Olcay Bayir’s songs unfold ancient stories of Anatolian love and mystery. Of Turkish-Kurdish origin, Olcay lives in London and is a classically trained soprano with a velveteen voice like no other. On her stunning debut album, her Western training collides perfectly with her passion for the rich musical heritage of her Anatolian homeland, allowing her to craft intricate and unusual melodic phrases, distinct harmonies and captivating, richly-layered textures. Throughout much of the album Olcay sings in high tessitura, sliding across complex ornamented figures with a deft, natural-sounding ease.
Olcay was born in Antep, Turkey, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. The very streets on which she began to hum and sing as a carefree young girl were once where ancient traders from the East and West met to barter and bargain. Of course, these historic businessmen not only exchanged luxurious silks and sturdy camels but also songs, instruments and cultures. Many of the songs on Neva/Harmony are hundreds of years old, the earliest possibly dating back to the seventeenth century.
Anatolia is the western most region of Asia and is framed by the Black, Mediterranean and Aegean Seas. Melting across Turkish borders, Anatolia traditionally neighbours Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq and Syria. Today the partitions are marked out politically, hemming in the diverse peoples that reside there. In conversation Olcay argues that the varied cultures that are sited here overlap and ebb into each other at every corner. Her album celebrates Anatolian culture as a whole, a symbiosis made up of many parts.
Olcay’s father is an ashik, a kind of mystic musical troubadour. Her upbringing was therefore richly soaked in musical activity and she began to compose at the age of six. At seventeen Olcay relocated to London and went on to study classical opera. Before long Olcay formed a band and was on her way to recording this, her sensational debut album. The integrity of Anatolian folk as inspiration to Olcay is unavoidable – in conversation she speaks of her discovery of ‘the power of culture’ and proudly proclaims that her heritage ‘makes me who I am’. Her voice is filled with golden nostalgia as she lovingly recounts hearing many of the songs on this album sung to her as a child. These songs are part of her history, her family and her future, yet Olcay is no formulaic folk singer – her songs are uniquely reimagined via her own inimitable creative style.
The London scene has also imprinted Olcay’s oeuvre. The city’s boiling brew of international sounds has been deeply inspirational and allowed Olcay to approach her music-making from a wide-open universal perspective. The musicians on this album hail from Turkey, Greece, Wales, England, Venezuela and Albania. Olcay’s exceptional approach to harmony is notable as she fuses Turkish maqam and modality with Western tonal harmony.
Olcay Bayir’s sensitive portrait of Anatolian culture sketches shade and light on the region’s fascinating musical interplay. Hear the ancient stories sung aloud on this enchanting, hypnotizing debut album.