The first thing you notice is her voice. Soaring atop cajon slaps and sinuous clarinet lines, Olcay Bayir's operatic singing is one of the most distinctive parts of her music. The second thing you notice is her vision. Olcay personalizes 'Mer Dan' with a contemplative vibrato, while accenting the energetic rhythms of 'Jarnana,' with delicately punctuated vocals.
The third thing you notice? Probably that you want to hear more! Luckily, you don't have to wait for another album to hear more from this remarkable musician.
In an interview with Gabe Pollak from World Music Network, Olcay uses her voice further, chatting with us about her origins as a songwriter, her foray from folk into opera, and what the London sound means to her.
Gabe Pollak: I understand you began writing music at an extraordinarily young age. When did you write your first song?
Olcay Bayir: I wrote my first song to my primary school teacher when I was 6 years old.
GP: Wow! That's even earlier than I thought. Your father is an Ashik and your family played music together often. What were some of your favorite songs to play together?
OB: I love singing the songs from my Alevi roots. Alvism is one of the religions from Anatolia, a religion with a very uinque musical tradition.
GP: Do you have any memories of singing Alevi songs when you were little?
OB: I still remember when I was asked to sing a song in front of people and their appreciation. I can still remember the faces. It was a great feeling.
GP: Moving forward a bit, when you were 15, your family moved from Antep (Turkey) to London. How did you stay connected to your Anatolian roots in this new city?
OB: I've always had a strong connection with my roots but I believe music is the main factor that kept me attached.
GP: Later though, you branched out from your roots, deciding to study Opera. What inspired you to try a different style of music?
OB: I met a teacher who introduced me to opera. I've always liked to explore new things, learn about other cultures. I love history and theatre as well. In opera, the thing that inspired was the fact that I could find all these elements together, as well as singing.
GP: Both your folk background and opera training come together on 'Neva/Harmony.' One other ingredient in the mix is what you’ve sometimes called ‘the London Sound.’ What is the London sound to you?
OB: London is a city which has its own fusion in every aspect of life. In music, life opens a door for you to learn other musical traditions, cultures, to meet and work with musicians from all around the world. It is a great opportunity for musicians and artists. I also work with many musicians from different nations, which allows me to look at my own music from a different perspective.
'Olcay Bayir is a woman whose voice is extraordinary in range and emotional power.' - Shepherd Express
GP: The musicians you play with are a perfect example of all that. Can you tell us about the band you play with?
OB: I work with amazing musicians from Greek, Spain, Albania, Ukraine, Britain. All have studied different musical styles.
GP: Let's talk a little about Neva/Harmony. You've previously mentioned that you want your music to reflect your own personal journey. A challenge here is that many of the songs on Neva/Harmony are centuries-old folk songs, written by other people. What did you do to put your own Olcay Bayir stamp on the songs?
OB: By keeping the originality of the songs. I make them as close as possible to my musical vision. I try to alter my vocals, harmony, and instrumentations accordingly. But this is not something always technical. It is more of an emotional process. There is not a formula I applied to each song in the same way. I listen to my senses and trust them. It is all about how does a particular song make me feel like! And how I can convey that feeling to people in a right musical way (harmony, instrumentation, etc.). Then I find a right vocal and interpretation comes. Most importantly, I have to be happy with what I did.
GP: Well, fans are certainly happy with it! 'Neva/Harmony' is finally here! Congratulations! What did you do to celebrate its release?
OB: Yeah...finally! I am very happy with its release. I had an album launch concert at Vortex Jazz Club on November 5. We all celebrated the release on that night. I also have other gigs planned in the next few months. I will continue to introduce 'Neva' and Olcay Bayir to music lovers.
GP: I do hope so!
OB: Many thanks for having me.