In March of last year, singer Olcay Bayir and her band were two days away from leaving on a tour – sponsored by the British government, no less. Then the lockdown crushed the performing arts in almost every country around the world.
In the days since, Bayir has not been idle. She made a name for herself with a rapturously beautiful album of traditional Turkish music back in 2015. Her new ep, Inside (İçerde) is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a showcase for her increasingly remarkable ability to shift gears stylistically, but at the same time it’s a portrait of anguish and frustration.
Conventional wisdom is that working over the web is seamlessly efficient, but in reality the reverse is true. Issues that could be ironed out in the company of musicians onstage or in the studio take hours or even days when they’re separated by continents. Which makes this achievement all the more impressive, considering how much adversity Bayir and her global supporting cast had to tackle.
The first track is Asude (At Peace), her voice wounded and imploring. She sings in Turkish: the last line of the chorus is “My last words are for you, but I can’t say them.” Behind her, guitarist Ignacio Lusardi Monteverde and bağlama player Huseyin Murat Sığırcı build flamenco intensity over Memed Mert Baycan’s percussion.
Track two, Ela is completely different, an echoey, psychedelic art-rock collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Deniz Mahir Kartal, based on a love poem by iconic medieval Turkish bard Karacaoğlan. Bayir really reaches for the rafters here.
The album’s third song, Yalnizlik (Loneliness) is a somewhat more organic but equally dramatic strain of art-rock. Serdar Barçın – of Turkish psychedelic legends Yeni Turku – contributes pensively circling ney flute over a steady background from pianist Christian Prior, bassist Tom McCredie and percussionist Kostas Kopanaris.
The final cut is the key to the record. In Kayip Cocuk (Lost Child), Bayir draws the connection between the horrors of children orphaned by war, and the pandemic of child abuse that followed in the wake of the lockdown. She doesn’t address this head-on, but it’s going to take an enormous amount of therapy and compassion to heal the trauma of an entire generation who were terrorized into believing that proximity to other people is deadly.. Erdi Arslan’s moody düdük filters through Alistair MacSween’s tersely atmospheric keys as Bayir rises from gentle consolation to full-blown anguish. It’s an anthem for our time – and this is one of the best short albums of the year.