What’s up with this Big Band thing?
It came about four years ago. A friend of mine had the idea – she wanted to throw a ‘60s-‘70s party, with music from Turkey from the ‘60s and ‘70s. And this was a time when Turkey was very modern. Before the putsch came in the ‘80s. It was very European and the songs were very free, very disco. Like all over Europe. Songs were translated from Italian composers, which were in at the time, and sung in Turkish. There were rock musicians who did amazingly good psychedelic rock. Back then the Anadolu rock scene came into being.
Erkin Koray and that lot.
Right. Erkin Koray, Barış Manço…musicians really important for Turkey. And this music is just timeless. It is music that we grew up with, our parents – and we still listen to it. And I see that the music is still in the center of people’s lives. It’s not just something that once was, rather it’s still with us. And we can all sing along to the songs. And that’s why I got together with my friend and said, — Okay, you do the party, I’ll handle the live end of it. And then there’d be two DJs at the end. And that’s what we did. We started at Südblock, here at Kotti. And it was super – bang – perfect. The people received it really well, everyone sang along. They had fun. They had fun. And then we continued along with it. And then we changed venues to SO (SO36), and then we as musicians – there were five of us – we said, — hmmm, we need a couple more people in order to convey the music exactly. And we got together a saxophone player, a trumpet player and a trombone player and asked if they wanted to come along. And they were ready right from the start. And now there are eight of us in the time being –
When you think about music in Turkey from the ‘60s and ‘70s you don’t usually think of Big Band.
No – orchestra. It’s more an orchestra. I called it Big Band because I connect Orchestra with classical music. Whereas, I’m not thinking about the classical Big Band along the lines of Glen Miller. I don’t have 32 people on the stage, which is what a classical Big Band is all about. We are just a big band. And it’s Aziza and Express Big Band. There was a band called Kurtalan Expres in which Barış Manço played, and they still play. They are more than sixty. Totally great guys. And this is a homage to them. And me – coming from hip-hop and funk and the musicians partially having Turkish roots, but the brass section is Germans. They have an ear for it. I don’t have to explain to them anything. It was super clear — Yes, we’ll do it. The thing that brings it all together is the quality and the sound. It’s immediately infectious. And back then it was normal. A disco sound. Sometimes like chansons. It’s just a lot of fun. It’s fun for us to play them. And the audience likes to hear them again. They connect things with them. They sing with. They have fun. The forget their problems. Yes, we are a party band.
When are you performing next?
We performed two weeks ago at Be Nuu. We’ve been going on for four years, and we’ve been together with the brass section for two years. What’s new are two background singer. So that we can really fill it out. Because I am the voice up till now. The guitarist sometimes sings with. But I like it when I can get some vocal support. And we put a lot of stock in the show. And what is important to me is not just that one plays the pieces and that’s that, but that it is entertaining. And for me music was always a means of entertaining the public. And that’s much easier with songs that people already know. Super-classics. I’m envious. I also want to write such super songs which are still fresh after twenty years, and to serve that up to an audience. That’s a great thing.
And then you are working on a new CD.
Since the beginning of the year I am working with a producer, Martin Kessler, with whom I made music in the past. He has his studio here in the Forsterstrasse. And we are making an album. I have three songs and now the forth is coming. And it occurred to me that I had a German-Turkish album, a Turkish album, and the second was also Turkish; it was released in Istanbul; it didn’t come out in Germany. So I thought – just a moment, why don’t I have a German album? And now I have only German lyrics and have guest appearances. And I think this album is just the way I am – positive, loving, humorous, easy-going, fun-loving. The negative, to live without a goal, that was never me. I always have a goal. And I always see a path. And you can hear this in the songs, which are less Oriental this time round. At the moment I’m not working with that at all. I’m working with pure bass, guitar, drums, small effects. The Oriental I’ll look in retrospect where it’s missing in order to add it when it is done. That’s how I want to work this time round.
Will it be a bit hip-hop?
It’s very funky. It will be a kind of pop album, in the sense that it is music from popular directions, and disco – also hip-hop. I’ll start rapping, after a long break. But it’s going to be very soulful. It’s going to be very groovy music. Always danceable. Five songs are finished. And the one is electro-funk, which I love a lot. And another is a very soulful, light summer song. The other one I did with a friend, Jayda; she wrote the lyrics. The difference between this album and the others is that this time I am not writing the text and I want the raps and the vocals, so that I am doing everything by myself. But this time round I want a group of people, who are making an album together with me. It should be a communal work. And the exciting thing is that I can call someone up and ask for something that is missing, and – peng – it’s there. And looking back, I worked with Rebel MC, one of the first rappers in Berlin. He was a punk and he rapped. He is ingenious, and he is a ghostwriter.
He’s a German guy.
Yes, a German. And he is a ghostwriter. He writes the whole day long. He’s full of words. He’s fantastic. And P.R. Kantate. Ich wohn’ an Görli, Görli… Do you know that? It’s a hit. A Kreuzberg song. At any rate, I want to work with these people.
When will it come out?
Next year. I’m hoping in spring. It’s a summer album.
