Çiğdem Aslan

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Çiğdem Aslan
A Thousand Cranes
Asphalt Tango (www.asphalt-tango.de)
Review by Greg Harness

Listen "Evlerinin Önü Handir"

Three years ago I was captured by Çiğdem Aslan's first recording, Mortissa, when I listened to the very first track, “Aman Katerina Mou.” After hitting repeat a few times, I moved on through the rest of the album and was captured again and again from “Vale Me Stin Agalia Sou” to “To Dervisaki” to “Sto Kafe Aman.” Back then I did not spend time looking for lyrics or studying up on rebetiko music or chasing the biography of this Kurdish singer beyond the cursory details that she was born in Istanbul and lives now in London. I just dove headlong into the music.

Over the next few months I learned more about rebetiko, about its ubiquity in the hash dens and coffee shops of Greek and Turkish cites, about the role of rebetiko in alternative and rebellious spaces which led to the entire genre being banned in both Greece and Turkey. And while the music moved me, the story still seemed very long ago and far away.

Listen "I mortissa tis Kokkinias"

Çiğdem Aslan released A Thousand Cranes this past October, and when I first heard it, my head and my heart were in a very different place than two or three years prior. I was thinking and feeling more about — and experiencing differently — the topics of censorship and exile and the role of the underground. I was ready to learn more about the difficult topics embedded in the 1923 “population exchange” wherein Turkey expelled its Orthodox Christian residents, and Greece expelled its Muslims.

Against this backdrop, A Thousand Cranes draws from Turkish and Greek songs recorded from the 1930s to the 1970s, most of which are well known in both countries and have histories that cross national boundaries whether fluidly or forcibly. The themes of exile and longing are intermixed with the more hopeful ideas that people and communities can and do reinvent themselves after the worst circumstances.

On listening to this new album, I was struck most deeply by the traditional song “Evlerinin Önü Handır.” The liner notes offer this translation:

    In front of her house is a myrtle tree
    May God give you to me
    May she come, not late but early
    In front of her house is a mint lawn
    I'm burnt up, heavy and slow
    Neither wise am I nor crazy

The idea of watching someone you love, yet being unable to approach due to cultural constraints offers opportunity for multiple metaphors. Sung to an off-kilter rhythm punctuated by violin and hand percussion, this feverish tune spun me completely into another time and place, yet it felt rooted in the hopes and fears and dreams and sacrifice of the right now.

Listen "Tourna (Crane)"

I was also struck by “Tourna,” the title track. Tourna is the Turkish word for crane, and this traditional song combines a Greek melody with a Turkish poem from the 17th Century. The lyrics are again about separation and about having to leave your home. On top of that is layered the idea of A Thousand Cranes which come from the Japanese story where the making of a thousand origami cranes causes one's wishes to come true. I added to that my own experience with cranes which comes primarily from seeing the exotic sandhill cranes in the ever-threatened natural ecosystems near Yellowstone National Park. These concepts from very different times and places all swirled and combined and merged in my head and my heart as I listened. And together these various images of soaring cranes reminded me of the power within to reinvent myself regardless of circumstance.

I have been captured by these sounds, these surroundings, these stories. May you allow Çiğdem Aslan to take you somewhere new, whether to stories of the past, or through the intense feelings of the present, or on a journey with A Thousand Cranes into the future. - Greg Harness

Further Reading:
Savina Yannatou


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