16 things I listened to from the Ottoman ecumene in 2022
This has been a crazy year for Emily in the Ottoman Ecumene. My blog post on Konstrakta reached almost 800 people and made a splash on Twitter! The piece “‘Let’s light up the Balkans’” on “Hajde” and “Hajde luj qyqek” was the most-read on Kosovo 2.0 in 2022! We had almost 1,200 visitors to the blog! As the creator and author of this space, it has been super exciting to see my work resonate. Thank you to my friends, collaborators and readers for their support, for contributing their ideas and for making mine even better. For 2023, Emily in the Ottoman Ecumene’s resolution is to do more.
As is traditional, I’m ending the year with a list of things I listened to from the Ottoman ecumene, mostly in no particular order. Thank you to everyone who made great music! This year, I’m also adding contributions from my friends and collaborators (sans commentary)! What did you listen to this year? Let us know in the comments!
1. Gaye Su Akyol – Anadolu Ejderi
This is definitely my number-one album of 2022. I’ve been following Gaye Su Akyol for a while now: she’s vocal, wears insane fashion, and blends new with old in her Anatolian rock. The results of her creativity are exciting, something I find myself missing a lot these days. That’s exactly what this album is. EXCITING. Don’t speak Turkish? This album’s thrill surpasses language barriers. Just put the entire thing on repeat while you’re hanging out at home or cleaning or whatever and it will seep into your soul and soon enough you’ll be waking up singing about ejderi and düşmanlar.
2. Pocket Palma – Atomi
This is my second favorite album I listened to this year, from the Zagreb-based synth duo Pocket Palma. I basically became obsessed with their music and I’m not sure how I even found out about them. Fortunately for me, they played Dom Omladine in Belgrade and it did not disappoint: it was one of the best shows ever. Their song “Zauvijek” perfectly captures the wistfulness of watching a Balkan winter sunset while you’re falling in (or out of) love with someone (which the music video director got right). But don’t stop there: this is another album that needs to be listened to from beginning to end. Good for crying and for parties.
3. Osman Hadžić – “Ti mene ne voliš”
This is an old song, but definitely in my top 5 of this year. My friend and collaborator Danny discovered it on Aleksandra Prijović’s Instagram story, and I sleuthed out which song it was. But her version wasn’t available on the Internet for several months, and so I started listening to Hadžić’s version on repeat. (It’s in a lower key, conveniently, which is easier for me to sing.) I am just waiting to sing it at the kafana, or even better, at someone’s wedding.
4. Dhurata Dora and Elvana Gjata – “GAJDE”
There has been an outpouring of “etno” sounds in pop music this year, including this absolute hit from these pop princesses. A gajde/gajda/… is a bagpipe from Southeast Europe – the instrument you hear in the song’s intro and in the interludes between verses and choruses (which are just made for a dance breakdown). (At least it might be a gajde – it could also be synthesized.) Like many other such instruments, the gajde is found in the musics of people with different languages and customs throughout the region. (I heard one played in Belgrade just a few weeks ago.) The word gajde doesn’t appear in the text of the song, though, which is actually about being super upset over a bad relationship and drinking a lot. This makes me really curious about the writing process. When did the gajde get introduced? Was it the inspiration, or production magic on top?
To accompany this “traditional” sound, where did they go to make the music video? Mardin, Turkey! The video’s aesthetics and mild storyline resemble a Turkish period TV show.
5. Three etno songs
Continuing on the etno train, my year was full of etno singing. Here are three songs that left an impression.
Olga Krasojević - "Oči moje graoraste boje
I learned this during an online East European Folklife Center workshop with Svetlana Spajić. I love how songs from a completely different era and place can still so accurately and deeply capture my own experience.
Pevačka grupa Milojke - "Na rijeci pokraj starog mlina"
I heard the fabulous Milojke sing this song live at a festival and had it stuck in my head for days. The tune is catchy, but what really struck me was the harmony during the second part, which almost sounded like a pop song.
Gabriela Janushevska - "Nevesta zhito trebeshe"
We sang this song in Macedonian at a festival in Pančevo. This simple arrangement is just breathtakingly beautiful.
