Melike Sahin describes her latest album “Merhem ” as a healing endeavor. This state of getting better not only involves the audience but also Şahin too, and the healing effect of the album also transmits to her. Then, with her song “Uykumun Boynunu Bükme”, this effect spreads to the world via Spotify’s list EQUAL Hub, which features international female artists around the world.  “We listen to a woman in a seaside town, she talks about a sad story, yet she’s not broken, on the contrary,  she’s very conscious, dignified…” Melike Şahin uses these words to describe her latest album and this album’s “Mediterranean arabesque” character.  We talked to her about the blooming and the creation process of her latest album, creating as a female musician, being on Spotify’s Equal Hub list and the feedback she received, what she misses about live performances and her future projects.

Your first solo album, “Merhem” has debuted in recent months. I guess the album came to be during the pandemic. How was the process for you?

Actually, when I dig into old notebooks, I see that it’s been over a year since I started working on the album. It’s been my dream for a long time to make an album where I write my own songs and sing them myself. The album has a song I wrote five years ago, as well as new songs. But because I had a very busy touring schedule, I didn’t have the motivation and energy to devote to the album. The pandemic and the lockdown was kind of an opportunity for me to blow away the cobwebs and finally start making it. In a period of eight months, we have completed all the preparations. Completing a whole album in this short amount of time is really a big deal, especially in this period… In the commotion of life, you don’t notice, but when I look back five decades later, in retrospect, I might think that I was crazy for daring to do such a thing in such a time.  

Right now, we all need to get better, to better each other, to heal, and to be healed.  Undoubtedly this album heals its audience, but how does it affect you?

Of course, it was very good for me and it was definitely like a cure.  First of all, you feel happy to fulfill a dream. I wish I could play the album at concerts, see people’s reactions but right now it is not a possibility, so, I can only observe the reactions through the comments on social media. I feel like it’s good for people, and I like it. On the other hand, I experienced the interesting side of writing with 10 songs from the album, except for a song collaboration with Mabel Matiz.  It was an interesting process, digging into your past over and over again, which sometimes gets you into trouble and makes you mess with your old wounds.  I didn’t know it was going to be this hard because I’d never made an album before. There were moments when I was humbled, but in all those moments I thought, “I don’t want to see a sad woman in this album.” I describe the album as a healing endeavor.  I made “Merhem” thinking that it might give you an idea of finding a solution nearby, not far away. So it healed me to be able to let go of things that were kind of hard to let go of.  

I think describing “Merhem” as polyphonic wouldn’t be far-fetched.  In addition to being a combination of different genres such as arabesque, a la Turca, pop, and electronic, the album is also touched by six different musicians, Sabi Saltiel, Uri Brauner Kinrot, Emre Malikler, Can Güngör, Elif Dikeç, and Dijf Sanders.  Like many forms of art today, music has taken on a more fluid and intertwined form, abandoning obsolete boxes.  What do you think of this fluidity?

I absolutely agree with that. The genre was not the first thing I considered while imagining the sound of the album.  I mainly focused on the feeling.  Which meaning do I want to convey with this song? Which artist can I work with to put this forth in the most transparent way? This album was produced in a polyphonic and collective environment, working with different people. I did the curation, but all the producers contributed a unique touch and, so, when I look at the final product, I see that we have created something very special. 

As you said, the genres are interchangeable now.  It’s hard for me to describe music with a specific genre.  We’re in a very eclectic state.  It’s hard to follow the trail through the genre itself, and it doesn’t take us anywhere. So the feeling that the album, my songs try to convey is what I care about most. 

Doing any type of work as a woman is difficult in Turkey.  I am not just talking about Turkey or Middle East countries.  It is obvious that anywhere in the world, women have it more difficult than men.  It’s a circle of fear that needs to be recognized and changed. – Melike Şahin

You describe your music as “Mediterranean arabesque.” When used with the word “Mediterranean”, arabesque changes its traditional meaning.  What do you want to express with this definition?

