28-year-old singer Bağlama Derya Yildirim and her Grup Şimşek are German representatives of Anatolian retro rock. On third album “Dost2” they expand their fusion with folk poetry. Family and friendship come to the fore.
Derya Yıldırım and Grup Şimşek are back with their third album Dost 2, the second of a two part series following 2021’s highly acclaimed Dost 1. The eight-track release sees Turkish singer, bağlama player and multi-instrumentalist Derya Yıldırım and her international band of brothers and sisters continue their psychedelic journey, meandering through Anatolian folk music and poetry with their electrifying grooves, while also delving into their own lives and personal experiences.
Born in 2014, and with two albums and one EP under their belt, the group has forged a formidable reputation with their heady mix of Anatolian folk, 1970s Turkish rock, psychedelia, pop and jazz. On Dost 2 new interpretations of Turkish classics and the band’s own original compositions are seamlessly tied together by inventive arrangements and spellbinding grooves, transcending time as past and present collide in the space of one song.
While rooted in Anatolian tradition, Grup Şimşek (which translates into Ocean Lightning and the Thunderbolts, a play on Derya’s surname “Yıldırım”, which means lightning in Turkish) draws on a boundless cosmos of sounds and builds on the contribution of each band member.
Derya Yıldırım explains: “In Dost 1 we tried to concentrate on the sound that we really like as a whole unit, focusing on each element and arranging and composing the songs all together. Dost 2 is the second part of this adventure [and] it’s really important to actually consider us as individuals […] with different influences and backgrounds.”
Yıldırım was born in a multicultural neighborhood of Hamburg, where she was influenced by the culture and music of neighboring communities as well as that of her family, learning the bağlama alongside piano, sax, and guitar. Despite being multilingual, Yıldırım exclusively sings in Turkish: “It’s really important to me because that’s the language I can really express myself in, it’s my emotional language” she explains.
Graham Mushnik (organ, synthesizers, and clavinet player) and Antonin Voyant (guitar, bass, and flute) are both members of London/France-based collective Catapulte Records and played in l’Orchestre du Montplaisant, a quartet known for its cinematic, retro atmospheres — a clear influence on Grup Şimsek’s sprawling, vintage-tinged compositions.
The band marries 1960s and 70s Anatolian influences with a contemporary approach to composition and rhythm, thanks in large part to the contribution of drummer, percussionist, composer, and marimba player Greta Eacott.
With a background in experimental and contemporary music, Eacott “thinks about essential things like sound and time within music and space, and contributed this whole mindset to Grup Şimsek” says Yıldırım.
Şimşek’s original compositions dominate Dost 2’s tracklist, with the lyrics on four of the tracks penned by Derya Yıldırım in collaboration with Berlin-based writer Duygu Ağal. Guitar and organ curl around each other on opener “Gümüş”, which unfolds and swells as Yıldırım’s powerful voice takes off and soars above the steady instrumental background before giving way to an evocative guitar solo.
“Meraklı Gönül” deals with memory and loss, feelings that permeate Yıldırım’s vocals as they float on a mellow bed of delicate percussions, phased guitars, and winding synth lines; “Mola” is an understated but incredibly powerful bağlama composition, where moments of silence are able to stir up emotions as intensely as the music itself; seconds later the tension is broken by the funky bassline on the irresistibly catchy “Bal”.
A deep respect for Anatolia’s musical legends shines through the record, such as on the rousing “Darıldım Darıldım”, originally by Aşık Mahzuni Şerif, the well loved Turkish folk musician and poet who’s a mainstay in Şimşek’s music. With its wah wah guitars, driving synths, and funky rhythms the track has an uplifting, dancy feel to it, but it is really a protest song written while Mahzuni Şerif was in prison: “People who grew up with this culture can embrace this heavy content with the rhythm and body movement, so it’s not weird to dance to it” says Yıldırım.
The sorrowful atmosphere on “Odam Kireç Tutmuyor” mirrors the heartbreak of the song’s two protagonists, who eventually die of a broken heart after being separated. Based on a traditional love song, the track ends with a cry of “Oy Leminê”, a Kurdish expression that conveys a feeling of pain, hope, and unfulfilled hopes, artfully captured by a wistful flute line.
The third cover on the album is the soul stirring “Ayşe Halam Arıyor” sung by Derya’s aunt Ayşe Yıldırım, who already contributed to Dost 1 with her autobiographical poem on “Hastane Önü”. The track captures a spontaneous and intimate moment: the band was recording in the studio when Ayşe called her niece and began reminiscing about the music from her childhood, intoning her favorite song, “Bulgar Dağı” on loudspeaker. Her voice echoes in the silence, bringing the album to a close with a distant crackle. “It’s a very special end to this whole trip” says Yıldırım.
Quentin Pilet and NMR (photo: press Derya Yildirim & Grup Şimşek)