Rebetiko from the turbulent times of the 1920s sung in Greek and Turkish
Cigdem Aslan (pronounced Cheedem) is a rising star in the revival of rebetiko, the bitter-sweet, devil-may-care songs of an exiled underclass, sung in hash dens and 'Café Amans' of Athens, Piraeus and Istanbul from the 1920. With strong roots in the port of Smyrna/Izmir, rebetiko is a culture shared by Greeks and Turks that developed in mainland Greece following forced population exchanges, and was famously outlawed in both countries for its association with the underworld and being too 'oriental' in outlook.
‘Mortissa’ (a strong independent woman) is an album of smyrneika/rebetiko songs in Greek and Turkish with musical roots in Anatolia. This 'Blues of the Aegean' arose in the turbulent times of the 1920s. Rebetiko was at one time banned by both Greek and Turkish authorities for being socially degenerative. Alongside love songs, one song celebrates the Robin Hood style outlaw Mehmet Efe, another is a cry of a woman longing to escape from her veil, yet another talks of “leeks” as a euphemism for hashish, and in “Sto Kafe Aman” the mortissa tells her suitors to go sling their hook. This is the music of the alternative, the underground scene, the music of freedom-loving people; appropriate for the current situation.
2013 is not the first time that the beautiful city of Istanbul has been in turmoil, like a cursed diamond. Full of meaning for all who have experienced it, it is no surprise that singer Cigdem Aslan, who was born to Kurdish Alevi parents in Sisli, not far from Taksim Square, the focus for the pro-democracy protests, has felt concerned and deeply involved, even from a distance. Back in 1955 state-sponsored riots decimated the Greek population of Istanbul. Before that the Turkish republican movement and war of liberation forced Greeks out of the rest of Anatolia.
Although there have been many recordings of rebetiko over the years, Cigdem Aslan presents a fresh take, an immigrant herself from her homeland, a person from a minority ethnic group, a female singer in a usually male genre. But above all she brings personality and a voice that communicates deeply, the kind of voice that can help unlock the riches and relevance of this “Blues of the Aegean” to new audiences. Having made her mark singing as front singer of award-winning She’koyokh Klezmer Ensemble in which she has won plaudits for the “clear, natural ease” with which she sings (Songlines Magazine) and her “no-nonsense from the heart passion" (fRoots Magazine), and also having graced the stage at the Royal Albert Hall as opening act for Turkish diva Sezen Aksu and for Yasmin Levy at London’s Cadogan Hall, with this debut album Cigdem is ready to take the stage as a star in her own right.