So, what’s new?
What’s new? I just finished recording the new album. It should have come out in Turkey in September. And actually we put the finishing touches on everything. And we have actually been preparing for the live show. A lot has been cancelled because of all of the attacks. And in the middle of July was the military putsch. And it was clear that nothing was doing. I was waiting to put out the record, and then it was clear that it couldn’t be released in Turkey.
Because a lot of the album was political, most of it was political. And to protect myself and the record company we pulled out and decided not to release it in Turkey. And now I’ve been in the studio and came out with a German song and an English song. And we will be talking with a German record company (Asphalt Tango), and it will probably come out here.
What’s the mood now on the streets of Istanbul?
During the putsch night I also thought the left-wingers and the normal people would go out on the streets. And we were in the hotel during the putsch night, and were preparing for a concert. And we were there drinking in Taksim. And the TV was on, and we saw what was going on, that the bridge was blocked, and then I figured I’d bring the people I was with in the hotel, but at the moment I wasn’t thinking I would cancel the concert the next day because of the putsch. And we went out on Istikal street and then they started shooting. And I turned around and I saw that someone had been shot. Around twenty, thirty meters away from me. They were undercover cops, or I don’t know what. That was around the time that the tanks were deployed on Taksim and blocked off the area. And we turned into the side streets and reached the hotel in Cihangir. And the whole night long there were street fights and shooting. And the time afterwards there were arrests also of people who had nothing to do with the putsch, a lot of left-wingers. And this has been going on till today. And most of my concerts have been cancelled. And just now a festival I was supposed to appear at was cancelled because something is happening every week. And I can’t go on TV anyway.
What is it about your songs that is political?
My parents and my grandparents are Alevis. They actually don’t have very much to do with religion. But they have made music, and always with a message, a tradition which I continued with hip-hop and rap. I have it from my father. He was on the radio in Ankara back then before he came to Germany. My grandfather was a well-known zurna player. It’s always been in the family. My father is seventy and he still plays music. One calls it Aşık. They always had a political attitude. Basically not against Islam, but coming at it from a different perspective. And they have a unique mentality like some reggae artists have. And these poets I grew up with. Yunus Emre and all that. And then at the end of the eighties I heard hip-hop. ’88. That was when the album from Public Enemy came out. And it was pretty politically charged. And I exposed myself to this political point of view. And everything that I am doing today is just a continuation of that.
You have a song, Pardon Afedersiniz Mr. Genelkurmay, a political song. What was that all about?
The Turkish constitution actually comes from the last putsch in 1980. And it had an effect on all the laws everywhere which exist to this day. A lot of the fascist bullshit we have today goes back to that constitution. And I grew up in Germany, didn’t have to serve in the military, and when I went back to Turkey in 2000 I had a band, which also played a lot abroad and we had all sorts of problems because we were all draft-dodgers who didn’t go to the military. And that was one of the reasons it split up. And there were all these other political groups who also suffered and went to jail. And I made this song, which was a bit funny and very danceable, but with a pretty hard-core text. The funny thing was when the song came out in 2008 the AKP press championed it in a big way because it was good for them because they had a beef with the same people. And I started to retreat a little bit because I didn’t want to be a part of this political game.
You use folk melodies, saz riffs, Oriental samples. You also have a song that sounds a little bit Balkan, Paparazziler.
The song is from 2008. In 2004 I was working with Roma kids in Istanbul, in Sulukule. And every year they celebrated Hidrellez (Ederlezi), sometime in May, I think.
And it was the first party I went to where the people really flipping out. All of the Istanbul people were there to party and dance. And it was a real far-out party. And then sometime around 2006 I wrote the song. The text is called Paparzziler, and at the time, around the beginning of 2000 there were a lot of programs with paparazzi, and so I wrote this funny song and gave it a Balkan beat. I also grew up with this stuff. I don’t know if you are familiar with Turkish weddings, and every region has its musical style. And the Roma with their Balkan music, are represented in every region. And the songs from the Balkans are played at Turkish weddings.
Especially in Istanbul.
Especially in Istanbul, but also in Ankara and elsewhere.
You told me once you wanted to be the “Shantel of Turkish music”.
