Yasemin Mori - Geronimo
Yasemin Mori is one of the flag bearers of the new wave of eclectic female singer-songwriter scene that I’m really happy to watch develop. She popped up on my radar with the then-very-popular Aslında Bir Konu Var, which I love for more than its wildly-shifting dynamics and the really cool video. Her first album, Hayvanlar, felt a bit hit-and-miss to me at first, as I kept looping one or two songs and skipping the rest of the album. I gradually warmed up to it however, and eventually internalized the whole album. Price of being eclectic, I guess.
Having gone through that, I should have remembered the experience while listening to the second album. I didn’t. Remember this post? Yasemin Mori’s Deli Bando was the first album I ripped and listened to on the plane leaving Turkey. I didn’t find it exactly bad, but I wasn’t hooked either and my verdict was “meh”. I discarded it and moved on to greener pastures. Well, I’m an idiot. I reluctantly decided the give this album another chance last month and I went through several playthroughs. Now I’m kicking myself in the head, it’s so good. Really good. Geronimo is one of my favorite tracks, but this time half the album are my favorite tracks.
Listening to the album this time around, I was paying attention, and as the brass hits forty seconds into the first track, I knew Korhan Futacı had to be involved. Well, he is, along with Berke Can Özcan (who, with Futacı used to form one half of Dandadadan). I’m not even surprised at this point that these people are involved, they seemingly pop up in any project I like.
To say a few words about the song itself, the lyrics seem to channel a Native American dream-quest-like experience. I like how Mori’s intentionally sporadic phrasing ebbs and flows around syncopation with the beat. And again, masterful use of dynamics. If you like the track, I heartily recommend the rest of the album, though be prepared for a disparate range of textures and moods.
Rashit - Rutin Hayat
Rashit is one of the earliest, and definitely the first major punk rock band of Turkey. Founded in 1993 (Yeah, I know. What can I say, I guess we were busy?), they’re still active, though I have to say I haven’t been closely following their later work. From what I’ve listened to, their music has matured in another direction and I don’t know if it can be called punk any more, but don’t take my word for it.
I had their first “cassette” (you used to call albums cassettes in those days, now get off my lawn) “Telaşa Mahal Yok”, and it was a lovely blue-tinted clear plastic. This song is from that cassette, and it’s about how every day is the same as a worker drone, and not fooling yourself into thinking that this is okay. Another favorite from that cassette was “Çok mu Zor?”, which basically says that Turkish and Greek people are brothers&sisters. I think it’s a cover of a traditional Greek folk song. I can’t find the version I mentioned, so here’s another from a later Rashit album, where they re-interpreted their earlier work.
I’ll close off with my favorite Rashit anectode, which hopefully explains why I’m not interested in their later work: In their early days, Rashit played an hour long mini-concert live on a national TV channel. At “half-time”, just before the ad break, the frontman says “So, we used two of the four guitar chords we know in this part, we’ll use the other two in the second part. See you after the break”.
The Resistance Choir - Do You Hear the People Sing? / Duyuyor musun Bizi?
In the spirit of my people’s resistance I’ll be posting a bunch of songs that arose from the movement.
Originally from Les Mis, “Do You Hear the People Sing?" is an almost-perfect fit for what we’re going through right now. This ensemble choir, consisting of members from various choirs, sings the first third in its original English, and the remainder are an adaptation of the lyrics to Turkish. You’d need to speak Turkish to appreciate that, of course, but it’s very well adapted. I’ve listened to this song probably 20 times today alone, and everytime I hear the slight emphasis on the "çapulcu" at the beginning of verse three, it literally brings tears to my eyes. It’s so heartfelt, so sincere, so full of determination and so righteous, it can only come from a place of absolute, raw realness. The only thing that troubles me since day one is that I cannot be with them, breathing the same tear gas, sharing the same bread. To the beautiful people of my country… diren Türkiye!
Fairuz Derin Bulut - Zalim
So, I ended up taking a long break despite not wanting to, because well, life got in the way. Not so much lack of time as lack of mental fortitude, that kind of thing. In the meantime, I’ve saved up a bunch of songs to post, but I’m skipping those in favor of a band that has also returned after a long period of silence: Fairuz Derin Bulut!
