Altin Gun's "Aṣk"A strange and wonderful journey
The more one listens to Turkish pop music the more one begins to understand the myriad of influences brought to bear on each recording. While there are similarities between certain artists and bands, they each put their own unique stamp on the sound and the texture of the music.
In the case of Altin Gun's newest release, Aṣk (literally a 'deeper feeling of love') they have taken their love of modern psychedelic music – swirling guitars and electric keyboards – to create unique versions of ten traditional Turkish folk songs.
Perhaps being based in Amsterdam provided them with the necessary distance to examine the music without prejudice, free of any preconceived notions about how the songs should sound. Or maybe they just like to experiment. Whatever the reason, the results are spectacular. Using an assortment of traditional and modern instruments, they have created a fantastic and wonderfully elaborate exploration of the material.
An eccentric mix
Altin Gun's previous albums have proved an eccentric mix, ranging from psychedelic folk to the almost completely electronic dance music heard on their last two releases.
Așk seems to be a happy meeting of the two, as the band uses everything at their disposal to create a rapturous blend of sound that sweeps listeners away on a strange and wonderful journey.
The five members – Chris Bruining (percussion), Daniel Smienk (drums), Erdinc Ecevit (vocals, baglama, synthesizers), Jasper Verhulsts (bass, synthesizers), Merve Dasdemir (vocals, synthesizers) and Thijs Elzinga (guitar, pedal steel guitar) – have established the perfect rapport to create seamless and wonderful music.
Whether it is the swirling electronic dance floor sounds of the album's opening track "Badi Sabah Olmadan" or the more reflective melody heard on "Guzelligin On Para Etmez", the band performs with consummate skill and power.
Since the lyrics are in Turkish, most listeners will have to listen to the sound the vocalists create, rather than the words, to form an initial impression of the emotions being expressed. This also places a greater burden on the instrumental elements of the songs. Thankfully both vocalists display incredible depth of emotional range and the band features equally talented musicians.
Rooted in Turkish culture
What makes this album so fascinating is how, in spite of the modern-sounding music, the songs on the album are deeply rooted in Turkish culture. Only three of the tracks, "Leylim Ley", (lyrics by Sabahattin Ali and music by Zulfu Livaneli), "Guzelligin On Para Etmez" (Asik Veysel) and "Doktor Civanim" (Ahmet Gazi Ayhan), can even be attributed to a writer, while the poets who created the other songs are lost in the mists of time.
Of these, Livaneli is the only one still alive and arguably the most well-known. An accomplished writer as well as a composer, he is also a cultural and political activist. He was forced into exile in the early 1970s during a period of military rule in Turkey and then served in parliament during the early part of the twenty-first century. Today he is probably one of the country's best-selling authors, his books having sold over 7 million copies in the last four years. Neither Veysel or Ayhan are still alive, and a brief Google search turned up nothing in English about the latter (although plenty in Turkish).
Ali, who wrote the lyrics for "Leylim Ley", was an accomplished writer and poet in the early part of the twentieth century. Despite dying at an early age, he is considered a very influential writer. Interestingly, his work was considered quite revolutionary at the time, although this song, in particular, has been covered so many times and in so many different styles, it has become more of a popular love song than anything else.
Livaneli was the first person to set it to music and as a result, the song has become associated with him. The lyrics were, however, taken from a poem Ali included in a short story published in 1937. While not well known outside Turkey, it is still possible to find English translations of the poem. Hauntingly beautiful, it speaks of the author's feelings for the one he loves and his exile from home. "Turned into dried leaf fallen off tree/Morning wind ruffle me, crush me./Take my dust away from here/On beloved's naked foot, rub me."
Listening to the interpretation offered by Altin Gun, one is struck by how the band manages to remain true to the song's sentiment while creating an entirely new musical context for the lyrics. Vocalists Ecevit and Dasdemir convey the inherent emotion with exquisite sensitivity. Indeed, the entire track is an excellent example of how well the band manages to meld their style with traditional lyrics.
A heart beating
Listening to each of the ten numbers, it is impossible not to be impressed. Not only does the band create great versions of older songs, but they also prove they can play multiple styles of modern music with great virtuosity – from the classic sounds of Turkish psychedelic/folk of the 1970s to driving electronic dance beats and, in a combination of both, their own unique interpretation of trance house music.
That said, they don't allow themselves to be swept away by electronics. There is a heart beating beneath the synthesizers: you can hear it in every subtle beat of the percussion or strum on the baglama poking through the sonic wash created by the other instruments. Altin Gun consistently manages to surprise on this album – always throwing in that one little twist that makes a song uniquely their own and different from almost anything else you will have heard.
Aṣk is a wonderful example of how the past and present can meet in perfect harmony to create a unique and refreshing musical experience. Listen and enjoy. Altin Gun may live in Amsterdam, but their hearts and souls are firmly rooted in the history of Turkey's music.
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