Actually, it was my producer Ahmetcan Taşdemir’s definition. We did not approach this definition by simply focusing on the album. If the conditions were right, if my concerts could take place, the whole concert experience would be “Mediterranean arabesque.” Hidden in my lyrics, there is always a sense of poignancy, a tragedy.  Arabesque as a genre also has that about it, and it leads the audience to these feelings and leaves them there, in darkness, in despair. I think I give my audience a more fresh feeling in the way I say my words and the way I sing and interpret them. We listen to a woman in a seaside town, she talks about a sad story, yet she’s not broken, on the contrary,  she’s very conscious, dignified… Actually, this story as a whole is called “Mediterranean arabesque.” 

It is difficult enough to live as a woman in the world, and especially in Turkey, and I guess when it comes to the world of music, the conditions are much tougher. How would you, as a woman, describe the state of producing music, and what would you like to say to the young female artists who are just starting their journey?

Doing any type of work as a woman is difficult in Turkey.  I am not just talking about Turkey or Middle East countries.  It is obvious that anywhere in the world, women have it more difficult than men.  It’s a circle of fear that needs to be recognized and changed. 

There are hundreds of problems we are faced with like, the “mansplaining” attitude that we encounter not only in business life but in everyday life, the reaction of our discourses as if they were insufficient, messaging taxi plates to our friends to feel safe, and even walking on the street at night is one of these problems. While a woman is already struggling with hundreds of such things during the day, suffers from this attitude in her relationships in her family, it is not possible for her to be isolated from all these in her work.  

I can tell my young friend who wants to produce and share her own music that you will stumble and fall a lot on the way, but you will also get up. You’re going to have to convince people of your dream by constantly repeating it not only once but also countless times, and from time to time you will be discouraged, especially by men, and then you will reproduce that enthusiasm and dream again and again. Then you’ll get to a point where you are eagerly waiting for someone to dare to make you feel worthless. 

It’s really crazy and it’s not easy to get past the common traumatic experiences from our childhood, adolescence, and try to subsist ourselves first as a person, then as an artist, and do all this in such a dark political atmosphere. So it is necessary to empower someone who is engaged in music, in any branch of art, especially in Turkey because it is a very difficult and lonely path.  Having faith, spreading hope, and solidarity is very important. 

You have been featured as a female artist from Turkey in Spotify’s Equal Hub list, which is a special space to empower women in the music scene.  First of all, congratulations. How did you feel about this proud moment?

It was a very delightful process, of course. I was so happy when I heard it.  My songs have been on Spotify’s global charts before, but EQUAL is, of course, very important to me because of the issues we’ve talked about, and because of its meaning. When you look at the most-streamed lists in Turkey and see the lack of women artists,  you can see the reality of the inequality between female and male musicians which points out the issues we have just talked about.  There are so many women who want to take this step but are somehow discouraged and  this results with the male domination in the music industry. 

Looking through this perspective, Spotify’s EQUAL Hub is very valuable. I wish we could not be categorized as female musicians/male musicians, but I think we have a long way ahead of us and these steps taken by digital platforms are very precious. EQUAL is perfect for me, as I also love to listen to female vocalists. Those who want to listen to the music of countries through women artists are very important to remind and highlight the existence of women musicians. An approach that should continue to multiply on behalf of our industry.

Your song “Uykumun Boynunu Bükme”  is on EQUAL Global’s 70-song list. This is a very powerful step towards international recognition. What have you experienced since your song was included in the list and how was the feedback?

Actually, my international audience began to increase thanks to collaborations such as “Sakla Beni” with Kutiman and “Beni Yalnız Koma” with Boom Pam. “Uykumun Boynunu Bükme”  may also be interesting to a foreign listener because of its 9/8 rhythm because it is way out of the conventional boxes.  When I look at my artist page, I see the song opening up to new countries, it’s very exciting. International radio channels and listeners share interaction and feedback on Twitter. It was very important for me to take part in Global EQUAL with “Uykumun Boynunu Bükme” as doing concerts, recordings, and collaborations outside of Turkey was a career path I wanted to follow. 