I’m actually surprised I haven’t posted about them before, because they fill a pretty unique niche of arabesque-psychedelic rock with absurdist tendencies. Their first release, Kundante goes back to 2003, and for me, they’ve achieved cult status with that, even though I doubt this notion is widely shared even in the more “in-the-know” circles. That being said, they certainly have their fan-base, with many of them embracing the band’s slogan “music for people who jump off before the boat has fully docked”. I know, if it’s any consolation it sounds only a little less weird in Turkish. They clearly have a longing for 70’s-kitsch, and an endearing passion to reappropriate arabesque music’s perceived banality. I couldn’t resist loving them even though Kundante, while not being bad by any means, sounded immature. Their second release, “Arabesk” (I know, shocker…) went too far in embracing arabesque music in my opinion, and I could speculate on their motivations for that, but instead I’ll just say that I felt “too much arabesque” drowned out Fairuz Derin Bulut’s unique spark. Consequently, I’ve always felt that they were still searching for their voice, so I was apprehensive when I started listening to Patlantis, their fresh new album.
Well, that didn’t last long! It filled me with joy to listen to this album, because I feel they’ve finally found their voice, and what we have here is a mature, well-crafted example of arabesque-psychedelic-rock, the finest of its little kingdom of a genre. The album also has some garage rock influences, and trace amounts of reggae, but all very well blended into the main body.
The song I’ve chosen for this post, Zalim, is my current favorite, if only for the tom beats in the verse. Simple stuff really, but works wonders as a build-up to the chorus, which, dammit, makes me want to get up and dance me some sloppy group halay to cheesy keyboard pseudo-music (I think I’ve found their next slogan). My personal tendencies aside, this is the quintessential Fairuz Derin Bulut song, with folky chorus vocals, ambient electric bağlama layers, with additional danceable bağlama riffs, typical Turkish beats, and a dude shouting at 3:30! (for an earlier example, see this. They love to do that.)
The fact that this album exists makes me ecstatic. Not only is it a superb album that is immediately and endlessly re-listenable, it also makes me feel like some long-term investment I made has finally paid off. Now, to see them live and get a phyiscal copy of the album…
p.s: You can listen to the whole album and songs from previous albums from their Soundcloud, if that wasn’t immediately obvious :)
Having spent a long winter vacation in Turkey, I was offline for a long while, hence the lack of updates that I’m distinctly aware of. However, I’ve brought back good loot, and I expect a good amount of them will make it here. Now, on to listening…
Seni Görmem İmkansız - En Gizli:
Seni Görmem İmkansız is a duo that makes experimental, minimalistic music. Fair warning, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I really enjoy this kind of intimate, lo-fi, made-in-the-living-room sound*. Their vocals carry influences of Turkish classical music** while being modern and at times sounding more like rambling than singing, and the contrasting juxtaposition with the instrumental track is just delicious. They haven’t released an album or an EP to my knowledge, so add one more to the bands I only listen to through Youtube et. al. Actually, now that I think about it, maybe an album would be nothing but a glorified prison cell for this kind of music. Maybe this kind of music is just meant to be experienced live and in person, and lo-fi video recordings are the most justice you can do to the spirit of the thing.**Maybe not so surprising, since they take their name from the lyrics of the song İmkansız, from the aforementioned genre.
Ventochild - Mendil (Ankarastep):
So, recently I’ve been getting into SoundCloud, and oh my goodness, there’s such great stuff there! I’ve been mostly trying to explore the up-and-coming and unknown artists working with Turkish music, and I’m incerdibly satisfied and delighted with what I’m finding.
The track we have here is something I’ve been craving for a while, and knew that someone, somewhere must have made: Turkish-flavored *step! The fact that it’s essentially a remix of early Turkish rock legend Erkin Koray’s take on folk music from around Ankara is just cherry on top.
The rest of Ventochild’s stuff is also pretty good, and I’m especially keen on this one which opens up by sampling Lady Sovereign and remixes into 3 Hürel’s Canım Kurban - and not just because I recognized the sample :)
Istanbul Blues Kumpanyasi - Biskotin:
Ah, hello old friend, just what I needed for a late-night work session, no wonder you popped up into my head while trying to write a paper.
I also vaguely recalled residues of some things I’ve said about this album, then I remembered I wrote a blog post on the album a while back. I’ll just quote myself (nothing like getting your reference count up, eh?) and leave you with the music.
