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Cigdem Aslan: Mortissa

Chris M. Slawecki By

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Cigdem Aslan: Mortissa Ҫiğdem Aslan was born in the cultural crossroads of Istanbul. She moved to London, hoping to advance her onstage and classroom studies in various musical cultures; these studies include her Songs of Smyrna project, which celebrates rebetiko and sephardic music from Turkey, and joining the She'Koyokh Klezmer Ensemble and the Balkan group Dunav. Mortissa is her solo debut, composed of rebetiko and smyrniac songs (often called "the blues of the Agean") from the 1920s and '30s. "Most of the songs are in Greek," she explains, "and I didn't know the meaning when I first heard them. It was the music I could relate to. I felt close to them even if I didn't understand a word. Once I learned what they were about, it was even better. Most of them are love songs. They're familiar to me in the way they express things. The way a woman tells off her lover is similar to what I heard in Turkey."

Aslan recorded most of Mortissa with aces from North London's Greek and Turkish musical communities, including kanun (plucked dulcimer) master Nikolaos Baimpas; She'Koyokh backs up the rousing sing-along "Trava Vre Manga Kai Alani (Away With You, Manga)" and head-spinning clarinet jam "Ferece (Veil)."

"Kanarini (Canary)" sings a beautiful vocal and instrumental melody nourished by Middle Eastern percussion and strings. Like an impending storm, "To Dervisaki (Little Dervish)" grows more intense as violin, guitar and clarinet twist and bow in a dance with Aslam's vocal, so overwhelmingly mysterious that it sounds a bit dangerous.

"Nenni (Lullaby)" will stop you dead in your tracks. Aslan's unaccompanied vocal introduction is so perfect it's bewitching; beautiful, mysterious, vibrant, haunting, evocative—her voice is all these and more. Starkly illuminated by the backup of a solitary acoustic guitar, Aslan's vocal leaves in its wake the sense that "Nenni" is a vocal incantation passed down from voice to voice, from person to person, from generation to generation

Mortissa is more than music: It is an open window into different cultures and histories. "What I'm doing is adding details and highlighting the similarities between the cultures," Aslan concludes. "Even something like a double bass in there makes it more modern. It's adding your personality. What I'm doing is putting my feelings into the songs, trying to reflect what they make me feel."

"It shows there are no cultural boundaries in music."


Track Listing: Aman Katerina Mou (Oh My Katerina); Vale Me Stin Agalia Sou (Take Me in Your Arms); To Dervisaki (Little Dervish); Bir Allah (One God); Pane Gia To Praso (Out for Leek); Trava Vre Manga Kai Alani (Away With You, Manga); Ferece (Veil); Nenni (Lullaby); Ҫakici; Sto Kafe Aman (At the Café Aman); Usakli Kiz (Girl from Uşak); Kanarini (Canary); S’agapo (I Love You).

Personnel: Nikos Angousis-Doitsidis: clarinet; Çigdem Aslan: vocals; Matt Bacon: guitar; Nikolaos Baimpas: baglama, kanun, mandola, mandolin, santouri, vocals; Makis Baklatzis: violin; H. Cahit Baylav: violin; Pavlos Carvalho: bouzouki; Philippos Demetriou: bells, finger cymbals, spoons; Odysseas Elia: bouzouki; Susi Evans: clarinet; Meg Hamilton: violin; Sevtap Isik: vocals; Vasilis Lemonias: cello; Paul Melas: guitar, vocals; Tahir Palali: baglama, davul, fretless guitar, oud, vocals; Vasilis Sarikis: finger cymbals; Guy Schalom: bendir; She'koyokh; Paul Tkachenko: double bass, mandolin.

Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Asphalt Tango


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