The two Berlin-based musicians İpek İpekçioğlu and Petra Nachtmanova have declared their love for old Turkish music and produced a track together. Released by the Berlin label Katermukke, the song came out in November. We met up with the DJ and bağlama player for a coffee in the studio in Neukölln.
İpek, you are a DJ and Petra is a bağlama-player. Your music is actually quite different. How did you two meet?
İpek: I was asked to do a gig at the Bar am Lützowplatz in Schöneberg. We met each other there for the first time and even spontaneously made a track together. She played the bağlama and I remember thinking that I would like to record the song Uyan Uyan with her. The line “ötme, bülbül, ötme” means “don’t sing, nightingale, don’t sing” and just fills me with nostalgia. Petra is the woman you are looking for when it comes to sing old songs with a certain respect. I created the beats for it later on.
Does the song have a special meaning for you both?
Petra: The song is by Pir Sultan Abdal, an Alevi folk poet from the 15th century. He stood for resistance and the rights of everyday people. In this song, he describes the pain that he shares with others. However, the pain is so overwhelming that it ultimately drives him into the mountains, where he remains for forty days and abstains from food.
İpek: It is a very humanistic, almost ecologically-oriented song that deals with his conscious resignation and departure from society. He speaks out in favour of sharing one’s pain and not fleeing into solitude. Pir Sultan Abdal was a poetic singer. He took his stories with him from village to village, which is how his songs were passed on.
Does your track have a specific message?
İpek: Yes. Of course, it is Pir Sultan Abdal’s song, but for us it also stands for Turkey with all of its cultural and religious diversity. That’s why you feel so close to the song. We want to say: “Wake up! Have empathy!” I believe that Turkish poets and philosophers don’t get enough exposure in the Western world, even though they have so much so say.
Petra: For me, it has two messages: “Wake up, Turkish music exists, too. Wake up, there is pain that you can share.” Folk poetry is an oral tradition, which is why there are multiple versions of the song. It is a certain tradition that was only written down about one hundred years ago. The best thing about it is that a completely new version of the song can be created in the end.
For me, Berlin is a place where I feel comfortable and can live freely. Is this why you came to Berlin?
Petra: Yes, that’s exactly what makes Berlin worth living in. Especially because we can experience all of these identities authentically here. Our art is a type of identity crisis. The track is, too. But that’s okay. I can only talk about my own identity crisis. It took me a long time to understand what is going on, where I come from, where I live and in which language I communicate. Most people want an easy explanation for who they are.
İpek: When it comes to music, I also often ask myself whether I am more of an electro-ist or traditionalist. I don’t conform to everything that people enjoy listening to. I play around too much with musical identity and many people don’t like that. One thing that I really treasure about Petra is her samimiyet, which means both honesty and authenticity.
Petra: When you are involved in oral folk music, music that was never written down, then you learn that you have to meet people, because there are no books with the lyrics written in them. Without people like İpek, a lot of music would be lost. You cannot bloom without a base, even if you are the strongest plant in the world. You need fertile soil.
İpek: Energy is also very important. We filmed the video for the song with Emrah Gökmen, who is a very good musician and is currently studying at the University of Arts in Berlin. We experienced very nice days of filming in different places that no longer exist. For example, we were in a burnt-down former swimming hall in Berlin-Britz which had deteriorated quite badly. Two weeks later, the swimming hall was completely torn down.
İpek, will we be hearing more of your stuff at Kater Blau?
İpek: I had performed there when it was KaterHolzig, but I’m not a resident there. If they asked me I’d be very happy to, though! (Laughs). I like Kater Blau because the atmosphere is extremely relaxed, very open-minded and creative. I’m also really happy to be the first producer of Turkish background to be released on the label Katermukke. Because I live a queer lifestyle, symbols also play a role in the song. For the past two years, the gay pride demonstrations in Turkey have been banned, which is why I use both the LGBTQ flag and the heart symbol. And in the Uyan Uyan music video, you can see trans people and it’s about diversity. We always observe how the community reacts. We don’t want to make anyone angry, so we are cautious and respectful.
How do you feel about the current political events in Turkey?
İpek: I am afraid that Istanbul is changing and becoming a mono-culture. I love Istanbul. I love Turkey. There is a brain-drain, meaning that intelligent people there are emigrating elsewhere, including to Germany. This creates even more of a kind of political isolation there.
And here in Germany, refugee houses are burning, but Germany is only “worried.” We are talking about millions of refugees who have lost their families, homes and children and are now waiting for some kind of decision by Europe or Turkey so that they can finally have some peace.
Petra: Despite all of the pain, music can create a healing effect. There is so much love in Uyan Uyan. It’s like a natural meditation. The poet wanted you to think while listening to it.
İpek: We want it to be heard for everyone, including people who might only listen to electronic music. We are also going to have subtitles in German, English and Turkish so that everyone can understand it.
Many people are worried about or overwhelmed with how the world is developing and have begun to isolate themselves, spending more and more time in a virtual world. You can express all of that with this song. It’s about so much. Death, love, feminism, ecology, humanism, friendship, autonomy and freedom…
You can listen to the song here. We’ll be sure to let you know when the video is released!
Text: Yasemin Altınay