Saadet Türköz: Kazakh and Turkish Songs + Vocal Improvisation

In 2000 I received an invitation to attend a music and dance festival in Almaty, the largest city in Kazakhstan. It was a wonderful opportunity to see another country and attend a different kind of festival. The festival was a strange one, not particularly well organised or well attended. But it had one important outcome: I got to know the music of singer Saadet Türköz. Saadet is an improvising singer based in Switzerland, but her parents were part of the Kazakh community in Central Asia. They were based in East Turkestan, the Uygher region of China, but were expelled from there by the Chinese authorities. They settled in Istanbul joining a large Kazakh community there. Saadet inherited a love of the Kazakh folk tradition from her parents, but when she moved to Switzerland she eventually became a key member of the improvised music community there, combining in her performances Kazakh and Turkish songs with vocal improvisation.

Saadet was invited to the festival in Almaty with support of the Swiss government, and gave a number of performances plus television interviews. She was accompanied by a Swiss film maker who was making a documentary about the visit. This was the first time that Saadet had visited Kazakhastan, and there was a lot of interest in her performances and her music. At the first concert I remember that she focussed on Kazakh songs rather than on improvisation and these songs received a warm reception from the audience. I particularly remember one audience member who went up (uninvited) towards the end of the set to say Thank You. Apparently, he was delighted to be hearing songs that he had not heard since his childhood, and this seemed to be the general reaction from the audience. The Kazakh government was at the time placing an emphasis on Kazakh identity, and so Saadet’s visit and this concert came at an opportune time. In the second concert Saadet improvised freely with a group of musicians from Kazakhstan, and it was a revelation to hear how she was able to combine elements of Kazakh and Turkish folk traditions with improvisation.

I heard Saadet again at the Saalfelden Festival a few years later in 2003 when she performed a fantastic, totally improvised set with guitarist Elliott Sharp and drummer Bobby Previte. Saadet has frequently performed with Elliott and they recorded a fine album on the Swiss Intakt label with the title Kumuska.

Now Saadet has a new record out, this time a duo album SongDreaming with trombonist Nils Wogram on Leo Records. They make an excellent combination with Wogram making use of the vocal qualities of the trombone in ways that really complement Saadet’s vocals. Wogram growls, groans and chatters soulfully in a deep voice on the trombone in ways that fit well with the sounds of Kazakh and Turkish in Saadet’s songs and the way she improvises. As well as songs in the two languages, Saadet improvises wordlessly and sometimes, if I’m right, creates passages with imagined words that do not exist. Wogram also plays the melodica on three tracks, and these feature Saadet on songs that have more of a gentle feel reminiscent of folk songs. The approach is very open, and it is clear that much of the interaction between Saadet and Nils is spontaneous and created in the moment.

There are 12 tracks on the album, all with a one word title such as Way, Paper, Sea and the tracks are all relatively short, varying in length from 1 minute to just over 6 minutes. These tracks vary from gentle sounds of Ata and Eye to the more intense and emotional sounds of Rain, Yurt , the playfuness of the first part of Umay which gradually builds up in intensity, and the haunting nature of the final short track Sea. It’s a unique album full of drama, intensity, but also a gentle charm on the quieter pieces.

Saadet Türköz and Nils Wogram: SongDreaming Leo Records CD 898.

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