Q&A with Belgian-Turkish guitar hero Ozgur Hazar, pure ear candy with all-time favorites blues rock tunes

"I believe I am missing the days that there were Heroes and big talents in the Blues scene and all music genres. Even 80's 90's pop starts, rock starts, bands, greatest talents. My fear is Blues becomes only entertainer music for people only listens to dance and have parties and losing the soul and vibe same time, those great performing musicians / singers becomes really rare to see now a days."

Özgür Hazar: The Blues Syndicate

Özgür Hazar was born in 1976 in Influenced by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, BB King, Matt Schofield, and other Blues legends. Lived in the US – Philadelphia between 2004 – 2006 and played with several bands in clubs. Played many concerts and clubs in Istanbul with his band. Has moved to Leuven/Belgium in March 2018. The first single ‘Sad and Blue’ was included in BRR album sampler 11th edition, together with great artists such as Allman Betts Band, Samantha Fish, Laurence Jones Band, Danny Bryant, Ken Valdez, Savoy Brown, and others. His band Ozgur Hazar’s Blues Syndicate came together in 2020 and played many shows and concerts in Belgium. “You know, every now and then you stand and listen to a group of musicians you don’t know and you are literally blown away.” “This debut album is pure ear candy and will please both blues adepts as bluesrock fanatics. Superb record!” “It’s useless to select the highlights, because all tracks are fantastic!” Dutch blues magazine ‘Back To The Roots’ ran short on superlatives to describe the debut album ‘Sad And Blue’ by Özgür Hazar.

(Photo: Özgür Hazar's Blues Syndicate)

Now you can experience this Belgian-Turkish guitar hero with his Louvain-based collective ‘The Blues Syndicate’ live at work too. A star-quality group of long-time blues cats playing the songs from ‘Sad And Blue’ mixed with all-time favorites from artists such as B.B. King, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan. A musical journey along the Mississippi River from Chicago to New Orleans and from Houston, Texas to Memphis, Tennessee, all straight at your local stage! Ozgur Hazar had a musical career in Istanbul and the USA before moving to Belgium in 2018. The band ‘The Blues Syndicate’ started in 2020 with Pieter Akkermans on keys, Geert Zonderman on bass and Vincent Caers on drums. A little later Arianne Musschoot joined the group with her voice from heaven to form the current quintet. The band is taking their soul from Blues roots while blending different Blues styles smoothly in a contemporary way. That this is appreciated by audience and programmers was clear when the band took home the first prize in the Belgian Blues Challenge in 2022. Özgür Hazar’s Blues Syndicate will be the participation of Belgium at the European Blues Challenge, Chorzów in Poland (June 1-3, 2023).

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues and Roots music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken? 

As I grown up in 90's my first influences was Classic Rock and 90's Rock bands then I started to discover guitar heroes such as Blackmore, Jimmy page later Hendrix , Mark Knopfler, David Gilmour and many others. Later this brings me to dig deep to the roots and to understand where all these guitar heroes influenced by… Then I started to listen BB King, Albert Collins, Stevie Ray Vaughan and many others while listening all these guitar gods after many years you realize also all these amazing players was also sharing some common musical background and influences. This is brings you very first blues masters and founders also digging deep again you end up with Jazz guitar players and even piano players, horn players where all masters been influenced by all these greatest artist. This explains why Blues is so reach and timeless. At the same time, you realize Blues just like a human history and culture having the roots from the past and involving as sanctuaries taking all the information from the roots and past but meanwhile trying to add some value in a contemporary way. This evolution brings people and new generation a chance to look into the Blues and giving opportunity to them to experience Blues in the way and sound they would like to hear in a modern way. Also, meanwhile there are still bands and musicians trying to keep the same vibe and sounds as the origin and roots which is also a great thing.   

How do you describe your sound and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from? 

