Songs sung in one voice

Hatice Tuncer / Cumhuriyet Newspaper, December 29 2002

With the arrangements in their album "Hemâvâz," Kardeş Türküler attempts to bring out the narrative nature of the music. With percussion and vocals, the group wants to bring something beyond just the words of the songs to the minds of the listeners.

The "Kardeş Türküler" (fraternal songs) project, within the Musical Ensemble of the Boğaziçi University Performing Arts Ensemble (BGST), told of the "brotherhood of peoples" in the language of music. With songs, giving voice to the commonalities as well as the differences between the cultures that make up Anatolia, they emphasized brotherhood. The period was one in which the call to brotherhood was so necessary, that the group's name remained "Kardeş Türküler." With their new album "Hemâvâz," Kardeş Türküler once again brings out the richness of singing songs all together, despite the rifts.

The "Kardeş Türküler" project was the BGST Music Ensemble's second undertaking, following the cassette "Hardasan, Azeri Songs." The "Kardeş Türküler" album, containg Turkish, Kurdish and Armenian songs, was followed in 1999 by "Doğu," which went to Turkey's eastern regions and beyond. In 2000, the group took on the musical directorship for an album by Şivan Perver. Later, the process of creating the music for the film "Vizontele" became an important one in the development of the group's musical direction.

The brotherhood of peoples

We spoke with Feryal Öney, who has been a vocalist with the group since they started out within the body of BGST in 1993, and one of the oldest members, accordeonist Ülker Uncu, about these songs of "brotherhed among peoples."
As Kardeş Türküler first came onto the scene at Boğaziçi University, their first listeners were Boğaziçi University students, followed by other university students and different urban sectors. They gave concerts in every corner of Turkey. In the Southeast, it wasn't only the Kurdish songs that pleased the crowd. They were also carried away with the songs of Neşet Ertaş, and belly danced to the Gypsy tunes.

To sum up Kardeş Türküler's work, one could say that rather than giving us a nostalgic look at songs of the past, they work to "make them current."
But alongside their musical approach, Kardeş Türküler actually has a political mission as well: "In the 90s, we wanted to emphasize the brotherhood of peoples who had lived together for centuries. This really has to do with the conditions of that period. We didn't just happen out of the blue. In such a critical period, our cultural and political mission had an influence. While it made some people uncomfortable, many people warmed up to it, because we were saying things that people hadn't been able to say for years. There were different cultures and languages in this land, and they were all together. It was important for people to contact each other in brotherhood."

Singing all together

The name of Kardeş Türküler's new album "Hemâvâz" means "to sing reciprocally; the singing together of birds." In their concerts, Kardeş Türküler play the music of Anatolia, Thrace, Mesopotamia, this whole region.

In "Hemâvâz," as well as the group's name, there is an emphasis on the commonalities and differences of peoples living parallel to each other. They wanted to speak about the "narrative" nature of "Hemâvâz," which calls up images of time and place: "In this album, we wanted to place the narrative nature of the pieces a little higher up on the agenda. A song has words, they flow by and disappear. And there is the temporal and local discourse. That is, we don't just leave the songs as they are, because listening to a song, we also wonder what it, or the singer, is telling us. And we want to say something, and try to interpret it outside of just the flow of the words."
We could say that the effort to create an idea of place and time in people when they listened to a piece of music, appeared in the work on the film "Vizontele."
They have tried to tell the story of the songs with the help of bağlama, percussion, and vocals. Giving life to the beat of a bird's wings with percussion, waking the feeling of the sound of waves, adds a special narrative character to the words of the song.: "A writer writes a novel. When you ask what he wrote, what comes out is different than what you read. That is, everyone may understand it differently. One can sing a song with different emotions. When we begin an album, we discuss what we can do to "enrich the narrative." With the literature, within musical channels, but how far can we take it? We tried to create an atmosphere with arrangements and effects."

Zeybeks in two languages

In "Hemâvâz," along with Vedat Yıldırım's composition "Siya Saperen ? The Shadow of the Wings," interpreted in Kurdish and in an epic style, "Şah-i Merdan," an Alevi deyiş from Elbistan is performed in a style bordering on rock. In my opinion, Şah-i Merdan and Siya Saperen are such powerful pieces that one can't get enough of them. While Şah-i Merdan includes electric guitar, the Elazığ song "O Yanı Pembe" is sung in a nearly traditional style; while the Greek Smyrnaic song "Manaki Mu" has been arranged in a way to bring to mind the past of those who took part in the 1922 population exchanges between Greece and Turkey. Though the words tell the tale of a ruffian, along with the poem read by Hanife Asan, it creates a nostalgic look to the past. Arranged together with the song "Ben Kendimi Gülün Dibinde Buldum" these two zeybeks draw attention to our shared cultures.

A Gypsy song

In order to bring the song "Şukar Şukar - My Sweet Love" to the public, Kardeş Türküler did research in Istanbul and Thrace. Making use of a fifteen-second recording of the sone of a Gypsy song that moved from Izmit to Silivre after the 1999 earthquake, they completed the song askind Gypsies "How would you finish this song?" Writing their own arrangements based on these improvizations, they came up with a beautiful ethnic piece.

Not a mosaic, but a continuum

Though Kardeş Türküler is an ensemble founded within the body of Boğaziçi University, the members realized that they would not give up music after graduation, and they continue their activities in this ensemble. Though the group's numbers are swelling with the entrance of new members, the core members in Hemâvâz are Soner Akalin, Ayhan Akkaya, Fehriye Çelik, Mehmet Erdem, Isin Kucur, Erol Mutlu, Diler Özer, Selda Öztürk, Vedat Yıldırım ve söylesiyi gerçeklestirdigimiz Feryal Öney and Ülker Uncu. Kardeş Türküler's approach does not contain the statement "Turkey is a mosaic of cultures": "A mosaic is something with lines, layered. But cultures blend into each other. Cultures aren't something lying side by side, divided with definite lines, they are a continuum with differences and commonalities. Peoples are sometimes at war, sometimes they live together in peace. Peoples should be brothers, and not fight; that is our utopia." How can we get this music heard?

Kardeş Türküler performs in a way beyond that of singing folk songs in traditional way, or by the same token, of singing them in western forms. Bringing out the folk music tunes and rhythms with vocalls and different instruments, they seek the answer to the question, "how can we develop this musical form?" "We don't claim to have created a new musical style. From our first concerts, our first album, right up to the present, we have always been on a search. Every new project, opened up new horizons. The Vizontele sountrack, our work with Şivan Perver...with every step, you learn something new. We debate the issue of "how can we explain this music" to people who, like us, live in the city and whose ties with the village are broken. That is, how can we get people living in the city to listen to this music, how can we make it appropriate for their ears? It's not a new sound, but everyone uses different vehicles, has a different approach."