6. Zeynep Bastik – “Ara”
I like to joke that while everyone else was discovering new music all year, I was just listening to “Ara” on repeat. It’s almost true. This was the song of the summer in Turkey. Zeynep, who remains one of my favorite voices, chopped off her hair and changed her style for the launch, and the dance became a TikTok sensation. I stuck to memorizing the lyrics.
But this song reminds us that the Ottoman ecumene does not exist in a vacuum. “Ara” is a cover of a song by NEJ’, and it’s essentially identical to the original version (which is in French). (I found some unconfirmed sources stating that NEJ’ grew up listening to Arabic music, so it is likely that this is yet another example of a great mixing of cultures to produce great tunes!)
My friend and collaborator Danny would like it to be known that this is also his pick from the Ottoman ecumene this year.
7. The new guard of sevdalinka in concert
I was lucky enough to see both Damir Imamović and Božo Vrećo in concert this year, in packed halls in Novi Sad and Belgrade, Serbia respectively. They are different from each other in their approach to sevdalinka, and so their music is also quite different. Yet they’re both masters and I think one of things I love most about modern sevdalinka is the absolute vocal talent it showcases.
The video of Božo is from the concert I attended, but the video of Damir is not, although he did perform this exact song in Novi Sad as well. I picked performances I really, really loved.
8. Marina Satti – YENNA
When I included “PALI” on my 2021 list, I had no idea that Satti was about to put out a soul-crushing album in 2022. On YENNA, Satti blends etno instruments, rhythms and melodies with ethereal pop vocals and sound palettes with hip hop beats with so much else. Like Anadolu Ejderi, it’s exciting. And audiences all over the region can find themselves in all of it. Her voice is also usually so soft you almost strain to hear it, which contrasts with the dark, rough and minor sounds she’s used to produce something magical. I honestly don’t know which song to pick, so I’ll just leave you with her most recent music video. Again, listen to the whole album for the real effect.
9. Kamchia orchestra – “Kombayna-varshachka,” a.k.a. “Vasko zhabata”
Now for Serbia’s song of the summer, although it’s not a Serbian song at all. This song became wildly popular this year and brought millions of people from all over the Balkans and all over the world to this music video for an old Bulgarian song mildly about a tractor or a musician named “Vasko the frog” but really about nothing at all. It’s a dance song, is what it is.
The song dates back at least as far as 2003, when it was published on a “greatest hits” album. One of the joys of the Internet is that it allows great hits to resurface and spread (as we all know from the charts this year). Although the audio quality is not that great on this song, everyone relates to it as if it were written yesterday.
10. Elvana Gjata – “POW”
This is definitely one of my favorite pop songs of the year. Elvana, who’s making her second entry on this year’s list with “POW,” bottled up that strange mix of sadness and power and put it in a song. Its sonic landscape emerges from and clouds around the lyrics themselves, overwhelming you in the feeling. We also have our favorite Ottoman ecumene lamentation, aman, in this song!
“Bebi zemrën ti ma vrave mu
Pow pow pow pow
Edhe nuk e din sa m'ke lëndu
“Babe you killed my heart
Pow pow pow pow
You don't know how much you've hurt me
As one YouTube user put it, “this song feels deep in my veins.”
11. Dina Jashari – “Kopnezhi”
I had to go to Jashari’s concert at Belgrade’s KC Grad this year to fall in love with her music. This Skopje-based singer-songwriter is such a quietly fantastic performer, and her personality really comes through in her live performances. I chose “Kopnezhi” because I listened to it the most – when I was on vacation in Ohrid last summer it was on repeat. (Not least because I needed to learn what SAKAM meant to get by in Macedonia. Sakam da znam, sakam da znam…) She’s a young talent with a career ahead of her in the region’s burgeoning indie scene, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.
12. Bells & Winter Festivals of Greek Macedonia
Looking for some Ottoman ecumene tunes to celebrate the New Year? This might be the album for you. An ethnomusicological recording from Greek Macedonia published by Smithsonian Folkways in 2003, this is really a beautiful piece. It includes tracks that capture the sounds of life: shepherding and goatherding, church, and the music played at different festivals and parties. This was shared with me by my friend and collaborator Emma.
