Monday 26 January 2009

Sezen Aksu - The Queen of Turkish Pop

Music has an important role in Turkish culture and Turkish pop spans generations. The latest hits are known and sung by young and old. Far more so than in British culture. Ask your auntie to sing you the current number one in the UK and she'll probably look at you as though you've suggested she show you some breakdance moves.

Perhaps it's because Turkish popular music stays closer to its roots than most Euro-pop. The subjects are fairly predictable. "Smack your bitch up" just wouldn't make it here. Love and heart break are the only thing people are singing about in Turkey ...with perhaps a smattering classics about famous towns and cities: "This morning it rained in Istanbul", "Bodrum, Bodrum" etc.

By far the biggest star in Turkish popular music is Sezen Aksu. A woman now in her mid-fifties. Her music career started the year I was born (1975).

Divorced 4 times, she has the right to sing about love and heart break more than most and she does it with an emotion you can feel without completely understanding the lyrics. Below is a medley of her most famous early work: "Don't Cry", "Go", "Come Back" (make your mind up, woman).

Fatma Sezen Yıldırım was born in Denizli in 1954 then moved to Izmir when she was 3 years old. She attended the school just down the road from my house before finally moving to Istanbul to persue her music career.

Izmir folk are proud to call her their own and everyone claims to have lived next door to her at one point or another. "We were so close, we could hear her and her father screaming at each other" my friend said proudly.

Like most successful artists, she's had a troubled life. Not quite Edith Piaf troubled but probably somewhere on the scale between Billie Holiday and James Blunt.

Sezen is an unusually attractive woman. I've always had a soft spot for her since I saw the cover for the album 'Gulumse' back in the early nineties (the title track contains one of my favourite lyrics "I'm so lonely, I don't even have a cat"). With her striking red hair, Suzanne Vega bob and a near monobrow, she's an unlikely sex-symbol.

But you know that despite the harsh exterior, there's a sensitive artist just below the surface. Broken and emotional, she brings out the nurturing instinct in most men. Her petite frame earned her the nickname "little sparrow". But the nickname is somewhat misleading when you hear her deep, powerful voice. Like Dame Shirley Bassey on gin, Sezen can belt out songs that make your heart bleed.

Sezen's influence goes beyond Turkey and Turkish Pop. She was behind the pen of Tarkan's classics "Şımarık" and "Şıkıdım", songs that found airtime across the world. Her songs have been covered more times than "My Way". Here's a cover of one of her classics "Herseyi Yak" ("Burn Everything") by the Turkish rock band "Duman".

"Burn me, burn yourself, burn everything,
A single spark is enough. Look, I'm ready.
Kiss me if you want or kill me.
Being prepared to die for love is true love.

I drew you inside myself with one breath
My heart imprisoned, my chest caged.
We're both ready to burn.
A single spark is enough. Look, I'm ready.
Being prepared to die for love is true love.

My God, my God.
I'm walking towards the fire.
My God, with love and pain
I grow.

Exhaust me with your yearning, exhaust me with your love.
Being without love is more painful than separation.
Hurt me as much as you please.
Being with you or without you. Neither are enough for me."
Herseyi Yak - Sezen Aksu
Possibly her most famous track is "Hadi Bakalim" ("Come On") which made her sore to the throne as the Queen of Turkish Pop. Inevitably, it's just been re-discovered, digested and crapped out as a steaming pile of Euro-pap. Here's the original:

Despite understanding very few of her lyrics, I adore Sezen's work. I would love to put up every single one of my favourite tracks but I'll probably bring down the Blogger server. So I'm going to leave you with a couple of her hits that I hold dear.

Firstly, "Rakkas" ("Pendulum"). Inviting you to sway your hips and dance like a pikey. Enjoy:

Finally a track from my favourite album "Adi Bende Sakli". This song is called "Tutuklu" ("Arrested"):

Sezen Aksu is a Turkish Madonna in almost every way. From her string of husbands to her ever changing style to her monobrow. She will continue to be a star even after the cosmetic surgeons have thrown in their scalpels. Her songs will be picked up, covered, remixed and rehashed for many years to come.

Now go, go. Run to YouTube and listen to as much as you can.