It is not easy to fit Aynur Dogan’s music into a scheme, and not only because she mostly sings in a language the majority of people cannot understand, Kurdish. Let’s take, for instance, her 2010 album Rewend: the first two tracks, had fast, almost hypnotic rhythms; then, Xewn (Ruya) and Kocere (Gocer Kizi) mark a change, with a slightly slower pace. The latter even makes some concessions – from time to time – to the pop sound that one normally associates with the music industry’s main labels, such as Sony (which released Rewend).
It would be wrong, though, to think that Aynur’s choice to join Sony and leave Kalam Music (which allowed her to record two albums, Keçe Kurdan in 2004 and Nûpel the following year) was merely a market-driven choice. Indeed, “Sony is better for the international side”, particularly for such an ‘alternative’ kind of music, the 39 year-old singer said after the release of Rewend. On the other hand, she added, at Sony she was “not under pressure to deliver a commercial album”. “It’s me making the album, the sound is what I choose; I work with the people I want to work with”, she explained. This choice is also the result of the fact that the Kurdish tradition has its roots very deep inside Aynur, who was born in an Alevi village in the province of Tunceli, in the Kurdish heartland. She retains many memories of the years she spent there: they are mainly linked to daily life, of which music was a key part. “Alevis – the singer explained in an interview – don’t have a central holy book. That’s why music plays a very important role in our faith and tradition”.
To sum up in her own words: “All information and stories have been passed on through music for generations” and that is why, in her opinion, the homeland “radiates power and warmth”. This last sentence could probably have been pronounced by a great number of artists, irrespective of the part of the world they could come from, but probably, on the lips of a Kurd – for decades a neglected and marginalized minority in Turkey – it has a deeper meaning. Unsurprisingly, in fact, Aynur has been often described as a ‘political singer’, a label she is not totally at ease with, even if she has been working for years in socio-political activities, such as cooperation with village workers or with an association helping the children of internees.
On the other hand, when asked by a journalist, she denied singing ‘political songs’. “First and foremost – she said on another occasion – I am a musician”. What some people call a ‘political song’, she explained, is just one that has had legal problems, as happened with Keçe Kurdan, which was banned for a while but, in principle, “the songs I choose are not political”: they are about love, separation and war. However, most of them are in Kurdish and, as Aynur herself acknowledges “that’s a political issue” in Turkey. This also had unpleasant consequences in 2011: during a concert in Istanbul, she was protested against by a group of people in the audience, who started throwing objects onto the stage, when Aynur – who had begun the show singing in Turkish – turned to her mother tongue.
Following this event, the singer decided to leave the country and it was only in mid-2013 that she decided to perform again in Turkey, embarking on her first nationwide tour ever. Nevertheless, the years spent abroad were not fruitless: working alongside the Spanish producer and songwriter Javier Limón, she recorded a new album, Hevra /Together, once again released by Sony. As happened for Rewend, this did not bar her from experimenting: this time she chose to hybridise traditional Kurdish melodies and some songs of her own with the flamenco. What she said of her previous work (notably that it was less “traditional” and “closer to pop” instead, with “more drums and acoustic bass”), cannot be repeated, however, when referring to Hevra.
Here, there are simply two folk traditions blending. Sometimes the Spanish sound seems to prevail, but on other occasions the flamenco guitar is just an enrichment of a different kind of musical structure, as in Sisile, where Aynur shows how powerful her voice can be and uses it to the best of her possibilities. The entire experiment, from a musical point of view, can be considered a success, but it has some limits, too. Hevra, in the end does not go beyond the borders of so called ‘world music’ and, even if it has great artistic value, it will probably be appreciated by a limited public. But that’s probably a consequence of the way Aynur does music. Widespread success is obviously important to her, but less than having “an audience that understands me, appreciates my feelings and knows where I come from”. Take it or leave it. (D.M.)