13. New Balkan Wife – “Minuta i pol”
I found them on Instagram. From Slovenia, kind of punky. I don’t even know who else listens to them. I think they’re rad.
14. Three women of Serbian pop who had great albums
In an industry dominated by the single, it’s been rare to see a full album that’s great from beginning to end in recent years. Yet three Serbian women did it in 2022. I’m not going to tell you whose I liked best, but I had a great time listening to all of them. For this blog post, I selected songs that really, really hit hard. All of them use sonicscapes from the Ottoman ecumene, mostly instrumentation.
Milica Pavlović – Posesivna
Tea Tairović – Balkanija
Special mention for “Dubai” and its Albanian counterpart, Ronela Hajati and Klement’s “Leje.”
Aleksandra Prijović – Zvuk Tisine
15. Songs from Sonia Tamar Seeman’s book Sounding Roman
A ethnographic book about Roman musicians in Turkey (primarily around Edirne and Istanbul), Sounding Roman is deeply researched, beautifully compiled, and powerfully argued. It’s deeply connected to the Ottoman ecumene, as Seeman traces the roots of most of her key musicians to outside of Turkey’s borders and also shows how the musicians impacted music outside of Turkey as well as inside of it. A review of this book will have to wait for another time, but if you want to read one academic work on the Ottoman ecumene this year, this would be my pick for you. It’s so good.
I picked two songs Seeman includes in the book (although I’m sharing their studio recordings rather than ethnographic ones) that left an impression on me. “Alçak Köfte” (“Low-down meatball”) performed by Kadir Üründülcü and Göksel Zurna and “Mastika” by the same Kadir and Deli Selim.
One of the best parts about these songs are the lyrics.
For a full interpretation of the köfte song, see Seeman’s book (Seeman 2019, 283-289).
Here’s her transcription and translation of the lyrics:
“Dün gece rüyamda gördüm (2X) Seni alçak alçak köfte (2X)
Dün gece rüyamda gördüm
Dün gece rüyama girdin. Seni yerim yerim de köfte.
Seni alçak alçak köfte.
Aman aman alçak köfte.”
“Last night I dreamt (2X)
You were a low-down, mean meatball. (2X)
Last night I dreamt
Last night you came into my dream.
I’m eating you, I’m eating you, meatball.
You low-down, mean meatball.
Aman aman low-down meatball.”
Although Seeman reports conflicting stories on where the idea for “Mastika” came from, it was certainly around a time when mastika (a liquor) and other such goods were finally able to be freely imported from Bulgaria across the border near Edirne (in the 1970s).
Hence, we get (in translation):
“Ooh ooh ooooh mastika mastika
Ooh ooh ooooh Marlboro cigarettes.”
(Seeman 2019, 249)
16. The soundtrack to Jutro ce promeniti sve
This year, I watched the 2018 Serbian TV show Jutro će promeniti sve. It was a great show – little bites of what ultimately turns out to be a love story that mostly alternate between the mundane and the devastating. It had an excellent soundtrack, as well. I found a Spotify playlist where you can listen to many of the songs used in the show. This was my summer soundtrack, basically.
One song on the soundtrack, after which an episode is named, is Svemirko’s “Žena od vanilije” (2017). Definitely one of my favorite songs I listened to this year.
This year, we’re lucky enough to have contributions from some of my friends and collaborators on what they listened to from the Ottoman ecumene this year.
Friend and collaborator – Jack
Dafina Zeqiri – “Malli”
Friend and collaborator – Emma
CHEGI Bend (all, but let’s just include “Devojko sa plamena u očima”)
Mili – “Grmi”
Nucci – “Opanci”
Merima Negomir, “Ivanova Korita”
Bajaga, “Plavi safir”
Konstrakta – “Neam šamana”
Yu Grupa – “Mornar”
Zdob și Zdub & Advahov Brothers – “Trenulețul” (Moldova’s 2022 Eurovision entry, Emma’s favorite music video of the year and also about the artificiality of national/cultural borders)
You can find all the songs I wrote about on my playlist!