"…Needless to say, traditional Blues does not involve Turkish folk instruments, nor does it sound like a rural wedding in Turkey at times. However, this is precisely where the genius of this album lies: I don’t think anybody realized how well the timbre of electric baglama blends into Blues, or how fitting a psychedelic-ish zurna solo can be mid-song. To use an American metaphor, what these guys did in this album is putting together peanut butter and jelly for the first time…”
Candan Erçetin - Hangi Aşk Adil Ki:
I’m posting this one just because the video is so weird and funny. If I ever have a change of career one day, I’ll become a recent-ish pop music historian. I get a vicarious-shame (you know, “The Office UK effect”) kind of kick out of observing and re-living what we used to think was cool and fresh and new no more than two decades ago.
Anyway, the pivotal point of this video is right at the beginning, where the text says: “Sunday, December 3rd, 1995; 14:30; No bodyguards were used during the filming of this video. THANK YOU BEYOGLU”.
I don’t know whose idea this video was. It’s kind of brilliant in its own way. It makes me want to say a bunch of things and I should organize them into a coherent narrative - for which I don’t have the energy. So here’s a bunch of things I want to say:
- There was always a hint of sex appeal in her stage persona at the beginning of her career. This was probably the producers’ idea, and I’ve always felt she was more awkward than sexy. Maybe it felt awkward specifically because the “hint of sex” was tacked on, it’s just not her; or the fact that it’s forced hinders her expressivity. This video is a perfect example of this clash. Her outfit and “a mass of men following her” are intended to evoke sexuality, but just watch her body language. I can’t help but keep grinning as I’m watching the video for a third time now.
- Case in point: fist pump at 0:42.
- More proof? Here’s her first ever music video. Just the first 15 seconds will be convincing enough, I believe.
- The sheer joy on the face of the balloon guy. I’m hoping that was not arranged beforehand.
- Maybe she was just generally awkward at that age.
- The building at the beginning is the private high school where she used to teach music - yep, she’s originally a music teacher. Maybe that’s why she’s actually a good musician and not a tabula rasa barbie doll for the producers.
- The guy wearing the cap and several others who are all “SERIOUS BUSINESS” and the goofy-looking bald guy in contrast.
- As I’m watching the video, I get the feeling that I’m watching a video shoot, and not a video. I guess that was the intention? No way to tell, it’s a 90’s Turkish pop video, leave logic at the door please.
- What is she doing at 3:53, and again, was that intentional? I’m guess they had a maximum of one take to shoot this video. In which case, great job! Catastrophe averted with endearing awkwardness <3
Ok, enough about the video. Side note before I finish:
I was happy to be reminded of this song from the same album. I almost can’t believe that this was “pop” music during that time. It’s. So. Good. It’s a perfect blend of Balkan Folk and Western Pop, with a really great arrangement and top-notch musicianship. A hint of sadness briefly clouds the sunny cheerfulness occasionally.
It reminds me of Gökhan Kırdar’s work from the same era, which I find really special and hold dear.It’s a goddamn Gökhan Kırdar song, that’s why I can’t stop raving about it. Apparently he wrote half the music for Candan Erçetin’s debut album. I don’t know if there’s a connection, but having realized this, somehow I’m not that surprised now that she has weird videos from that period.
KIRIKA - Keçi Kalesi:
I can’t tell you how refreshing it feels to hear someone finally make what I’m going to inaccurately describe as “Zeybek Rock”. Zeybek is a piece of folklore from around where I’m from, most prominently represented in the dances and music of the traditionally semi-nomadic people of the area; also directly and organically connected to the culture of “efe”s. “Efe” is the general name for rebels or rogues whose general characteristic is fighting for the common folk against oppression or an invading force. That’s a sweeping generalization, but relevant, since culturally they are seen as heroes and “good guys”. There’s a certain bravado to zeybek music that I find irresistible, but maybe it’s just a Stockholm syndrome kind of thing from getting ingrained with this music in all those weddings I was forced to go when I was little (… this is probably the most first world problem thing I’ve ever written on record).
Anyway, back to the music. The track is mostly in the traditional folk style, with mature instrumentation (that’s now a word if it’s not already). And then there’s a short-but-sweet punk-y bit in the middle. I find myself thinking that if “efe”s existed today, punk could be their choice of genre. Kind of fitting. I just learned about the band, but I enjoyed this track immensely. List of albums to get when I visit Turkey is growing, and luggage space is becoming a worry.