Kurdish pop singer Melis Bercem Demir. Photo: Melis YouTube
Kurdish pop singer Melis Bercem Demir who was recently in Erbil for a documentary film, believes that times have changed for artists in Turkey and they can sing in Kurdish more freely. Demir, 27, says that she sings in Kurdish, but cannot communicate in the language as Kurdish was banned in Turkey when she was growing up.
Demir says that politics have affected art in Turkey and she suggests that artists and singers focus on other aspects of life such as literature and cinema in order to get away from politics and build themselves a strong foundation.
Demir, born and raised in Diyarbakir, says that Istanbul is the music capital of Turkey and moving there has greatly helped her art.
Rudaw: You sing most of your songs in Kurdish, but you cannot speak the language. Can you tell us the reason?
As the 90s generation we were unable to learn Kurdish as we were under intense pressure at the time. We never spoke in Kurdish because it was banned. That’s why I’ve no choice but to speak Turkish. It is a shame that I don’t speak Kurdish, but I am now trying to learn it.
Have things changed now?
Yes, things have changed nowadays and I am trying to learn Kurdish because it is my mother tongue. If I speak in Kurdish I can get my message across more easily.
What is the situation like for singers and musicians in Northern Kurdistan? Can they make a living from art?
The situation in Turkey is different. If you create and present popular art you will make good money, but if you perform badly then it will not become a good source of living.
How did you like your recent visit to Erbil?
People were very welcoming. Whoever I met went out of his or her way to help me without even knowing me when I was filming for a documentary. This attitude did really make me happy.
Do you have any folk songs?
Singing folk songs (lawk) needs a high pitch voice and certain tones and that is difficult for me.
What is your take on Zazaki music and songs?
Zazakis have unique literature and they have made great use of Alevi music and art. They very much like baghlama [saz] instrument. They even use it during religious events. That is why they have rich music.
Has politics affected art in Northern Kurdistan?
Unfortunately, that is a big problem for us. Kurdish songs were prohibited in Turkey for political reasons for a long time. It has now improved a bit which has affected us too. It taught us that a mistake was made. I will have to sing songs in all languages. This is the era of global music and art. In recent years, the situation has improved. We are now able to sing Kurdish songs freely.
How important is traditional art in Turkey?
Traditional Turkish art is performed through Maqam, which initially started during the Ottomans using jambush, oud and qanun instruments. There is great interest in and attention to traditional arts in Turkey.
It is said that Istanbul is the center of Turkish art and music. What do you think?
Yes, it is. The center of music is Istanbul. Because most art activities and concerts are performed there. The best music groups and musicians are there. It has a direct impact on boosting art in the city. Had I not moved from Diyarbakir to Istanbul I would not have gained any skills in music.
What instruments do you play?
I have been playing saz for a long time now. Coming second is piano. I learned it from Conservator [music school]. It was very helpful for me to sing. But saz is the closest to my heart. I love playing it.
I am also very interested in cinema and dancing. I have taken many dance classes. I like Greek dance. I also read a lot of literature because I believe it is the foundation of human beings. Artists must pay attention to all aspects of life in order to have a strong foundation.