Album review

Gaye Su Akyol – ‘Anadolu Ejderi’

Gaye Su Akyol – Anadolu Ejderi
(Glitterbeat Records – GBCD 137 Review by Graham Spry)

Francesco Martinelli’s recent accounts on this site of the 32nd Akbank Jazz Festival in Istanbul showed the Turkish jazz scene is open to a wide diversity of musical styles. And it is this openness that also characterises the music of Turkish singer and composer Gaye Su Akyol, who has just released her fourth, and probably best, album.

It is unlikely that any of Akyol’s albums will ever be filed under jazz, but they have much to offer those interested in music of diverse origin, in particular that which is hard to categorise. It is immediately apparent that her primary influence is the music of her native country. It is also her powerful and expressive voice that makes the music most worth listening to. There is a long line of female Turkish singers who have influenced Akyol, including notables such as Selda Bağcan and Sezen Aksu, who like her have incorporated Western elements into their music. These include not just the sounds of rock and pop, but also attitudes towards democracy, freedom and most notably women’s rights and, for Akyol, issues relating to gender identity. And, of course, such views are currently controversial in the perspective of Turkey’s conservative regime under President Erdoğan.

It is Akyol’s voice that most characterises her music for Western ears. Her songs are entirely in Turkish, helpfully printed on the album sleeve together with an English translation. Although on the surface they mainly seem to be addressed to an unspecified ‘you’ with whom Akyol appears to have some kind of a (possibly romantic) relationship, the full meaning of the occasionally startling lyrics are best understood in the context of contemporary Istanbul. They include oblique references to recreational drugs in the first single taken from the album, Sen Benim Mağaramsın (‘You Are My Cave’), and many are unambiguous statements of protest against Turkey’s oppressive conservatism. The English translation of some songs express a sense of despair such as Biz Ne Zaman Düşman Olduk (‘Since When Have Become Enemies’), Bu Izdırabın Panzehiri (‘Antidote For This Pain’) and Yaram Derin Derin Kanar (‘My Wound Bleeds Deep & Deep’). Nevertheless, the final tune İçinde Uyanıyoruz Hakikatin (‘We Are Waking Up In Reality’) might be seen as a rallying cry for reform, although Westerners may be surprised to hear references to Syd Barrett and Brian Jones, 1960s rock musicians that succumbed to drug-induced madness.

However, this highlights that one of Akyol’s main influences is the unique style of psychedelic music that was made in Turkey before the military coup d’état of 1980, which brought electric guitars and contemporary studio wizardry to traditional Turkish music. Although clearly inspired by the Western trends of the time, this musical tradition still thrives today. This is most apparent in the title track Anadolu Ejderi (‘Anatolian Dragon’), the album’s most obvious single, which combines Akyol’s soaring vocals and a male chorus with electric guitar and electronic instruments. However, this is not the case for all songs on the album. Kör Bıçakların Ucunda (‘Withering On Blunt Knives’) and Gel Yanıma Gel (‘Come By My Side’) mostly use middle-eastern acoustic instruments.

This is a significant album release within the context of Turkish popular music and culture. Like many records released recently, the quality of the music is an expected benefit of the enforced downtime of the pandemic lockdown during which Akyol had the opportunity to reassess her musical direction. The result is a work of wide international appeal, although its primary audience must be young Turkish music fans, including no doubt those in Istanbul who enjoyed the contemporary British jazz showcased at the 32nd Akbank International Jazz Festival.

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