While making my first album "Sad and Blue" I was more focused on blues guitar and guitar-based blues. Also styles as Shuffle, Texas Blues, Americana, guitar solos with a support of the Hammond organ and songs can be played live with a nice jam and performance. That was my first album and I play, record guitars as well some of the vocals, mix and produce entire album myself alone at home. Album work was started even before Covid times while I was still in Turkey and that I have worked with all the musicians remote most of the musicians from US and some of my friends and others like a singer from Romania, a rapper from US, piano/Hammond player from Netherlands etc... Song "Sad and Blue" within the style of a bit Southern rock, becomes more favorite in US Blues lovers and played in many radio stations in US and I have received many good feedback from them. I believe first album already been achieved the goal that I was planning and bring me an exposure in the scene and I had setup my own band "Ozgur Hazar's Blues Syndicate" and we are performing the songs from the album in our gigs as well as some blues standards. Now with the second album, I am still working on the songs but now with a different mindset, trying to bring all my musical influences into the mix and focusing more songs other than guitar base, still trying to present different Blues styles such as soul, funk, a bit blues-jazz, Americana but still has the shuffle and groove.                                      (Özgür Hazar / Photo by Alain Broeckx)

"Most of the musicians starts in the journey that we would like to present how great player we are and we thought music is about playing great and making the perfect music. Later we discover and experienced as in the Blues, music is not about the technic and perfectionism but all about the feeling."

Make an account of the case of the blues in Türkiye. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?

Turkiye has many great musicians in all genres, that seems to be a normal considering the population. Blues also same, so many great musicians, players and bands performing Blues but same Blues is not a mainstream in Turkiye and still niche but the main difference between Europe, in Turkiye young generation is showing so much interest with Blues. Once you have a gig or concert you play mostly to the young audience and of course roots generation is almost there but young generation in Turkiye also loves Blues music a lot. One of the most interesting period in local blues scene, where they started to organize "Blues Guitar Players Night" it was started into the small club and keep growing during the years and becomes a very big event ended up one the best concert venues in Istanbul while hundreds of young blues lovers able to listen best blues guitar players in the country around 20-25 guitar players same night! I was honored to attend this great festival many times and had an opportunity to play together with one of the best young and old players to the young blues audience, it was a great experience, and I am proud of my country in this manner. 

What would you say characterizes Belgian blues scene in comparison to other European scenes? 

Belgian Blues scene is a great scene with some great bands and also now we become friends with most of them knowing this is still a niche seen comparing to the mainstream and people know each other. Belgian Blues favorite instrument in the Blues is a harmonica, since this is also cultural and Belgian has one of the best Harmonica players in music history. Style more popular in Blues bands having their setup is harmonica and double bass player and also presentation of the band fits with the roots of their style with suits and shinney shoes. This is perfect for the people who would like to listen roots blues music as closest to the original sounds and even as visuals.  Also, there are other good bands more in the style of Blues Rock and Americana and Boogie style.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?                                          (Photo: Özgür Hazar)

We have been playing in one of the festival in Belgium and after the soundcheck we went to the restaurant next to the venue. Band was already there and I was last to join, I went in to the restaurant with my cowboy hat and boots, which is my casual style for the gigs and sit to the table where my band members sitting. There was an old couple sitting next to our table and lady just next to me, I believe she was enjoying her wine already been a while now, and he asked me about the band and I told her that we are a music band and will be playing in the festival etc.. Since I was speaking English and not the local language that is the most popular question I receive is where I am from, then I told her I am from Turkiye / Istanbul then most of the time people seems to be start confusing. A man with a cowboy hat from Turkiye playing Blues in Belgium. That's really a rare moment you can face with smile! And indeed, one of the best moment happened in 2022 was Belgian Blues Challenge where there was many great Belgian bands and some of them very well known in the local scene, most people agreed this time it was one of the best quality competition ever happened in challenge history. I was confident with my band, songs and our performance but was thinking the way that we are not known in the scene even musically we have a great chance to win but with all these elements I was not expecting that Jury members will pick us as a best band and let us to present Belgium in European Challenge. This was one of the best moments in my 30 years musical career that I felt really honored and proud to myself and the band.  

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of? 

I believe I am missing the days that there were Heroes and big talents in the Blues scene and all music genres. Even 80's 90's pop starts, rock starts, bands, greatest talents. My fear is Blues becomes only entertainer music for people only listens to dance and have parties and losing the soul and vibe same time, those great performing musicians / singers becomes really rare to see now a days.  

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths? 

Most of the musicians starts in the journey that we would like to present how great player we are and we thought music is about playing great and making the perfect music. Later we discover and experienced as in the Blues, music is not about the technic and perfectionism but all about the feeling. That’s what I learn from Blues masters it is not about all the correct notes you played or how fast or how technique full but it is more about how you feel each note and how you touch the guitar and express yourself. As they say Blues is easy to play but hard to feel!

Özgür Hazar's Blues Syndicate - Home

(Photo: Özgür Hazar's Blues Syndicate)

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