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  • Writer's pictureEmily

This Week: Gaye Su Akyol in Belgrade

This blog post is the first of what I intend to be a somewhat regular weekly roundup of what I’m up to in the Ottoman ecumene.

 

When I saw that Gaye Su Akyol, Anatolian psychedelic rock queen of our era, would finally bring her Anatolian Dragon tour to Belgrade in 2024, I felt a sense of what might have been déjà vu. As though it so obviously should have happened before. At Friday’s concert (16 February at Dorćol Platz), her premiere in Serbia, it was clear I was not the only one who felt this way!


singer singing into a microphone on a stage
Gaye Su Akyol, Belgrade, 16 February 2024. Photo: Emily in the Ottoman Ecumene

I’ve been listening to Gaye Su Akyol for a few years (Anadolu Ejderi was my favorite album in 2022), but I always felt strongly that she was an artist that needed to be experienced live. I was very correct.

 

Belgrade was the second stop on her three-city Balkan tour, in which she also played in Bucharest and Zagreb before heading back to Istanbul. The audience at Dorćol Platz (a medium-sized, alternative space which can accommodate a stage on one end and has a permanent bar at the other) was pretty full, but not packed so tightly we couldn’t dance. We definitely danced.

 

She played all the hits and we had a party. She opened with the obvious choice, the fiery, spaceship of “Anadolu Ejderi,” and went on to play a mix of songs from that album, hits from her older albums, and a few others that she’s released as EPs/singles or performs live. I was overjoyed to hear “Vurgunum Ama Acelesi Yok,” my current obsession (my video below), as well as her version of the very old (“almost 100 years old!” she said) “Gamzedeyim Deva Bulmam” and her unrecorded Erkin Koray cover “Estarabim” (my short clip from this is below) She also played “İsyan Manifestosu,” a perfect song for a concert.

 

Yet despite the dancing and singing I was doing, I was also paying careful attention, as it’s not every day you’re in the presence of a master like Gaye Su Akyol. Let’s start with the outstanding vocals: she’s got power, nuance, and color in her voice in a way that both soothes and challenges. I could listen to it all day. Being in the room with her, even in a larger space like Dorćol Platz, gave me a completely new feel for this. She had an awesome two-person band with her (a drummer and a guitarist/keyboardist) and used very minimal pre-recorded stuff, and they completely filled out the sound.


Gaye Su Akyol sings "Vurgunum Ama Acelesi Yok," Belgrade, 16 February 2024.

Video: Emily in the Ottoman Ecumene


And she occasionally got behind the drums herself, which I didn’t know she did and I totally loved. It’s literally my dream to sing and drum in a band. She rocked it. Gaye Su also knows how to command a stage. She switched seamlessly between English and Turkish, telling stories and explaining her songs in the context of love, peace, and rock and roll, swooping about in her silver cape and boots and her dramatic eye makeup like she owned the place. But she didn’t need any of this: she radiates charisma.

 

Gaye Su Akyol plays the drums in "Sen Benim Mağaramsın," Belgrade, 16 February 2024.

Video: Emily in the Ottoman Ecumene


It was cool that the audience seemed quite international; definitely, there were Turkish people, but they were not the majority, and there were also plenty of us “foreigners” around. But the majority seemed to be from Belgrade (or people who had traveled there to see her from nearby cities and countries). In my experience, Turkish people, like Serbian people, like to sing along when they go to concerts and they often know every single word. Little pockets of the crowd where Turkish listeners were concentrated could occasionally be heard singing aloud. But a lot of us non-Turkish people knew quite a few lyrics, too. It was really fun to feel like part of a community – a community defined by knowing all the words to Gaye Su Akyol songs! (Like, where have these people been hiding all my life?) But certainly, an audience at one of her concerts in Turkey would just be 10 times more in terms of singing along, and I totally want to experience that one day.

 

I was curious, in such an audience, what her music means to everyone. I’m sure that in listeners from outside of Turkey, her music evokes different associations and meanings than in those from within, but what does that mean in a place like Belgrade? Certainly, not all of us were experts in the history of Anatolian psychedelic rock, or knew anything at all about the genre. Not all of us may have even been rock fans. Some of us may have been more interested in the “Turkish” sounds in her music or aligned with her political stances of resistance, equality, or peace. A lot of us didn’t even understand the lyrics. All that to say, I’m curious to know more about her audience!

 

As she rounded out the show with “Anadolu Ejderi” for the second time (I could have even gone for a third), I left just wanting more! So, get yourself to a Gaye Su Akyol concert if you’re lucky enough to have the chance.


Gaye Su Akyol covers "Estarabim," Belgrade, 16 February 2024.

Video: Emily in the Ottoman Ecumene

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