It was incredibly exciting to see your photo on billboards in New York as part of EQUAL’s promo. I wonder how you felt the first time you saw it.

I guess I couldn’t believe that it was real the first time I saw it. ☺My artist friend Civan Özkanoğlu, who shot the album’s cover photo and the image in EQUAL, lives in New York. I asked him for a photo of the billboard. My friends were even happier than I was, people were proud of me, I loved the messages of love and support. I am very happy that I am the first cover artist of EQUAL Turkey and my photo is displayed in this way.

Because of the pandemic, you, like all musicians, have been away from the stage for a year. This is a very difficult process, both psychologically and economically. How do you cope/try to cope with this situation?

My Youtube channel allowed me to cope financially and meet my basic needs. I’d say it was a complete coincidence, I got lucky. It may not have happened; I have a lot of colleagues who couldn’t experience it. It is a very known fact that when you work with major record companies, you have already delivered your product to them and later there is no more return from them. Concerts are a musician’s main livelihood. Right now you can’t do a concert due to the pandemic. As a musician who has been performing for years, you think that you will receive support in these circumstances, but it never happens. It is very lonely, heartbreaking… We are talking about a society that cannot live without music. I am sure the listeners miss it as much as we do, but there is a habit of not recognizing music production as a job/profession. And I think the whole system needs to be rebuilt.  We musicians need to be insured and be able to receive support in times of crisis, otherwise, you oblige these people to poverty. We can see this period as an opportunity to question the system and point a moral.  I think some positive steps will be taken going forward.  How many other musicians have to commit suicide for society to see that? I think that our profession, which we perform with such love and despite all these difficulties, should be recognized and supported as a career. I hope we can accomplish this together. 

I know we’re very emotional about it, but I have to ask, what is it that you miss most about being on stage?

People looking at me and clapping. ☺ Because in the past year, we have only had one concert, The New Year concert at İş Sanat. I was excited to have a concert, but under the circumstances, I sang songs without an audience and without applause, which was outside of what we are used to. Of course, I consent to sing to people who are socially distancing, but this is not the solution, the solution is to get out of this trouble completely. Sing songs together, side by side, just like in the old days. I’ve been on stage for 10 years, 6 years with Baba Zula, and four years solo.  Being on stage three or four times a month and getting applause was a very important motivation for me,  and in its absence, I realized how important that motivation was. 

You were one of those who actively used social media during the pandemic. In a series on Instagram titled “Sabah sabah melikko” you’ve chatted with your followers and sang songs.  What do you think about the power of digital today, online events, the technological developments that are taking place?

We have to choose this path because there is nothing else to do. I think we would have had a much more difficult period if there were no such alternatives. With the pandemic, I started a small series in which I sang on my couch in the morning. But before the pandemic, I was already very interested in social media. I’ve loved spending time on Instagram since I switched to a smartphone. When the live streaming feature first came out, I used it right away.  But, for example, I’m still not used to TikTok. It is clear that this is the way of the new world.  I think there’s only the bathroom left in my house that I didn’t show on social media, especially during the quarantine. ☺ I’m comfortable with it, I like to share.  It’s another new media where I can express myself. It also made me reach a lot of people, but of course, it will never replace live performance. 

Where will we see you soon, what are your future projects?

On May 28, we will perform the first concert of “Merhem” (online) at Zorlu PSM. This is very exciting. And if the necessary permits are granted, there will be a few more performances which makes me very happy, but I can’t say anything right now.  I love collaborations, they keep my spirits up.  We’re thinking of releasing a single with my Levni & Melik duo this summer, and we’ll collaborate with Ah Kosmos.  Because making an album is a very difficult and long process, because of my character, I like to find something new to deal with, create new playgrounds. That’s why collaborations are very nourishing for me.  I plan to focus a little more on ceramics. And I’m counting the days to meet my audience again without social distancing.  

Photos : Elif Tekneci