Album review

Saadet Türköz & Beat Keller – ‘We Are Strong’

Saadet Türköz & Beat Keller – We Are Strong
(Chinabot label, available on download and cassette. Album review by Tony Dudley-Evans)

Saadet Türköz is the daughter of Kazakh parents who were expelled from the East Turkestan (Uyghur Autonomous Region) province of China. They settled in Istanbul where Saadet was born, and brought up in the Kazakh refugee community. In that community Saadet developed a love of both Kazakh and Turkish music, and, when at the age of 20 she moved to Switzerland to join her sister, she developed a vocal style that mixed Kazakh and Turkish songs and sounds with free improvisation.  

I heard Saadet for the first time at a festival in Almati, the largest city of Kazakhstan, where, as well as improvising with local musicians, she performed traditional Kazhak songs, much to the delight of the audience most of whom had not heard these songs for many years. I also heard Saadet perform a very impressive set with Elliott Sharp and Bobby Previte at the Saalfelden Festival in Austria.

Her latest album is with Swiss guitarist Beat Keller, and is a tribute to the Uyghur people and their struggles with each of the seven tracks being named for a city or town in the Uyghur region. In it Saadet interacts with Keller in an improvisatory style that is based on wordless singing, and she often improvises in what I take to be an imaginary language that has the sound of the Turkic languages. In certain respects she reminds me of the work of Elaine Mitchener in the use of wordless vocal improvisation and the creation of a whole range of amazing sounds. 

Beat Keller similarly creates a range of distinctive sounds that fit very well with Saadet’s improvisations. We hear this on the first track Turfan where Saadet’s improvisation is complemented by a series of pings on the guitar; on Kashgar Saadet begins with a kind of murmuring sound accompanied by clicks from the guitar. On Kumul Keller’s approach is based on noise guitar and this brings out the most avant-garde side of Saadet’s vocalsOn Aksu Saadet begins with a whistling sound and moves on to a series of astonishing sounds which are always matched by Keller. On Yarkent Saadet creates a more traditional sound based on the imaginary language that she improvises; again Keller’s guitar complements this with a more tonal and melodic approach. On the final two tracks, Gulca and Hoten, Saadet improvises some amazing sounds over a kind of drone from the guitar which develops into high energy responses to the vocals.

Saadet and Keller are extremely inventive throughout the album, and it is an excellent example of improvised music that draws on aspects of traditional sounds as well as free improvisation. It’s a heady mix.

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