Gaye Su Akyol Will Change How You Think About Folk Music

We caught up with the Turkish singer and heard why culture matters, why respect towards women is key and bunny masks can get you in trouble.


As much fun as Roskilde Festival can be, it also has some of the most inspiring approaches to putting important issues on the map. Considering the past year’s political conundrum with immigration, Roskilde Festival 2016 sees several musicians from both Syria and Turkey roaming the stages of this year’s festival. It’s important lest we forget that these countries are more than terror attacks. They are cultures. And cultures produce art that is just as worthwhile discovering than what comes out of mainland Europe.

Case in point: Turkish singer Gaye Su Akyol has made her European breakthrough in 2016 with an approach to music that mixes two distinct influences—an alternative rock approach and traditional Turkish folk music. The cocktail is an explosive endeavour, as proofed by the hundreds of people dancing at her concert at this year’s festival. However, the music is also fuelled by a rebellion towards the political establishment in her home country. In the midst of it all, there’s a strange connection to another band that wears bunny masks. We spoke with Gaye after her show.


Girls Are Awesome: Hi Gaye. Did you guys just get here today? 

Gaye Su Akyol: Yesterday. But we didn’t have much time to see anything yet. That’ll change soon, we have to experience this place! This is much more organised than any festival we’ve been to so far. It’s also a lot bigger and – of course – a lot cooler. Last festival we played at was in Poland, which was great. This one is almost too complex. Too many great bands playing at the same time! I’m happy to be a part of it.

I know the struggle. I don’t know if you can tell by my shoes, but one is bound for sore feet trying to catch everything.

We actually just talked about this! Are there shuttle busses between stages, or do people just walk? Busses would be great.

Sure would, but there are no busses, unfortunately. And with all the drinking involved it’s actually hard work. 

Well, you look like you did a great job!

Thanks. It’s all worth it to see acts like you. Bands that you wouldn’t normally see in concert, at least in Denmark. Turkish bands, in general. Speaking of, how is the alternative scene in Turkey?

The last ten years has seen a lot of new great talents and new sounds in Turkish music. And it gets public appreciation, too. They should all play at the festival! Back in the 80s, during the totalitarian regime, the music scene was in ruins. The political situation is still fucked today, but the tension creates creative counter-action. People really, really want to express themselves. So when things go south in a country, art blossoms. People have a need to come together and express themselves.

Is there a political statement in your music? 

Sure. Sometimes it’s mystically hidden in the background. The lyrics can seem lighthearted and psychedelic, but there’s always a hidden meaning. One of the titles of my songs can be translated to ‘I’m Living with the Camels’. I’m not talking about literal camels. It’s the people who look like humans but behave like camels, you know? It’s a kind of irony that some Western people I’ve met don’t get. All of a sudden they ask questions like, ‘oh, I didn’t know that there were camels in Turkey?”.

Joke aside, I think you’ve struck a nerve here. Blurring the literal meanings of your creations is what makes art so great, right? 

Yes. Irony has a real power in it. These kinds of metaphors make my music so much more powerful, I think. That’s a deliberate choice. Isn’t it boring just to say things in their literal context all the time? Art expresses the things you can’t say. And it makes me more joyful to do it in a mystical manner. The audience loves it, too.

Speaking of art, I think that there are two distinct trails in your music: one is the rock approach and the other is the traditional Turkish folk music. Why did you choose the traditional approach as a part of your art? 

Since my childhood, that’s the music I’ve always known and loved. My mom sang all the old Turkish songs for me, and through her I learned them by heart. I have always thought that if a culture doesn’t express itself through its art, then it doesn’t have a chance to survive and develop. You have to create your art with the elements that makes you, you. If you’re not doing that, you’re just copying other cultures. You know, Europeans know rock’n’roll better than us. Why? Because they invented it. Of course you can use elements of their music, but the key element is your own personal touch. Western culture already knows rock’n’roll by heart. If I go to Japan, for example, I don’t need to hear another Beatles. Maybe they’re talented imitators, but I want to hear what it is that makes Japanese music special. Of course, rock’n’roll can be a big part of their music too. I mean, we all grew up with it. I play it myself. But I want to put some cultural details in it. It comes from inside, it’s not something I construct. When I try to sing, I sing like a traditional Turkish singer.

Ah, so it’s a two-way. Try not to forget your roots, while you’re being progressive? 

Exactly! Perfect analysis.


But with the political situation, are you ever afraid that those roots are gonna be, metaphorically speaking, up-rooted? 

It will disappear someday, in a thousand years maybe. I wish to carry it on as long as I can. But again, we all have different backgrounds with us that will always show in one way or another. It’s better to respect your background and be acceptant of others’. Our best option is to feel comfortable with our cultures and not be afraid to perform them.

So when you’re performing your culture in a different country, like cold and rainy Denmark – what’s the greatest part of that? 

It’s the fact that our mother tongues are completely different, yet we always understand one another through music. You don’t need words to communicate music. Second is that I get to express my culture to hundreds of people who gladly take it in. It’s beautiful, because as a woman Turkey is not the greatest place to live. I’m comfortable with everything I got, so it’s great to get out there and tear at the seams of the demeaning approach towards women in my home country. My humanity always comes first. Then we can talk about my gender. But really, what does it mean?

I couldn’t agree more. Fun fact – I saw you guys wear these golden bunny masks in one of your videos. There’s a Danish band called Sleep Party People… 

Haha. Oh man, I know all about them already. See, we had to do this video for a couple of songs. I asked the guys in the band if they could wear some cool masks for the shoot. The three guys in the band already have another band of their own. So to put on the masks was to kind of say, ‘hey here’s something different’. A sweet joke. So we went to H&M and bought tons of shit and went to the shoot. When it came out, people we’re messaging us saying, ‘what are you, some kind of Sleep Party People rip-off?”. The only reason we bought the masks were because they were cheap as fuck. Sleep Party People actually have a huge following in Turkey. The only thing I know is that they wear the masks. Now, we change up the headgear for each concert.


You wore a fantastic piece of garment for the concert too. 

Thank you. A friend of mine made it specifically for this concert. Every concert I wear something spectacular. But my friend wanted to do this piece especially for Roskilde.

Well, why not look good while you’re doing what you like? Thanks so much for your time, Gaye.