In Edip Akbayram’s mouth, the dreamy, hopeful sunshine of hippie psychedelica has merged with one strain of Turkish folk music, the kind that partakes of the high, dramatic, lamenting tone that you might hear echoed in Greek folk, in rembetika—a real peoples’ music, secular in temperament, a circle dance rather than a spiritual chant—and come away sounding lonesome and sad. Akbayram’s voice cries out in the wilderness, and the wilderness is inhabited by wah-wah pedals and guitars that burr and buzz; by drones and indigenous instruments that have agreed to take the place of the sitars used by psychedelic musicians in English-speaking countries.
To be a musician is not always easy in Turkey, where there are always one or two people ready to see your music as the production of an ungodly mind. Even the flavour of your religion might make you unpopular in some places. It’s not so long ago that a mob of enthusiastically devout Sunnis started a fire in a Shiite area and killed a number of musicians who were performing at a festival. Seen in that light, Akbayram’s striped bell-bottoms and double-thumbs-up pose on the front cover seems almost brave. All of the songs on this compilation come from the 1970s. Did his career die when the generals came to power in the early ‘80s? Probably.
He was supportive of the political left wing, and as I look at the titles of his songs, I wonder what messages might be stowed away in the lyrics. Most of them sound miserable. There is “Değmen Benim Gamli Yasli Gönelüme” (Don’t touch my sad soul), and “Garip” (Miserable), and “Dağlar Dağladi Beni” (The mountains made me sad), and “Gam Üstüne Gam Yapilar” (Sorrow and more sorrow).
It’s easy to imagine the lyrics of “Dumanli Dumanli Oy Bizem Eller” (Our village is full of smoke) drawing comparisons between the blindness of the villagers who are trying to see through the smoke, and the blindness of people in other situations where clarity has been obscured. Political situations, social situations. But I don’t understand Turkish, so that will have to remain a guess. Perhaps they’re simply sad. A lot of folk songs are sad, without needing any special message to give the sadness an ulterior reason for existing.
I hope I’m not making it sound as if the music is dreary, because it isn’t. There’s an ecstatic note in Akbayram’s lamenting. It’s not dull misery; it’s exciting. It has the energy of rock music. His voice is direct and robust. “Mehmet Emmi” has a repeated refrain of “Ha Hah! Mehmet Emmi!” that calls out for an audience to clap or stamp the floor in time. “Haberin Varmi” is spiked through with a lick that jumps progressively downward and ends in an upward twinge. “Boşu Boşuna” trips into wistfulness through a rough flute. The repetitive churn of “Gam Üstüne Gam Yapilar” is broken by a regular knocking, as if someone wants you to open the door.
“Aldirma Gönül” opens with the compilation’s only piano, a dramatic ripple that might have come from “I Will Survive”. It stands back to let other instruments hop through: a spicy plucking that is perhaps a saz, a light, inquisitive noise, and then Akbayram’s voice, declaiming in space, pausing, letting a busier flood of instruments come in behind him. “Yakar Inceden Inceden” does some strange, fabulous things involving a tambourine, a bowed instrument of some kind, and an electric guitar that leaps out of nowhere and makes juicy wah-wah on top of the bowed instrument.
It’s all very good. By the end of the second disc I’ve been listening to Edip Akbayram’s voice for so long that the songs seem to be running together in one long, unbroken Akbayramic stream, and yet I wouldn’t want the compilation any shorter. There’s nothing I’d leave out, no song that makes me think, “Oh yup, that’s the one I’d cut; it’s substandard; it’s padding.” This is a solid collection. Recommended.