I still think that. Turkey is so rich in melodies in musical directions – and Turkey always says, “We want to enter the European Union”. And many Turks think that if they fulfill the economic criteria we will enter the EU. I think that Turkey has to offer up its cultural contribution. But the master-plan is missing with regards how they want to go about doing this. And that’s why I’m in Berlin, because I think it can be best done in Berlin.
You want to put on parties.
All of the old records from Erkin Koray and Barış Manço are being re-released, because the music is pretty cool. And I want to pick up where they left off. After ’80 everything changed in Turkey. And not only myself, but other artists are poised to do something. Most of the Turks in Berlin and in Germany listen to arabesk music. And for most Germans this sounds like the yowling of cats. It’s not Turkish music. It’s the music of the last thirty years of Turkey. It comes from Arabia. It’s origin is not Turkish. There are funky melodies on the zurna…
So what do you want to do in Berlin?
Most of the Turkish producers, they think when they make Western music they only use a techno beat on the Turkish music, and they think that’s enough for the West. I think there are good producers in Germany, in France and England. I would like to produce this stuff with them.
And you also want to organize some gigs as well.
I want to make a show like Robert Soko once a month and have guests. There are many Turkish musicians now here.
Do you have any venues in mind?
We will organize it now in January. I am planning a small concert in January in Ausland, a club in Mitte. I had a concert there ten years ago. We are looking for places, not such big places, for three hundred people. Now, over the course of the next two months we will be making video clips.
You mentioned you also wanted to use halay.
I will put on a twenty-minute halay session. I only need a Turkish guy who plays weddings. I know a lot of really good guys. I wil make a club tour before the summer. It would be great if Yeni Rakı will sponsor it.
Every year Yeni Rakı has a big show in Berlin.
Petra: Spirit of Istanbul.
With Baba Zula.
Every year with Baba Zula.
Petra: Everywhere Baba Zula.
They are not funky, you know. You need beats. Their style, they are too much Turkish.
Going back to your influences, you said as a kid you were influenced by wedding music.
My father plays the zurna on weddings. He puts on a show for half an hour. My first memories are of my father playing on a wedding with a big face. And he makes music at home. He plays many instruments.
Does he live here in Germany?
He lives here in Germany, near to Frankfurt. And I played with the davul along with this music. When I was eight or nine my brother brought me vinyl from Run DMC. Before I didn’t listen to hip-hop music. There was no hip-hop in Germany. I put it on, and then we started. I started with a Croatian guy, and we had our first group in school. In then we got together with more people, from Italy, from the Balkans, and Germans. And we made one of the first hip-hop groups in Germany, Victims of Choice. In two months we will have the twenty-fifth anniversary party. We are twenty-five people from everywhere. The beginning was ’92, ’93. I was fifteen or fourteen, and we played in youth jails. Jails for youths. And in youth centers in Germany. And German TV made a one hour documentary about us.
How would you compare Berlin to Istanbul?
Berlin is mostly DJ culture. And you will find more live music in Istanbul. In one place. When you go to Taksim there are thousands of them. I must go from one place to another place in Berlin, and it’s sometimes hard to find good live music.
Uroš: Berlin has everything. DJs and musicians. In Istanbul there is more folk music and like pop-folk with a bit of trashy, cheesy modern style. And just a lot of people listening to rock or house, techno. And here you have all kinds. I found it like in Babylon, there are mostly rock bands. There are not so many places that are alternative. We have a friend, he has a place on Sonnenallee, and he has open mic every Wednesday and on the weekend he has live bands. His name is Dury. He’s Iraqi. A lot of musicians come there, mostly Arabic, Turkish, Middle East, whatever. It’s called Café de Bagh. You can drop by Wednesday. He’s also a really talented musician, songwriter….At the moment I’m working on a track with Soko, and we are looking for someone to sing or rap in Turkish, or Arabic.
Uroš: I would prefer it to be Turkish. My idea was to make something that Turkish people can relate to, to get them out of their own thing that they listen to in Turkey.
You make the music? Live music or electronic music?
Uroš: It’s electronic but with live instruments. Recorded some guitars in a loop. And we have a lot of Arabic percussion samples. I think it can be really nice. So I can send you by email.
Recently I was on German TV. I got so much hate mail. Really psycho stuff. I see how it is on TV. Turkey, Turkey, Turkey. And the people here – although they may not like Erdogan directly – they feel attacked and feel as though they have to defend their country. Like everyone is against us. The parents were okay. But the children are getting radicalized.