If Folk Songs were Brothers..

Gül Atmaca / Cumhuriyet Magazine, January 4 1998, issue 615

Kardeş Türküler performs songs of people who have lived together on written the history of these lands together over the centuries. The Boğaziçi University Performing Arts Ensemmble (BGST) was founded by students of the Boğaziçi University Folklore Club, performing music, dance and theatre works. Their goal is to bring the "brotherhood of peoples" living in Turkey onto the agenda again, through the language of music and culture.

These lines grace the cover of BGST's second cassette, "Kardeş Türküler."

Though the name "Kardeş Türküler" has been around since 1993 as the name of a series of concerts, and was the title of the second cassette, the richness of their has caused the group to be known by the same name.

Kurdish, Armenian, Laz...

The BGST Music Group, already singing Turkish, Kurdish, Armenian, Laz, Georgian and Circassian folk songs, is now aiming to add Assyrian songs as well. The number of members ranges from ten to fifteen, with the occasional participation of students in the Folklore Club. The core membership consists of Ayhan Akkaya (classical guitar, chonguri), Soner Akalın (percussion), Ayşenur Kolivar (vocals), Işın Kucur (classical guitar), Erol Mutlu (bağlama, vocals), Feryal Öney (vokals), Diler Özer (percussion), Selda Öztürk (vokals, percussion), Tolga Tanyel (bowed tanbur), Ülker Uncu (accordion), and Vedat Yıldırım (vocals, percussion).

The first recording by the BGST, formmed in conjunction with the Boğaziçi University Alumni Assiciation, was "Hardasan ? Azeri Songs," with soloist Feryal Öney. Group member Diler Özer explains the group's musical history:

"We first began our musical endeavors within the Folklore Club. In the club, in 1989, we were performing folk songs in Hungarian, German, Spanish and several other languages. This was followed by various "searches." We leaned toward the Anatolian Rock, or Anatolian Pop, of the style that Cem Karaca, the Mogollar, Üç Hüreller were playing in the 60s and 70s. There was a shift to electronic music, people had started playing electric guitar, trap set, bass guitar. But we noticed that Anatolian Rock had lost the popularity it had had in the 60s and 70s. And beyond that, we saw that towards the end of 1992, the political situation had begun to change as well. So we laid the foundation for work that would include the songs of different peoples of turkey, and started working acoustically."

Most of the groups members learned to play their instruments through their own efforts. On the issue of arrangement, they are helped by Özcan Sönmez, piano and voice instructor at the Istanbul State Conservatory. Sönmez, who has worked with the group for a year, has given lessons to the group member on arranging, and solfej. At times, other instructors from the Conservatory have participated in their education.

The BGST Music Group/Kardeş Türküler study the cultures of the peoples whose songs they sing at close hand. When they started working with Kardeş Türküler, the group members, with the help of an Armenian friend at school, established connections with the Armenian community. As the Armenian families were very sensitive on the issue of their own music, they were very helpful, making private archives and histories available to the group. Armenians, extremely touched by the first concert given at Boğaziçi University, invited the BGST Music Group to perform at a special evening event, and an exemplary solidarity was established between them and the Armenian community. Diler says, "In the concerts, there were people singing along with the Armenian pieces, and even the Kurdish pieces. They truly are warm and sensitive people."

Political concerns
Erol Mutlu, who plays bağlama with the group and sings as well, says that during the problems in the Karabakh region on the border of Azerbaijan and Armenia, there was an extreme sensitivity to Azeri songs. The BGST Music has connections, Kurdish, but also with other civil organizations and circles as well. Erol explains that wanting to add Assyrian folk songs to their repertoire, they contacted the Assyrian community.

To the question, "Does the group have an issue like giving a political message?" he answered, "We don't go out shouting slogans. We don't compose political marches. Most folk songs are anonymous after all. We have no political connections. But we do have a political stand. For a song to contain a direct political message is not a criterion for us. The messages of brotherhood among peoples, peace, and multiculturalism emerge from the sum of our activities." Erol, noting that at the present time defending brotherhood among peoples is more risky than mentioning class struggle, says that when looking at the oppression of those speak out for peace, they look for other elements behind that call for peace. "In the 90s, the politics of ethnic identity became and issue first and foremost for the Kurds. It's no accident that the foundation for our work was laid out in 1992. That was a period where the Democracy Party (DEP) deputies were being thrown into jail, and Kurdish identity was being hotly debated. As a group, we looked at the issues and events from a cultural-musical standpoint and asked ourselves how we could interpret it. It was unthinkable that we should lock ourselves up in an ivory tower and make music isolated from current events."

Kardeş Türküler soloist Feryal Öney stands out with her vocal quality and the success with which she performs folk songs in other languages. Unlike most of the group's members, Feryal got an early start in music. While in high school in Konya-Ereğli, she began taking voice lessons at the encouragtement of her music teacher, and continued her music studies for a year in the Turkish Friends of Art Association in the same province. Along with her music, she also continues teaching literature. She says, "Sometimes it's diffficult to do both at once. But I won't give up m usic. I don't know what will happen in the next ten years, but most likely I'll continue teaching and making music."

Another of the members, Altuğ Yılmaz, though he does expect to make some money through music, says that they will make no compromises in their music for the sake of the commercial market. The members work in other professions outside music in order to make their living. Some of them are teacchers, others work in private companies or do part-time work and continue their academic lives. Putting out their second recording through Kalan Music, the BGST Music Group members say that their recordings came about as a result of long term projects and concerts, they weren't written with a recording in mind. They are planning a third recording, to include semahs and halays. They hope to start work on it this summer and put it onto the market in the fall. "There is still a long road ahead," they say, and are modest about their musical contribution towards the brotherhood of peoples.


Paylin Tovmasyan (Publisher)
I see myself as a piece of kardeş Türküler. The path they've set out on, and their thoughs, are wonderful. The peoples of Anatolia once lived together in brotherhood. We should live together as a family on one roof, and the enmity has to end. For this reason, the group's message of brotherhood is very important. Up till now, Armmenian folk music has remained hidden. It was covered up. The BGST Music Group (Kardeş Türküler) gave us an opportunity to make our music known. When we heard the groups song "The Crane," describing a migration, we couldn't hold back our tears. We see ourselves not only as listeners, but as a piece of the group, and we really love these guys.

Ipek Yezdani (Journalist)
They sing folk songs in the peoples' original languages. When I heard the cassette "Kardeş Türküler," I understood how necessary it was for peoples to take responsiblity for their own cultures. I find the group to be very successful. I come from a family of Azeri background, and I sizzled inside when I heard the Armenian songs. The BGST has brought songs of various peoples out into the open that were hidden before. And we have understood once more that peoples are brothers; there is nothing that peoples cannot give and take from each other. It's governments that push peoples to war.

Mehmet Ali Yavuz (Student)
I watch BGST's projects with great interest. They perform folk songs in different languages. There are other groups that perform in Kurdish, Laz or other languages, but there is no group that sings in so many languages. It really moved me to hear Kurdish pieces performed in their original forms. The music played on television and radio consists mostly of quickly consumed popular pieces; the music that BGST maks is more sincere, and belongs to the people.