By Ataberk Ozcan
Altın Gün means “golden age” in Turkish. Funnily enough, neither Merve Daşdemir nor Erdinç Ecevit Yıldız, the only ones of Turkish origin in the band, came up with the name. It was their Dutch bass guitar player, Jasper Verhulst, who translated the English phrase in Turkish on Google Translate and set it as a group name.
Jasper Verhulst founded the Altın Gün project back in 2016. After discovering Turkish rock, he immediately wanted to play it. But being Dutch, and not knowing any Turkish instruments (or the language) made the task difficult, as explained in this New York Times article. But he didn’t lose hope and posted a call for musicians from Turkey. That is how Jasper Verhulst (Bass) met Erdinç Ecevit Yıldız (vocals, saz, keys), Merve Daşdemir (vocals, keys, percussion), Daniel Smienk (drums), Chris Bruining (percussion) and Thijs Elzinga (guitar).
Although Altın Gün do not exactly write the music they play, their distinct covers and rearrangements of traditional cult 60s and 70s Turkish songs give their music a unique feel. Music is often a question of feeling, especially when it comes to the lyrics. The songs they play have lyrics that focus mostly on intense human emotions (love, death, tragedy, war – you know, the usual) with a poetic and soulful tint. The songs may be classics, but the work Altın Gün puts into refining a musical tone that feels nostalgic and authentic, while also being exploratory, is what makes their sound truly captivating. Despite most of the band members not understanding the language, the emotions are there.
According to Jasper, in an interview with All Things Loud, there is something strong, powerful about Turkish folk-rock music. There is also an added “vintage” element to the production. Jasper felt immediately connected to traditional Turkish instruments or the microphone’s analogue vibrations. One’s love of music can take many forms. Maybe a lyric reminds the listener of something, transforming a moment into a memory. Or maybe the melodies are evocative of one’s culture and past. But the magic behind Altın Gün is that the Netherland-based group founders connected with the lyrics and the sonorities of Turkish music without understanding them. Maybe it was the mystery that attracted them; it felt like a deep dive into the unknown.
As this tweet from the band’s account shows, one of their main inspirations is Barış Manço, a pioneer of Anatolian folk-rock music. His lyrics mostly followed a modernised version of the “aşık” (wandering folk poets); a tradition that was marginal in the popular music scene of the 1980s, mostly dominated by love-themed lyrics. Aşık poets existed way before the 1980s. They would write poems about spiritual love and reaching peace. Few musicians, like Manço, composed music around these poems. Barış Manço even wrote some poems of his own. Thus, the peace and love-themed lyrics that a Turkish artist tried to convey to the Turkish people through music years ago are now sung by thousands of people from different languages and cultures in Europe today. Altın Gün’s effort and strength is in making sure these poems are able to break borders.
It is undeniable that Altın Gün is central to the European musical scene. That band was branded as one of the 15 promising European artists in the line-up of the Europe Day Campaign by Liveurope & the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), and tours regularly across the continent (see their live show with Ancienne Belgique in partnership with Liveurope). The group brings forward the music of the, at times, distant Turkey to central Europe. They also strengthen psych-folk music culture in Europe, a genre that is often overlooked. In this way, Altın Gün inspires other bands to pursue cross-border and more diverse music practices, all the while questioning the parameters (and perimeters) within which music is created, produced or shared. Altın Gün was initially the product of two Dutch musicians who blended music from Turkey, a country at once politically distant and culturally close to Europe, with their own Dutch and Western music influences to produce a new style of music. Their approach, and productions, show us a version of the European music scene that is inclusive, vast, multi-faceted and of fascinating depth.
Personally, I feel a strong connection with Altın Gün. Altın Gün explores and transcends Turkish and European identity through music: they re-actualise Turkish classics all the while popularising them for a western-European audience. They create a space to question what it means to be Europeans and our relationship to borders. Is Turkish psych-folk a part of European culture and music? Altın Gün asserts that yes, it certainly is.
This article was published with the support of Liveurope.