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The curse and the benefit

img  Tobias

The curse of growing up in between two different cultures: Movies like “East meets East” and “Bend it like Beckham” have – although on a homorous level – vividly displayed the problems of a second generation of Indian and Pakistani expatriates, but the same applies to other countries and nationalities. Never knowing where you truly belong, even for the most invidualistically inclined person, it can be a hard time. On the other hand, it can also be a source of energy - Gülüs Gülcügil-Türkmen has channeled it directly into her music.

In fact, as the world becomes ever more closely connected and limitations with regard to moving and travelling are slowly falling away, the “community of the non-belonging” may well find a pride of their own: The diverse philosophies of life, the multitude of opinions, the different languages and the colourful places they’ve seen, even on the smallest of scales, may well be a cause for clarity as it may be for confusion. For Gülüs, growing up in Belgium with a Belgian passport, but with strong Turkish ties, must have had this exact bipolar effect – the feeling that everyone is trying to pull you to their side, while your personal compass isn’t giving you any useful hints. Many of the torn decide to become a diplomat, a translator or an employee of an international company. She went on to become a musician.

Not surprisingly, her project Betty Ween (a clever play on words with “in between”) has confounded both expectations and the public: Firstly, people were hard pressed to find a description for this amalgam of acoustic sounds and electronics, rock, jazz, folk and chansons, the avantgarde and the popular. For those who only put on their local radio, this must indeed be “the name of a shy revolution” (Trendsetter Magazine). Others have praised it as an album for those fed up with mainstream culture. Which is closer to the truth, but probably besides the point. More about that in a second. And secondly, her two albums have somehow faced the same dilemma as the character hehind them: With a music carrying hints at the Orient, but relying on an Occidental foundation, they have – despite all the friendly words – not yet entirely bridged the gap between Turkey and the rest of Europe. In an early interview, it still looked as though the debut disc would be a record for “a foreign country” (meaning: outside of Turkey). Yet, until now, it is still hard to obtain at a local German, French or Dutch record store (and Amazon doesn’t carry it).


To call this a shame would be an understatement. And a strange one as well. For “In Betty Ween” and “Bitter” are hardly the experimental playgrounds some have made them out to be. Especially “In Betty Ween” is an accessible album, full of grand grooves and inviting melodies, inbedded in subtle jazz harmonies. “Lost Satellite” is the “hit”, of course and a sort of introduction into Gülüs personal cosmos: “I'm a lost satellite, Falling from earth to space/
And I don't really need to worry/ I'm a lost satellite, Falling piece by piece/ But the moon has been waiting for me” Far away from the glossy productions of regular Pop and Rock records, the dry and direct sound give Gülüs lots of space for her lyrics and her voice, which has a nice rough and warmly abrasive edge. With vocals very much up-front, there is no need to get worked-up too much and it is a nice suprise that the words are strong enough on their own to get the message across without shouting, screeching and screaming. Despite its unorthodox arrangements and song structures, this is an album, which is great both as a background to a stimulating dinner or a hot-blooded party or as a concentrated listen.

Things are different with “Bitter”, which was released early this year. Instead of using the positive media response to launch an even more catchy effort, Betty is spilling her guts on this one. Don’t let yourself be fooled by the pumping and bumping bass line of the incredible opener and first single “Comfortable Pain” – after that, there’s a lot of stertorous brass, quiet lullabies, fields of dream between draught and fruition, indicisive strings and a lamenting cello. But while songs take longer to take shape, they always pick themselves up and end in almost uplifting spirits – from a sea of uncertainty, “The Ice is meant to melt” takes up speed, gets dramatic trumpets and a guitar onboard and provides for a haunting peak.

No easy-listening for sure, but with enough hooks to make listening an unexerted pleasure. And a great work not only for those “bored of pop”, but also for all looking for a little relaxation after hours of experimental mayhem. Maybe European distributors and record companies missed the obvious references to Turkish music and the possibility to market this as world music. Which is a joke, of course. For, if this isn’t “World Music” in the truest sense – songs by a wanderer between the worlds – then we’d like to know what is. Luckily enough, all tracks can be downloaded to your PC at a resonable price from internet music stores. It may well take some time, but we do suspect Gülüs will see her growing up in between two cultures as a blessing.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Betty Ween

Picture by Yagmur Kizilok

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