The band Lalalar uses samples from Turkish folk music in their extremely danceable music. The Istanbul trio is coming to Germany.
These are sentences that resonate, and that’s not only due to the powerful reverberation trail in the singer’s voice: “First you start lying to yourself / Later, you don’t trust anyone anymore.” The Turkish voice carries a deep and full voice Verses propelled by an electric guitar playing a scale from above. The band Lalalar doesn’t need much more to unfold the power of their work.
The three musicians from Istanbul are on a European tour, next week they will present their current album “Bi Cinnete Bakar” (roughly: In the face of madness) in Germany.
Their dark music is characterized by driving bass lines, catchy rhythms, psychedelic guitar patterns and the solemn singing of a pithy male voice. Or, to paraphrase punk icon Iggy Pop, who recently introduced the group on his BBC radio show: “Wow, straight out Turkey. That was Lalalar. Ali Güçlü Şimşek, Barlas Tan Özemek and Kaan Düzarat, three of Turkey’s most innovative alternative artists.”
Şimşek plays bass and sings, in the piece “Kilavuz Karga” (Leader Raven) his part is spoken rhythmically. The title is based on a Turkish proverb: If you have a raven as your role model, you can’t get rid of the shit on your nose. The more appropriate translation: If a blind man leads the other, they both fall into the pit.
Lalalar: “Bi Cinnete Bakar” (Bongo Joe); live January 30, Ehrenfeld station, Cologne, further concerts in May
Despite the almost sacral sounding vocals, Lalalar’s music is made for the night and extremely danceable. Some tracks sound as if you shouldn’t play them without a fog machine and strobe light, above all “Kötüye Bişey Olmaz” (Nothing happens to the bad).
In terms of arrangement and energy, the song is the six-minute highlight of the album. The bass runs already sound threatening in the first titles, but there you can also hear variations in the funk again and again. “Kötüye Bişey Olmaz”, on the other hand, is beautifully composed electronic body music (EBM): pounding beats, distorted and overlapping instrumentals. The song title is repeated like a slogan and carried into the next track at the end with an extra amount of distortion.
The slogan-like lyrics characterize the music of Lalalar. Criticism of the Turkish government can be heard just as clearly as absurd phrases: “If shit were money, poor people would be born without asses.” The polemics sometimes seem a bit cerebral, and in some places guesswork is called for if you follow the numerous metaphors want. Nevertheless: the music works without understanding the lyrics.
Many bands are riding the wave of Turkish Psychedelic Rock. Lalalar don’t sound nostalgic though
Psychedelic folk rock in Turkish
Lalalar have played at some big festivals in the past year, for example in France, Belgium and Switzerland. In reviews, the band was associated with a hype that has also existed in Germany for some time. Bands like the Dutch-Turkish group Altin Gün fill concert halls from Constance to Kiel with psychedelic folk rock in Turkish, including associated Anatolian harmonies and rhythms.
Even if there are similarities in tonality and aesthetics: while Altin Gün mostly interpret traditional Turkish folk songs and make them accessible to an international audience with a good sense of catchy tunes, Lalalar’s music seems wilder and more experimental.
The album “Bi Cinnete Bakar” creates a somber mood, which is due not only to the bass runs but also to the drum machine with which Kaan Düzarat chops up the spherical guitar sounds of Barla’s Tan Özemek.
The band name Lalalar, which sounds funny not only in German, is a play on words. In the Ottoman Empire, the officials responsible for the education of princes were called lālā, and “-lar” marks the plural in Turkish. The Lalas! These teachers were held in high esteem in society and secured the respect of the spoiled descendants of Ottoman rulers. Can the band be trusted to gain respect in the oversized presidential palace of the Turkish Republic and to educate people in political Ankara? It would be desirable.
Been in the music business for a long time
The three musicians have been in the business for a long time. In conversation with the left-wing Turkish newspaper One day they stated that after 20 years of “struggling” in the music business, Ali Güçlü Şimşek was looking for something new. In 2018 he talked to Barlas Tan Özemek more often, both had been friends for a long time. At first they had in mind a drumless combo, but they lacked the connecting element for their sounds.
Across from One day they describe a founding myth in the truest sense of the word: In the Aegean, at a joint meeting on the island of Bozcaada, they found the synthesizer master Kaan Düzarat. From then on they were on the road as a trio.
Ali Güçlü Şimşek regularly collaborates with award-winning Turkish indie artist, musician and punk icon Gaye Su Akyol – who in turn contributed the cover art for Lalalar’s latest album.
Despite a record deal with Geneva label Bongo Joe, Lalalar have been praised in Turkey’s progressive music scene for not composing for foreign countries but for keeping in touch with the country’s alternative movement. The way they take samples from Turkish folk music, such as kemençe and bağlama, sounds less nostalgically motivated than other groups that ride the wave of Turkish psychedelic rock.
Major harmonies can only be heard on “Bi Cinnete Bakar” in the last song, which is also the title of the album. Its melody varies from the Italian workers’ song “Bandiera rossa”, which is also known in Turkey, making it sound more leisurely and at the same time less pathetic. After a gloomy ride through a bitter analysis of the present, the song is cautiously hopeful: “What happens will happen / everything can change.” And: “Your path is free, you just have to start.”
A subtle statement, which in a Turkey shortly before the elections is to be understood as political. It’s nice that this wink of the eye can also be musically linked to in Germany.