Mehmet Dede and Serdar Ilhan of Drom

At the speed New York often seems to live, ten years is a lifetime. Especially in the ultra-competitive world of music venues. It can be hard to carve out a long term business.

For Drom, that means celebrating it’s tenth anniversary this month is a huge accomplishment. What’s the secret? Perhaps that there really is no secret. It’s just working hard and distinguishing yourself in the market.

The biggest thing that makes Drom stand out is the wide view they take on booking different music. Not only do they look for a variety of genres, but also a variety of nations. Many times, what’s popular in non-American/British/Canadian markets can be obscured here, but the moment somebody finally hears them, it’s popular. That’s what’s called an inefficiency in the game (if anyone’s read Moneyball).

The resulting lineups can be called “world music,” but really, it could be what’s about to be popular. I got a chance to dive a bit deeper into Drom’s mission and the advocacy that has stemmed from that mission with music director Mehmet Dede and co-owner Serdar Ilhan.

Performance at Drom

Your venue’s reputation as a “world music” venue has certainly manifested itself in the variety of genres you can find there. Mongolian throat singing though? How did that happen? What was the response from club-goers?

Mehmet: We present a variety of styles from commercial shows to niche genres. We are lucky to be living in New York, where there seems to be an audience for really everything, Mongolian throat singing included. Our audience is very eclectic, well traveled, and it’s just amazing to be in a position to present under-the-radar music for those interested.

Speaking of that term “world music,” what do you think of it? It really seems to be a catch-all for genres not of American or European descent.

Serdar: World music was kind of a new genre when I started promoting ethnic music in NYC in the ’90s. We started with Turkish and Balkan music, but over time hosted so many significant and culturally important sounds from around the world. Today, world music is very much welcomed in the US with enthusiasm. I believe that as long as there is an ethnic element or instrument to it, folk or jazz can be world music, too.

Many of the acts you book certainly have an appeal to specific diaspora in the city, but do you see a lot of crossover appeal? Do you try and encourage it?

Serdar: We encourage cross-pollination as much as we can. For example Al di Meola played with Husnu Senlendirici, who is a Turkish Gypsy Clarinet maestro. The sound that came out was simply amazing. Collaboration in music creates amazing sounds. I personally love it and would like to see more of it.

Ethnic, cultural, and religious xenophobia seem to be at a high now. How do you see your role in exposing people to cultures they may not have known a lot about through music?

Mehmet: All of us serve a purpose in society – some are amazing cooks with delicious recipes, others broker peace. I see our mission as providing a stage, quite literally, for artists to express their ideas, music, and talents. We can overcome ignorance by informing each other and we hope to continue presenting music, culture, and art with a message.

Okay, we’ve covered some heavy ground, let’s lighten it up. Tell me about Istanbulive, how did that come together?

Serdar: That was a collaboration with SummerStage, who had asked us to curate a day of music from Turkey. As you know, they present a whole lot of other sounds from around the world. When we held it on the Central Park grounds in 2009, we had over 7,000 people attend, which blew our minds. We did that for three years and then moved it to Lincoln Center. All in all we presented seven editions which raised the profile of the city and country.

What are some dream acts that you’d love to work with?

Mehmet: We established ourselves as a showcase venue for acts on the way up. For me there is no greater pleasure then seeing a band in a small, intimate room before they land on festival stages around the world. As long as the music is good, I’d love to work with any act.

In the ten years you’ve been around, what’s been your favorite experience?

Serdar: It’s very hard to choose, we had many unforgettable events! For example, Sir James Galway’s album release party with a Cuban band, a full house with Hillary Hahn right after her The Met concert, seeing Anthony and the Johnson walk into the club to watch a Serbian vocalist alongside Debbie Harry and Marina Abromovic. The list goes on and on.

Mehmet: For me seeing Snarky Puppy, Gregory Porter, Robert Glasper, among others, perform on the Drom stage before they went on to become big was a blessing.

Are there any upcoming events that we should know about?

Mehmet: We are celebrating our 10th anniversary in June with a wide range of shows from Balkan Brass band Slavic Soul Party to jazz greats Randy Brecker and Tim Reis, the funky/global soul band Brooklyn Gypsies, hot jazz band Mona’s Hot Four, and so many more. We hope you can join us for a few of the shows.

Check out what’s coming up at Drom on their official website.

85 Avenue A
New York, NY 10009
(212) 777-1157

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