Memory lane is vivid today. Tuğçe Kurtiş takes you down for a stroll, as she colorizes history with her spellbinding paintbrush, awakening the dancing sounds and smells of an elderly Istanbul. This artist shines bright with uniqueness; from the trajectory of her musical education to her worldview to her story, and how she deftly spins all it into her art’s fabric.
In Souq’s traditional manner of reviving past sounds through the prism of contemporary music, Songs for My Grandmother wistfully brings three traditional Turkish songs out to play, fusing original arrangements with enchanting electronic beats. Tuğçe, along with her collaborator Santi, builds this pathway with digital harps, retro synthesizers and marimba jingles. She melodiously lifts the curtain on a treasured memory of her youth: watching her grandmother crank up the TV or radio whenever one of these songs came on, both singing along joyfully.
Tuğçe is not the only one writing this story. You’ll find freshly produced remixes by an impressive journey of a roster: Acid Pauli, San Miguel, Álvaro Suárez, Anatolian Sessions, Alizarina, Rodrigo Gallardo, Spy From Cairo and Drumspyder. All of them explore a different facet of this timeless sound; from Acid Pauli’s easygoing tempo to Rodrigo Gallardo’s trippy deep house to Alizarina’s travelling clarinet to Drumspyder’s Oriental upbeat take, their musical palette reaches across continents.
In order to dive deeper into this entrancing imaginative world, SOUQ and Husa Sounds caught up with Tuğçe, exploring the narrative behind her musical identity and sensitivities…
Tuğçe’s creative conscience was fed by her mother’s classical Turkish conservatory education: « I grew up listening to very old records of classical Turkish music from 18th and 19th century composers and hearing my mom practicing, singing, playing the oud and the mandolin ». Through ballet lessons, she « discovered and developed a passion for classical Western music », through school choirs and musicals, she crossed paths with jazz – « particularly through the voice of Sarah Vaughan who completely mesmerized me and inspired me to travel to the US to study jazz singing » – along with West African drumming. During her time in the US, Tuğçe studied under « legendary jazz drummer/percussionist Milford Graves and the legendary jazz singer/songwriter Sheila Jordan ».
Her continuous ability to embrace education about new genres at different life chapters, such as jazz and African percussions, makes for a rich modern perspective that she mixes in with her personal experiences. By suspending this snapshot in time and space, Tuğçe creatively honors her grandparents Latif and Cemile. The expression of nostalgia and celebration of tradition come alive via bold instrumental brush strokes and bright vocals.
Souq: What’s the story behind the dedication of this new album to your grandparents?
Tuğçe: Like most of the classic songs from that era and genre of Turkish music, each of these tracks tells a different type of love story. The first track “Yıldızların Altında” (Underneath the Stars) is about youthful love and longing. The second track “Gözleri Aşka Gülen” (The One Whose Eyes Smile at Love) is about joyful love. The third track “Sevdan Olmasa” (Without Your Love) is about the impossibility of life in the absence of love. In my imagination, these three tracks correspond to the three stages in my grandparents’ love story. The first track is about the time they met a young age. The second song tells the story of their life together in love. The third song is about how they departed this world, within one month of each other, because my grandfather found it impossible to keep on living without my grandmother.
Her work and talent sprawl across different horizons, now making waves in bubbling Berlin. Of course, Tuğçe doesn’t travel alone; Santi, a soulful artist from Paraguay, has been her road companion for some time now. Their mutual eclecticism yields remarkable musical results that have been continuously acclaimed by labels, press and peers.
Souq: You have collaborated with Santi on five albums and numerous singles. How did Santi and Tuğçe emerge?
Tuğçe: Santi and I met in the US in 2007 while we were both students at the University of Kansas (KU). We have been making music together since the very first day. A week after we met, we performed at an open mic night at the JazzHaus in Lawrence, Kansas. For the first few months, we kept rehearsing new pieces and performed regularly at open mic nights until we built a large enough repertoire for our own gigs. Then we started doing weekly shows featuring guest musicians from the KU School of Music. During that time, we played acoustic sets including Latin, Brazilian, and Turkish classics along with some original pieces and we had the opportunity to perform with different instrumentalists in numerous concerts and special events on and off campus. Since 2013, we have been producing and performing mainly electronic music.
Cheered for their imaginative and creative innovations, Tuğçe and Santi’s styles have been challenged and strengthened over time by a bouquet of experiences and inspirations spanning across borders.
Souq: You and Santi have recently moved to Berlin. Can you please tell us some of the main reasons behind this decision, and how people are reacting to your music in Berlin compared to other cities that you’ve been to?
Tuğçe: It is a really long story and it was a very difficult journey, so let me just say that we knew we had to be here at this point in time for many different reasons and we are glad to be here now. Musically, we feel this is the place to be, and we are so inspired and energized by the endless creativity and open-mindedness that surrounds us in this city. So far, our music has been well received by Berliners, and we are excited to see how it will continue to grow and change during our stay here.
Souq: How do your heritage and travels find their way into your music?
Tuğçe: The music I make or anyone makes and resonates with is undoubtedly influenced by the histories and geographies of our being, but beyond the specifics of time and space, I find that music offers me an opportunity to be present in the moment, which ultimately is the only place to be.
Songs for My Grandmother was recognized by Beehype as one of the best releases from Turkey in 2017: “Over all these thousands artists from around the world we have covered over the last few years, Tuğçe Kurtiş has been among the most consistent quality-wise, but unpredictable and gripping with her consecutive artistic choices“. In today’s swiftly saturating DJ/producer landscape, unpredictability is an essential quality, one that indicates endurance – it is with the utmost pleasure that we will continue to follow this artist who has a knack for keeping us on our toes, never knowing what she will dig out next from her international chest.
Souq: What are your plans for the future?
Tuğçe: In addition to continuing my journey in music production and performance, my plans for the near future involve greater engagement in interdisciplinary collaborations with artists, scholars, activists, and community organizers in Berlin, other locations in Europe and beyond.