May be that I bring it out myself. I’ll see. I’m all the time in the studio.
What are the songs about?
In the time being I have become a mother. I have a seven-year old son, and I’ve noticed that the way I see the world is different. It’s more about connectedness and that I am more conscious in my life and pay attention to what I drink and what I eat, what I say, the political situation. Because I am responsible for my life. And that’s how I see my music. I’m responsible for it. I’m putting out this album and it’s my responsibility. It will always be there. Whether the people buy it or not. Regardless, I’m serving it up, and it is a finished product. And I am responsible for everything that I said.
Will some of it be political?
I was never political-political. Rather social-critical.
In which direction?
I have women’s themes with regards to society. It’s about this obsession with beauty.
That was one of your subjects in the past.
Yes. And it doesn’t stop. And the obsession keeps growing. And this business about respecting yourself is for a lot of people – they say, yes, esoteric, blah – but it’s about really about respecting yourself, which many men do automatically. They accept themselves as they are. No one says to them, — hey, you should do a bit of sport. Why do you look so pale? But one always says to the woman, — hey, what’s the matter, you don’t look good, put on some makeup. Like Alicia Keys says – no, I’m not going to wear makeup. And it keeps on going. It keeps on going in this direction. That you have to perform. And the fact is that women believe it all, and say, — yes, I have to do a liposuction because otherwise I’m not beautiful. Because it’s so normal everywhere that even I have my doubts. I don’t stand there and say, — I’m the most beautiful; I don’t need anything. No. I ask myself why is it that I look in the mirror day after day and enumerate what I don’t like, what doesn’t strike me as beautiful. Instead of seeing what is beautiful. The flipside. And the economic side of the whole thing. What a huge business it is. Alone cosmetics. Just for women. Slowly there are cosmetics for men. But with women it’s a gigantic business. It’s sick.
I saw something of yours where you were rapping about growing up as a girl in a conservative Turkish family, where the men have the last word.
That was my first album. “Es ist Zeit”. My single.
Do you still feel this way?
It’s different. Before, the second generation, we didn’t have any role models. We tried somehow to secure our freedoms. And some had it easier, some had it more difficult. Some had to break out. Some met with understanding with regards to their lives and goals. Some of us didn’t need this struggle. They could live out their lives. But then there is there is the aspect of people who have totally regressed.
With headscarves, for example.
For example. Or just with the attitude. Also the girls among themselves, — What are you doing with him? What are you doing with her? You are a bitch, you are a bitch. That wasn’t the way it was with us in high school. Either you liked each other and supported each other, or you didn’t like the other person, and said that person was stupid. But it never went to far as you saying, — You have no sense of honor! Opfer! It’s a whole different language. And it is very violent. Not violent – it is aggressive, the language. Back then I didn’t use this language. And these extremes have become more pronounced.
Do you still have to do with the Turkish community here in Kreuzberg? Or in the time being it doesn’t matter really who you are.
We are so mixed. It’s so mixed, really. And it’s great like that. Sure there are communities. I don’t pick up on it anymore. I’m just together with people, with people who have the same goals, or don’t have the same goals, and then we do something and go our separate ways. I can’t say I know this community, this community, and that community. I just know that there is a Turkish community that is very open. Of course there are people that have their clubs, their discotheques and their live bars, where only Turks go. But that was the same thing in electro-clubs. Only people that listen to electro go there. Jazz bars are frequented by people who only listen to jazz. And among the Turks, music is very important because, like in many southern countries, all adults and all children know the texts to classical Turkish music or pop songs. Everyone sings along. That’s a difference. Every kid who is twelve or thirteen, they learn the songs by heart. The Germans they sing the songs of today – Justin Bieber – but even that I don’t hear so much. It’s much more present among the Turks and people from southern countries. It’s the same in Spain and in Italy. They know all these songs and they can sing a along to the classics.
You come from Steglitz. But how many years have you been in Kreuzberg?
I moved here when I was 28. I’ve been here for roughly twenty years.
How do you see the changes here?
All of the youth centers are gone. But that’s the case all over Germany.
Is Naunyn Ritze gone as well?
I think that one still exists…but it’s become more expensive. It’s suddenly super chic to live here. That’s a more general development – that Berlin is hype, because it’s still very reasonable for a metropolis. Everyone wants to live here, and that doesn’t make our lives any easier.
Maybe you have more stark contrasts today between the hip and the hard-up.
One had that in the past as well. The punk lived next to the business man. This contrast existed in the past, but it wasn’t as extreme as today. Kreuzberg wasn’t a ghetto in the past, and it definitely isn’t one today. It’s very chic here in the time being. There are definitely Harz IV families living here, and quite a few, but that’s part of it. And they should stay. I feel super safe here. Nothing bad has ever happened to me. Back then or today. And people who don’t know Kreuzberg, they ask me if they have to be on guard, if they have to watch out for their handbag, or if they are gay and lesbian and can kiss openly on the street. You have to think, what kind of stuff do they put into these people’s heads that people think this is the worst ghetto and they all have to watch out? I have to just smile. But It’s a shame.
