans. The odd, handmade strings and horn instruments are incredible pieces that bend notes micro-tonally, alongside unfamiliar scales and rhythms on instruments such as the tanbur or the duduk. Although I grew up with vast and rich Turkish music tradition, American jazz, and European classical music was an essential part of my world.
I grew up in a household rich with the music culture. My mother was a classical concert pianist, and I received piano lessons at the very early age of 5. This early introduction would play a huge role of what I later pursued in life in terms of music. When I first arrived in the United States in 1993, I wanted nothing to do with Turkey. I came to the United States to play jazz and I was at the perfect place. I studied music under the internationally acclaimed Turkish composer/pianist Aydın Esen, and then I won a scholarship to Berklee College of Music.
I was instantly successful in the music scene in the United States and received the Clare Fischer Award at Berklee College of Music. I had studied jazz composition, with such accomplished composers as Herb Pomeroy and Ken Pullig. In the same year of 1997, I founded the band AudioFact with Onur Türkmen and toured in Mexico, Argentina, across Europe and the United States. By 1998, my band released Black Spot on Kalan Records, and in 2000 I graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music with a Master’s Degree in Jazz Composition. Things were certainly moving along quickly and rather nicely on my journey towards becoming a jazz musician.