Gaye Su Akyol unveiled İstikrarlı Hayal Hakikattir, her latest creation, in an iridescent cape, mutinous bangs, and war paints on the New Morning stage in Paris last October 28. On this excellent third album just released on Glitterbeat Records, the Istanbul artist pits psyche-punk surrealism and emancipatory dreams against conservative oppression. Let’s meet her.
Gaye Su Akyol was born in Istanbul in 1985, on the right side of the Bosporus: with a painter father, a journalist uncle, and a music-loving, educated family. But just because she grew up in a peaceful environment doesn’t mean she has nothing to say.
To express herself, this former anthropology student chose art: painting, then music, underground if possible. Hers proudly wears the colors of a free, creative, and resilient Turkey. At its roots, we find the only television channel of her childhood and the elegant mother voice that gave her the repertoire of the protesting Anatolian singers, Selda Bağcan and Müzeyyen Senar in the lead, whose art of singing and revolt she internalized. Then as a teenager, she quickly became addicted to the family rock records, stuffing herself with the universes of Nick Cave, Nirvana, and Tom Waits, without turning her back on the Turkish psychedelic rock of the 60s and 70s nor on its pioneers, from Cem Karaca to Barış Manço.
A bold heiress in a suit, Gaye Su Akyol now flourishes in a vibrant musical language, where traditional saz melodies and vocal motifs are combined with deep basses, surf guitars and psychotropic keyboards, as well as bringing in the trumpet, saxophone, and electronic beats on İstikrarlı Hayal Hakikattir.
Resisting through dreams
On the night of the concert, Gaye Su Akyol reminded the New Morning audience that journalists are imprisoned because they are doing their job. The crowd, who had been won over, approved loudly and sang in chorus while the beautiful woman spread her cape’s wings in a flood of conquering riffs whose energy echoed Tarantino’s films.
The musician has long asserted her disagreements with Erdogan’s harsh policies in Turkey, cultural imperialism and the hardening of extremes. “What is difficult is the government’s pressure on civil society. Turkey is not an isolated case; the same thing is happening in England with Brexit, in the USA with Trump, in Italy with Salvini, and in Brazil with Bolsonaro. Conservative governments are taking power and making external enemies in order to create an artificial patriotic unity. This only generates fear and withdrawal. Their methods are repugnant and fascist; this is an evil political game. The saddest part is that people still believe them. We should be smarter than them, seize power, and be free.”
How can we resist? With smiling dimples and a sharp-eyed gaze, Gaye Su Akyol confides that she has turned to quantum physics and philosophy, thanks to which she has been able to develop her critical thinking.
“I resist with my art. I use my art to change my perceptions, and of course, those of the people I touch. That’s why I called my album İstikrarlı Hayal Hakikattir, which can be translated as ‘the coherent dream is reality.’ I wanted to offer a counter-ideal to the harsh reality in which we live and that pushes us to forget our dreams, our fantasies, and the beauty of our imagination. So I counterattack with quantum theory: in short, if you believe strongly enough in something, it becomes real, not only in your mind but also in the physical world. They all said so: Einstein, Kant, Spinoza, Nietzsche, even Picasso! The key is giving power and consistency to your dreams.”
Thus Gaye Su Akyol plays with the failures of reality with humor and poetry to give substance to a vision of the world that she already projected in Hologram İmparatorluğu, the Hologram Empire, the second opus released in 2016 that propelled her onto the great European stages.
Putting the wolves to sleep
“I am my own superhero,” claims the woman who had to respond to a summons from the police authorities to investigate the author and the content of this music which, while it is avant-garde in Turkey, could also be disruptive. Although the young woman shudders at the mention of this episode, she refuses to suffer.
To put the wolves to sleep, Gaye Su Akyol alludes to metaphors and Turkish mythological heritage by invoking the female power of Queen Snake, Sahmeran, in a song, as well as the great figures of her own personal pantheon, like Barış Manço; she performs a beautiful version of his song “Hemşerim Memleket Nire” on İstikrarlı Hayal Hakikattir.
“Barış Manço is still a very important figure for the Turks. He too was a superhero, a revolutionary, in the way he addressed people, in the way he dressed. He was a TV man, he spent his time on the road to give a voice to other cultures. But he was also a king of Turkish psychedelic rock and there, too, he inspires me a lot. His lyrics are very up-to-date.”
Summoning a totem, calling on its strength. It is impossible not to think of the singer-guitarist-rocker-activist Selda Bağcan, a national superstar harassed by the authorities throughout her career, arrested several times for her social, feminist, and anti-militarist positions that she has sung unabashedly since the 1970s. “Selda Bağcan is a powerful woman, a major influence for me. But the two of us are different, two waves in the same ocean. I don’t necessarily want to go to prison, but I’m not afraid. You can lock up your body, not your ideas. I feel very free of mind, endlessly.”
Before putting on her huge vintage faux fur, Gaye Su Akyol lets slip that she is delighted to present İstikrarlı Hayal Hakikattir in Istanbul on November 23, “an obviously very special date,” the highlight of a European tour that he has already brought her to the Womex stage in the Canaries, as well as to Berlin, Amsterdam, and Oslo. Gaye Su Akyol’s world is vast, with many horizons.
Gaye Su Akyol, İstikrarlı Hayal Hakikattir (GlitterBeat records)