But still you read in the newspaper how dangerous Kotti is.
No. Also the U1. In the past they said, — The U1 is dangerous. I think it’s totally safe. If you shout for help someone will help you automatically. But I don’t know if that would be the case if I am headed in the direction of Zehlendorf.
U7 is probably more dangerous.
Do you still go to Istanbul?
I haven’t been there in the last two years. I was in Turkey, but not in Istanbul. I still remember the Erdogan-free Istanbul. And I got pregnant and came over here seven years ago. And before that I loved living in Istanbul. It’s an amazing city. It’s so rich in culture, and diversity and art. You’re bowled over because you get so many impressions, so much input. You meet some many different, crazy people. You can do the most off-the-wall things there which here wouldn’t even come into your mind. And there’s a completely different form of communication there. You get to know people you’ve always wanted to meet so fast.
I think it’s remarkable that despite the fact that there are unofficially around twenty million people, when you take the bus or whatever, people are polite towards each other in Istanbul. But at the same time you see all sorts of fights on the street. It’s a bit paradoxical. But here when you take the U-bahn people are very crude and brutal.
Ignorant, actually. People look the other way. When an old woman comes in you look the other way. There they stand up and say, “Here, sit down”. People are more sensitive there. There’s more of a respect for elderly people. And people are friendly towards children. Here they complain. If the child is loud, they moan, “Can’t you do something?” The neighbor knocks on the door: “You’re too loud. You child is screaming. What’s going on?” Like that. There it’s okay, it’s family. I think that’s the difference. Between the south and the northern countries.
Here in the north you value your privacy. In the south there is also more of a communal life.
And Istanbul is the turning point between the Turkish and the European. There are some paradoxical things there. The traffic there for us north-Europeans bewildering. The way they drive. If you drove according to the laws you’d have an accident and if you go with the flow nothing will happen to you. You can’t just wait for the light to turn green.
The first thing that a tourist from Europe wants to see, after Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, is Istiklal Caddesi. But in the time being that’s no longer what it once was, and I heard in the time being Kadıköy is where the action is?
I also heard that.
I was there in 2012, and it was remarkable how many bars there are.
Kadıköy is the only district where the district mayor is from the left. That is why more art and culture exists there. They have a cooperation with Poland, with Stettin. And I was DJ-ing at an event. That’s why I know that.
They have a cooperation with Kreuzberg, as well. They are sister cities.
Yeah. That’s right. Exactly. And so I got to know the mayor. Great guy. Great politician. It’s no wonder that after him, the nightlife is in Kadıköy. Kadıköy always had its own nightlife. And also a lot of live clubs. And there were people who never went on the other side out of principle, but always met in Kadiköy. That was the nightlife that was Taksim on the European side.
Do you still follow the hip-hop scene in Istanbul or Turkey?
Not as intensively as in the past. What I get is through Facebook, that there are many more young people; there are many more rappers, producers and labels. It’s a lot more and it belongs to pop culture.
Back when I was following the scene, which was around seven years ago, there were a couple of female rappers: Ayben and Sultana…
There are a couple others. The wife of Ceza.
Is Sultana still making music?
Sultana is my friend, with whom I am still in contact. Sultana has established a women’s project. She also did film music. There is the political situation which doesn’t make it that easy.
Songs are being censored on the radio.
Yes. That happened to me seven years ago. In the last album I had a song, which I made a clip for, where I go into a greengrocers and I rap about fruit. And I took the peach. Fruit symbolizes women’s body parts. And I sang about that. But I never said, this particular fruit represents that; I just rapped about fruit. And they didn’t play that. Because they said it was so…they would get it censored, they said, – We don’t want that. I couldn’t bring it on the market as a single.
That’s difficult for German people to understand. We’ve been brought up with unlimited freedom.
And when I see how Turkey has developed, how the people like myself who have suffered there. It’s really like in the eighties, where you can’t openly talk about things, because you don’t know what will happen. Everyone is being charged with something, newspapers are being closed. And you are always thinking, – Oh my God, what is going to happen in this country, and how can I live there? So that I think, thank God I am German. Here – although I have enough to criticize, I can criticize these things.
We’ll see how things develop. Because there are right-wing forces here in Germany.
Of course. But despite all that, I think I can get my opinion across, even as the mood moves more towards the right. I am a German citizen, and so is my child. We’ll see how things develop. But when I think about Turkey, I think, what a terrible feeling must that be where you are not allowed to be yourself. Because you only have your word. You develop with words. Terrible. Terrible! And music functions with words. Rap functions with words.
How has Ceza dealt with the situation? Is he political? Is he conservative? How is he dealing with the situation?
I don’t know. I don’t know him so well. He lived here for a while. Then his sister was here for a while. I got to know her briefly. She got married and then she went back.
What’s new in the hip-hop scene in Berlin?
Kollegah. This immigrant rap. Very electronic. And they are pretty successful. Look at how many clicks Kollegah gets. Bushido hasn’t done anything for a while. And there are more. I can’t always listen to this music. But it’s good that this stuff exists. Diversity is always good in music. They are a voice.