No politics please, I’m a singer

Turkish MP Sabahat Akkiraz is performing at the Oud Festival in Jerusalem, but she also looks forward to learning more about the country.

Sabahat Akkiraz 521 (photo credit: Mahmet Ner)
Sabahat Akkiraz 521
(photo credit: Mahmet Ner)
The closing slot of this year’s Oud Festival, which will take place in Jerusalem between October 31 and November 9, features a truly stellar performer, and in more senses than one. Not only is Sabahat Akkiraz an internationally acclaimed vocalist, she also happens to be a serving member of the Turkish parliament.
Akkiraz admits to having some conflicting feelings and thoughts about coming to Israel to perform, but says she is looking forward to coming here and, hopefully, gaining some enlightenment about the true state of affairs in Israel.
“As a matter of fact, my feelings are complicated. On the one hand, there is the cradle of all divine religions and the Holy Land; and on the other hand, there are people of different origins and religions. Furthermore, it is a geography where the religions of Moses, Jesus and Muhammad are believed and blessed. I wonder whether a new door will be opened for the love of God that we have been seeking for years. I wonder whether I will be able to gain a different perspective for my life.”
The singer-politician says she takes an interest in the sounds of all sorts of cultures around the world, including some of ours.
“I listen to klezmer [traditional Eastern European music of the Ashkenazim]. It is kind of a common language of the East and the West. The old instrument mixed with the new one. Music is naturally colorful, where a great number of different people live. Music in different languages and rhythms seems to be a rainbow.”
Akkiraz got an early start to her singing development, courtesy of a member of her family, her great-grandmother Firdeys Hanim. “I remember the paternal grandmother of my mother,” she notes. “She was one of the most important people in Alevi-Bektashi [Sufi] music, and she is still remembered as both the source and the master because she sang Alevi folk songs in the Djemevis [place of worship of the Alawite Sufi group]. I learned Alevi folk songs from her. She made me sing songs when I was a little kid at the age of five.”
After Firdeys Hanim, Akkiraz’s mother continued her daughter’s musical education. “My mother taught me every melody her grandmother sang. My mother had a beautiful voice, too. I learned to sing songs with the conscience of a woman from both of them.”
The latter, says Akkiraz, was something of a breakthrough in her society. “Before me, there were female musicians who imitated male musicians. All of them sang as the men did. Perhaps I achieved the thing that had never existed before in our professional life, by adding the conscience of a woman to songs. I was young when granny Firdevs died.
I wish I could have spent more time with her and learned more from her.”
In addition to her musicianship, Akkiraz says that the spiritual side of her art has always been important to her. “My music expresses a long journey from the creation of humankind to the present. We always seek the essence emphasized by the Holy Scriptures. My music, for sure, involves the best sample of spirituality, because it is the common path for human beings. The journey to spiritual love to be achieved from Adam, who was expelled from Heaven, to the present is the main theme of Sufi musician and of mine.”
Music, according to the Turkish MP, has the power to move and guide people. “The music we perform in order to steer and educate our society and to enable them to live out their faiths freely is very significant. Especially during the centuries when we lived as a closed society, our sacred leaders used this music and these scriptures in both our social and religious life. And we now carry on the tradition and we aim to win the hearts of people with our music.”
In fact, much of her formative years were spent outside Turkey, as her family moved to Germany when she was small. She returned to her country of birth in the 1980s. It was, Akkiraz recalls, a trying time.
“My family settled in Germany at the end of 1960s. We firstly learned what homesickness means there – the longing we felt for our families, friends and villages shaped our hearts in a new way. Then, my father gave me some advice which I will never forget: ‘Always remember who you are and where you came from. Do not forget your religious belief and live in line with it. But try to know these people here. New people will teach you new worlds. They will enable you to look at this world from a different perspective. Do not be afraid and look into the essence of people, not kind of them.’ New people mean new worlds and most importantly, new kinds of music. So I listened to them and I tried to learn from them. I learned in Germany that music is the upper language, although we all have different languages and countries.”
Although she is steeped in all sorts of forms of her country’s musical heritage, Akkiraz is very much an artist of the here and now, and believes that one should move with the times, and take on various avenues of artistic expression.
“It is important to transfer our folk music to the next generations,” she declares. “To this end, significant steps have been taken in both academic and traditional ways.”
But she also supports the efforts of her contemporaries who look for new forms of expression.
“A number of generations have been educated academically, not just traditionally.
Our musicians who have carried out experimental studies are now recognized by the world.”
Akkiraz has also been involved in quite a few interdisciplinary projects herself and to great effect. “In addition to my traditional music work, I engage in joint works in jazz and electronic music fields. Our jazz project, ‘Echoes from Anatolia,’ is the first jazz-folk music project carried out by a [Turkish] folk musician. My electronic folk songs adventure, which I started with musical works together with [Turkish composer and musician] Mercan Dede, continued with an album called Külliyat [Corpus] which I made together with Orient Expression [a band]. This album, which was released in 16 countries, was top of the European music charts.”
But whatever she gets up to, Akkiraz says she can only be herself. “I sing the way I know and believe. The rest is up to the creativity of the musicians I perform with.
But I am very lucky that I have always worked with the best musicians. We create good things together.” •
Sabahat Akkiraz is coming here with a five-piece instrumental lineup and will perform at the Jerusalem Theater on November 9 at 9 p.m. For tickets and more information: *6226 and