They say that music can cross all barriers, be it political, cultural, or even the language barrier. I have, recently, reviewed two releases from Turkish artists where, in the case of one, not all of the tracks were sung in English, yet I was moved by the music and the soul in the vocals, I felt I could feel the emotions that were being poured out by the singer, even though I didn’t understand the words. In general, the music world is dominated by artists that sing in English, even if it isn’t their first language and, as an English speaker and, in fact, an Englishman, for many years I just accepted this as being the norm. Since I have become an author for Lady Obscure Music Magazine it has opened my eyes considerably to the wealth and depth of musical talent out there that, either, sings in English whilst it not being their first language or, sing in their mother tongue anyway. I now question the established status quo as to why the majority of successful music should be sung in English? History would tell us that the west, and the US and UK in particular, introduced popular music to the rest of the world and, as English is the natural language of both, this is the way. Isn’t that just slightly conceited? Is it because English is the international language of business all over the globe and, will that change with the increased influence of other cultures? I don’t have the answers to these questions, I just want all of us to question why it is so? One side effect of this reluctance to accept what is considered normal is my exposure to some incredibly talented musicians from a wide range of religions and cultures, for my next review I have been introduced to another Turkish artist, the band Sirmalı and their debut release, Gençlik Rüyasi, which is sung entirely in Turkish. My personal test case against the accepted mantra of English songs? Read on my friends, all will be revealed.
Sirmalı are a 5 piece rock group from Ankara, Turkey. Their aim is to produce music that builds a bridge between the traditional music of the past the music of a more modern age to create something original that is based on deep musical knowledge and given a creative flair. The band came together when Deniz Sayman (guitars, backing vocals, a physics engineer who, after hearing Prodigy’s Fat of the Land, decided that his passion lies in rock music) approached Oğuz Sırmalı (vocals and guitar) for singing lessons as he had had enough of capricious and moody vocalists and had decided to perform vocal duties himself. However, after meeting Oğuz (who had his formal education at the Hacettepe Conservatory and also studied at the Luigi Cherubini Conservatory of Music) and hearing him sing, the decision was made for him, he asked Oğuz to be the vocalist and the band was formed there and then. After writing all the songs, the rest of the band came together from musicians known to Deniz and Oğuz from their own inner circles, Erman Erkılınç (bass guitar, studies composition and has incredible music taste and intellect), Olcay Demirci (keyboards, also formally educated at the Bilkent Conservatory and composes chamber music and symphonies) and Serkan Alagök (drums, formally educated at the Hacettepe Conservatory, experience with the METU Youth Orchestra). Recording of the album started in June 2012 and it was released in May 2013.
The guitar riff that introduces the first track on the album, Seni Beklemez Zaman begins slightly muted before crashing into being, hard and heavy but short, then the melancholy, slightly pared back vocals begin. All of this is just the calm before the storm as the guitar, drums and keys kick in again, the pace lifts and the song’s catchy chorus is sung for the first time. There is intensity to the song, especially on that chorus, a voice dripping with feeling, almost a lament. The extended guitar solo is full of power and soul and you feel the potency burning into you, an impressive opening to the record.
Gözlerindeki Cennet begins with a strumming guitar and gentle piano before a plaintive vocal chimes in, the tension increasing before the powerful keyboard signals an increase in tempo and the song takes off. A steady riff and drum beat then back the vocals on the verse as it interchanges with the faster paced chorus, the compelling vocal holding everything in place once more. Another ferocious solo fires at you from the impressive guitar and, even though we’re only on track two, I’m hooked already.
A crunching, heavier riff crashes in at the start of the first cover on the album, Ah Bir Ataş Ver, a song that, whilst appearing simpler on the surface, is quite complex in the guitar runs and technical keyboards. Oğuz supplies another superb vocal performance on this compact and concise song, fierce riffs are fired at you from all directions, it is true that great things come in small packages, a quality rock track with that traditional vocal style giving it something extra.
There is a staccato guitar riff and punctuated drum beat at the start of Yalgizam, originally an Azerbaijani song by Tofiq Gulyiev, a signature throughout the song. The vocal takes on a more operatic edge especially on the soaring chorus where the sheer power of Oğuz’s voice is unleashed for the first time. An intricate, fast paced solo is like a salvo across your bows and then the guitar and vocals run together to the towering, operatic ending that just blows you away.
When the intro to O Sole Mio first begins, I am left a little bemused, a guitar signalling a funky version of a Neapolitan classic. You’re no less surprised than I am but, please give it a chance, for me it really works. Oğuz most certainly has the voice to do the song justice and the classy guitar solo by Deniz just adds to the eccentricity and feel of this unexpected delight. I am quite happy to admit that I sang along all the way through and I applaud the decision to attempt something as unique as this track and, in my opinion, pull it off with aplomb.
The next track, İlk Aşkımsın, enraptures you from start to finish, the lush piano introduction and compelling vocal, full of emotion and passion lift you up and take you on a beautiful journey into your own soul. To me, it is a love song that feels full of sorrow and desire, almost placing you inside the song itself. The ethereal strings just add to the allure and, when the guitar kicks in towards the end of the track, you left with a poignant feeling, hollow and empty. (A fan favourite, judging by the tasteful video that appears on YouTube)
The guitar intro at the start of Kimim Ben has a classic rock feel to it, like legendary British rockers Queen. The track has a true 70’s vibe with the soaring guitar and vocal, the riff insistent and edgy and the contrast with the lighter sections is well worked. Yet again, the solo is a work of art, almost vocal in its intricacy and adding an epic feel to the whole song and the abrupt ending is perfect.
Senden Vazgeçtim is a little gem of a track, to my ears there are touches of jazz in the intro with the neat horn playing, tight drumbeat and cool strumming of the guitar. The whole song reminds me of the British band, The Divine Comedy in its inventiveness and nod of the head to classic bond themes of the past, especially on the snazzy and precise guitar solo. The vocals are more restrained and add a touch of swing to the track, a favourite of mine from the album.
Sevgi Yolu is another delicate and refined track in the vein of İlk Aşkımsın, the elegant strumming of the guitar backed by the captivating voice of Oğuz. It is a work of beauty when the vocals harmonize and lift your soul, giving me a feeling of hope and expectancy. The solo has artistry and grace all of its own and just adds to the rapturous feel of the whole song, it is bewitching and another highlight of this increasingly impressive album. Sirmali get to rock their collective socks off on the final track, Şanssız Mevsim, an ode to great hard rock bands of the past like The Ramones and modern day bands like Green Day with its punk edge and staccato riffs. The riff is one of those catchy ones that you soon cannot get out of your heads and the vocals on this track denude themselves of any operatic or traditional leanings and just rock out. I cannot help but get the feeling that the band put a hell of a lot of collective energy into this song and reaped the benefits by having a seriously good time. The pared back, classic 70’s solo is another trump card and the song ends on a high with a brilliant, guitar inspired, outro.
To answer my earlier question, has the fact that whole album is sung in a language I don’t understand detracted from my enjoyment of this record? Well, the answer is a resounding no! The lyrics and language are an integral part of the whole experience and to have them sung in English would be a travesty and would take away large chunk of what made the album so enjoyable for me. With superb vocals, inventive songwriting, hugely impressive musicianship and the ability to blend the traditional with more modern styles of music, Sirmali have produced an absolute belter of a debut album that will stay in my psyche for a long time to come, these guys deserve to be huge!