Altin Gun’s New Album ‘Yol’ Reinvents Old Turkish Folk Songs : NPR

NPR’s Ailsa Chang talks with Merve Dasdemir and Jasper Verhulst of Turkish rock band Altin Gun about their latest album, Jol.



AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The history of the Altin Gun group begins with an old record from the 70s.

JASPER VERHULST: Seven or eight years ago or something, I just started collecting music from all over the world.

CHANG: Jasper Verhulst is a musician from Amsterdam.

VERHULST: And I came across an album by an artist called Selda Bagcan.

(SOUND EXTRACTION OF SELDA BAGCAN’S SONG, “YAYLALAR”)

CHANG: Bagcan was a Turkish singer who took traditional folk songs and turned them into grungy, psychedelic rock.

(SOUND EXTRACTION OF THE SONG, “YAYLALAR”)

SELDA BAGCAN: (Singing in Turkish).

CHANG: Verhulst wanted to bring that sound back, but there was just one problem. He is Dutch and does not speak a word of Turkish.

VERHULST: I thought, why not try to find Turkish musicians and do this kind of music live?

CHANG: So he made the call on Facebook.

MERVE DASDEMIR: I mean, I was amazed. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

CHANG: Merve Dasdemir is a Turkish singer. She was born and raised in Istanbul and now lives in the Netherlands.

DASDEMIR: I thought it was a very cool initiation, and I really wanted to be part of it.

CHANG: Was there a part of you that wondered, what does this Dutchman know about Turkish music?

DASDEMIR: No, actually. I didn’t think like that at all. I mean, you know, I listen to a lot of Spanish or Portuguese music, like linguistic music. I do not understand. You know, it still touches me and moves me. So I didn’t really think like that.

CHANG: So Dasdemir joined Verhulst and a few other musicians to complete a Turkish Dutch sextet. And they agreed on a name – Altin Gun, golden day in Turkish.

(SOUNDTRACK FROM THE SONG, “TATLI DILE GULER YUZE”)

ALTIN ​​GUN: (Singing in Turkish).

CHANG: They are now releasing their third album. It’s called “Yol”. The songs are all covers of Turkish classics. These are songs that Merve Dasdemir grew up with.

DASDEMIR: They are really etched (ph) in my memory, all these songs. Willingly or not, it’s just – when I hear a groove, sort of – you dive into that pool and pull out a traditional (laughs).

CHANG: Is there a particular song that is particularly close to your heart, based on childhood memories?

DASDEMIR: I think it would be the second single, “Yuce Dag Basinda”.

(SOUND EXTRACTION OF THE SONG, “YUCE DAG BASINDA”)

ALTIN ​​GUN: (Singing in Turkish).

DASDEMIR: It comes from a very specific memory from this movie called (unintelligible) that one of my favorite actresses, (unintelligible) had this balcony scene where she was singing this song. So I always wanted to pay homage to him.

(SOUND EXTRACTION OF THE SONG, “YUCE DAG BASINDA”)

ALTIN ​​GUN: (Singing in Turkish).

CHANG: I want to talk about the songwriting process. All of your lyrics are in Turkish, but only two members of this band actually speak Turkish. Does this language barrier make it difficult to organize and practice?

VERHULST: Not really because the people who speak Turkish are also the people who sing the songs. I like not to understand a word.

CHANG: Oh, really?

VERHULST: Yeah, I really like listening to music in languages ​​that I don’t speak because – I don’t know – it gives more depth to the music. It is easier to feel the music.

(SOUND EXTRACTION OF THE SONG, “YUCE DAG BASINDA”)

ALTIN ​​GUN: (Singing in Turkish).

CHANG: There’s another song I want to ask about. This one is called “Kara Toprak”, which means black ground.

(ALTIN ​​GUN SONG SOUND EXTRACTION, “KARA TOPRAK”)

CHANG: And I get that this one has a bit darker meaning behind it, right?

DASDEMIR: Well, I mean, it’s really, like, getting everything we need from Mother Nature and then in the end, we come back to it. And, yes, it is about death. I mean, it gives you a strange peace of mind. You realize how insignificant your worries or problems are.

Chang: Yeah.

DASDEMIR: So it’s a pretty special song.

(SOUND EXTRACTION OF THE SONG, “KARA TOPRAK”)

ALTIN ​​GUN: (Singing in Turkish).

CHANG: Jasper, you said recently that this album – when you compare it to the last two albums, this album is, in quotes, “less traditional” and less Turkish and, in a way, more Altin Gun. Do you feel like your band is taking a turn?

VERHULST: I don’t know. I guess we kind of had to because we were – just when we wanted to start working on this album, the whole pandemic started. And, like, the first three months, we couldn’t really get together in a rehearsal room, so we started working from home.

CHANG: And rehearse from a distance with each other.

VERHULST: No, not really rehearsing – just sending each other demos, I guess.

CHANG: How was it?

VERHULST: Well, you can hear the results on the album, I guess.

CHANG: (Laughs) Yes.

VERHULST: But it was…

CHANG: Was it difficult?

VERHULST: Well, that’s the funny thing. And that’s why I think it’s maybe – this album is a little bit more Altin Gun than the others, maybe – that it kind of forced us to take a less traditional approach because when you are six people in a rehearsal room, you have to do it fast. And I think with this album, we just had more time and more space in our heads just to try something new. For example, the last song on the album – it’s really something we never would have done before. I made drum loops and sent them to Merve. And she just started singing this traditional and added some chords.

(SOUND EXTRACTION OF THE SONG, “ESMERIM GUZELIM”)

ALTIN ​​GUN: (Singing in Turkish).

VERHULST: And then she sent it back to me and then rearranged it this way, whereas if we had been six people in a rehearsal room, everyone is sticking to their instrument, and you’re going to try to do something that you play live. On this album, we kind of did a combination of both. We also did some stuff together in the rehearsal room. But you can still hear those house demos on the album too.

(SOUND EXTRACTION OF THE SONG, “ESMERIM GUZELIM”)

ALTIN ​​GUN: (Singing in Turkish).

CHANG: So I feel like your band still wants to keep not making original music, but you want to keep reinventing those old folk songs. Tell me why.

DASDEMIR: I mean, I think that’s why we came together in the first place – to reinvent these folk traditions. So Altin Gun actually never set out to rewrite the mainstream music genre because I don’t think we necessarily have the vocabulary or – these songs are really old, you know? If I was trying to write something, I would communicate very differently. So we might have some surprise songs – originals to come. And I can’t say much now. Corn…

CHANG: Alright.

DASDEMIR: …You know, we – Altin Gun is, in that sense, I think, really specific. That’s kind of what we do.

(ALTIN ​​GUN SONG SOUND EXTRACTION, “BULUNUR MU”)

CHANG: Merve Dasdemir and Jasper Verhulst from Altin Gun. Their new album is called “Yol”. Thank you very much for speaking with us.

DASDEMIR: Thank you very much for having us.

VERHULST: Thank you.

(SOUND EXTRACTION OF THE SONG, “BULUNUR MU”)

ALTIN ​​GUN: (Singing in Turkish).

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