We are in BabaZula’s studio in Maslak Oto Sanayii. The interior is like a world mosaic… In front of us lies an unopened luggage amongst instruments… The band spends more than half of the year on the road. Japan, Paris; anywhere in the world, as soon as the date for their concert is announced, the tickets get sold out. The Japanese love them so much that the young girls began learning oriental dance. The most important representatives of the Turkish psychedelic scene starts by saying “We like to break the rules.“ They are right, we talked about Baba Zula with Murat Ertel and Levent Akman, musicians who are like gifts to this side of the world.
“We like to break the rules.”
How does it feel to come back to Istanbul after having concerts abroad?
Murat Ertel: Traveling and going away is really nice. I am very happy about my life. I like Istanbul and this country. I was fed by this culture and I owe something to it. What makes me ‘me’ is the culture of this land, however I can’t stand staying in Istanbul all the time. Sometimes one encounters such harsh and cruel situations, it’s impossible to live without being sad, demoralized, loosing hope. That’s why I prefer to travel and come back here again. This way I can see Istanbul from a different perspective.
They love you especially in Japan… What is the reason for this success?
Murat: We are happy to be known and to be able to play in Turkey. We make off-system music, we don’t appear in TV a lot. If it wasn’t for the internet, I don’t think anybody would have even known about us. We did not go on the road thinking “We should be successful abroad.“ We were formed to make the soundtrack for ‘Tabutta Röveşata’. For that we made the music of our dreams. Currently, we are trying to decrease our concerts in Turkey.
What’s the reason for this?
Murat: The circumstances here are pretty bad. Music is con- sidered only as entertainment. Concerts get cancelled out of the blue. We are getting concert offers for 2017 from abroad and are filling up our calendars. But we reject some concerts in Turkey. That’s why we decided to play less in Turkey. Not because we don’t like it, but because this is what the circumstances bring us.
Levent Akman: In Paris, people continued to go to concerts after the attacks in the concert hall. They did it as a protest. Even someone coming from higher education can react to this saying “How can you give concerts in such circumstances! So many people got killed”
Murat: Writing something about music in social media can disturb people. Is there are a rule for social media accounts to follow the country’s agenda? The duty of an artist is to make his art and show his reaction through his art. Turkey is a difficult and harsh country. The artists have big responsibilities to perform their art.
Has having fun turned into something to be ashamed of? In Anatolia, pain was always overcome with requiems…
Murat: Because music is seen as only one genre. That was one of the things that happened during the coup in 1970. At the time, the country had a lot of strength in it’s artists. They still inspire us. Their spirits were broken then. The second coup was the 12th of September. During coups the public were introduced to art with no meaning. People came across art that had no underlying message. Music is now considered to be only love songs and for entertainment. This perception of the society must change. People need to research about music.
What kind of differences do you see when you look at your music today?
Murat: We go more towards music with lyrics. Because there are things that have to be said.
What kind of changes did you make on stage as a band that travels a lot?
Murat: We decided not to work with dancers anymore. Because we are fed up with being evaluated only through certain visual codes, without researching or reading about them. ‘BabaZula had a belly dancer on stage and had fun.’ was the reaction we received. We started to be really intimidated by this. We had completely different ideas. Only a few people in our audience could understand our respect and admiration for the culture of belly dancing. We put in a lot of effort to dignify belly dancing and to bring out the unique side in it. That’s why nowadays we don’t feature it on stage that much. So that people can stop judging us with visual codes.
Levent: Music was losing its importance. There were groups of people coming to our shows to see belly dancers. Later on, a group of males started standing in front of the stage. They weren’t listening to the music but when the dancers were on stage, they were interested.
“Music is considered to be only entertainment.”
One of the crucial parts of the film Mustang are your songs. Did you expect the film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film?
Murat: We considered it to be a small independent film. We hadn’t even seen the film when we agreed to be a part of… But we knew about the synopsis. We value the issue of women. It was a plus for us that the film was directed by a woman and was about women. We did not expect it to be this successful. It has been a lucky development for us. French publishers of the soundtrack offered us to make an album. For example nobody here says “Let’s make you an album”…
What inspires you in Istanbul?
Murat: The idea of anything beautiful in the city could be gone in any moment, this is inspiring. This city changes so quickly… Whatever is beautiful right now makes one happy.
What are some of the songs that give you hope recently?
Murat: There are bands with nice names… Bands like “Büyük Ev Ablukada” who value lyrics and catches the daily dynamics… We like them a lot. But their music is very normal. I think they should bind more with the geography. They are very British or American. Their music doesn’t excite me. They play good but they should musically show that their music is local just like they do with their lyric. At least band names are better now. Before, it was artists with English names or without any surnames. That situation changed now. Even Demet is Demet Akalın now… This is a nice development for example…(laughs)