Sirma is known as the “Turkish Bjork”. In This Interview, She Reveals Why That’s Just Fine With Her and More!
Posted On 04 Sep 2014
Tag: Akon, Arif Mardin Fellowship, Banks, Berklee College of Music, Bjork, Blue Hawaii, FIFA World Cup, High Highs, Istanbul, Keri Hilson, Medulla, Oh Africa, Pepsi, Pianos, Record Plant Recording Studios, Richard Devine, Samaris, Say Lou Lou, Sirma, Soweto Gospel Choir, The Acid, Trigger, Turkey, Turkish Bjork, Vespertine, World Cup
In 2007, Sirma was awarded the prestigious Arif Mardin Fellowship to attend an intensive summer program at Berklee College of Music, and upon returning she placed third in one of Turkey’s most respected jazz vocal competitions as the youngest entrant. The media recognition catapulted her into the national spotlight, and she was selected to represent Turkey on the official World Cup theme of 2010, “Oh Africa.” Following this, she was flown to LA record with Akon, Keri Hilson and The Soweto Gospel Choir.
Sirma is now known as the “Turkish Bjork” and that is just fine with her! Learn more about the talented musician in the following interview with her.
So when did you first decide that you wanted to be a performer?
I’ve been a performer my whole life. Choirs, bands, piano recitals… But I decided to pursue it as a career when I was in high school. My mind was made up by the time I was 18.
Do you still play the piano often?
I do, but mostly to improvise when I’m in the process of composing new music. It really helps the writing process.
It’s an honor. She’s my idol.
How often do you get to go back to Istanbul? Is your family there or here in the US?
I have no family in the US (except for one of my cousins who’s currently studying in the US). My parents and all the rest of my relatives live in Turkey. I usually go back to Istanbul at least twice a year. But the last time I was there was in January 2013. It’s been far too long. Good thing I’m going back on September 17! I’m working on booking the Istanbul shows right now.
Have you been able to incorporate your Turkish background into your music at all?
I believe so. I think my music reflects both of my cultural identities. I’ve been living in the States for 5 years, but I spent the first 19 years of my life in Turkey. I grew up listening to Turkish music, but I studied Western music. I have two separate, parallel lives in both countries. I always wanted my music to honestly reflect that. I don’t force it to become something it’s not; if my ears naturally crave hearing Turkish instruments in a song, I make it happen. I essentially enjoy composing in the Western style, and I like writing English lyrics. But I love experimenting with Turkish instruments and Turkish-inspired modes, as well as subtly incorporating Turkish micro-tonal grace notes in my singing.
What music are you listening to now? Any new artists out there that you are loving currently?
I’ve been really interested in minimal electronic music lately. The Acid, Richard Devine, Samaris and Blue Hawaii are my new obsessions. But I’m also intrigued by some other new indie artists, like High Highs, Banks and Say Lou Lou.
Life. I am utterly surprised by what each and every day brings. Even when things get dull, I’m in a constant state of shock. The nature, the way things progress… I guess anything that is beyond my control shocks and inspires me.
What exactly is your latest single, “Trigger” about?
“Trigger” is about anything in life that triggers a feeling in me. While I was writing it, I mostly focused on the power of the nature. My brain just canceled out all the things I was worried about for a minute, and solely focused on the rain, the sunshine, the wind and how I sensed them all by seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting… Simply, feeling. The song has an unsettling and melancholic vibe because all the things that triggers a feeling in me, given by nature and life, are inspiring and intriguing but also intimidating and sometimes even terrifying. “Trigger” comes from my fragility.
Tell me what it was like working with Akon and Keri Hilson? What did you learn from that experience?
That was a life changing experience. I was getting ready to leave Istanbul and move to Boston to study at Berklee College of Music, I was 19, and out of the blue, I got a call from Pepsi and they told me that they wanted me to represent Turkey in the 2010 FIFA World Cup Song “Oh Africa”. So I began my studies at Berklee in September 2009 and a month later, I was in LA, recording at Record Plant Recording Studios, with Akon, Keri Hilson and Soweto Gospel Choir. I spent a week there, my schedule full with rehearsals, recording sessions, music video shoots, interviews… It was such a ridiculously busy schedule that Pepsi assigned me a temporary manager to go on the trip with me. She’d be at my door to wake me up at 3-4 am and I wouldn’t be back in the hotel room pretty much until midnight. It gave me a real insight on how things really work in the music industry when you’re involved with major artists or major labels.
I think a lot of musicians who get big very quickly don’t exactly know what to expect, and if they’re not prepared for the life-consuming schedule that’s ahead of them, they burn out very quickly. This project gave me the chance to take a peek, basically. Of course I enjoyed every minute of it and I learned so many things every step of the way. But beyond that, it made me feel like I made the right career choice for myself.
I haven’t left the East Coast in 1.5 years for various career-related reasons, and I’ve never been more depressed in my life. I think some people are just born to be wanderers. I love coming back home, and for now, home is New York City. But a part of me still belongs to Istanbul, and another part of me wants to see the rest of the world. I think it’s lucky that I grew up to be a musician because this profession fits the lifestyle I desire. But besides all that, to me, there’s nothing more thrilling in life than performing on stage, especially when I feel that the audience is enjoying the performance… And if I get to do that all around the world for the rest of my life, then I’d consider myself the luckiest person alive.
Living or dead, who is a musician that you would love to work with and why?
Björk. She’s incredibly creative and fearlessly experimental. Her music is a genre on its own, but every one of her albums is like a new chapter from her brilliant mind… Medulla is all about a cappella music in its rawest, most refreshing form. I never heard an a cappella album like that. Vespertine is all about electronica mixed with chamber music. It’s minimal at times, but then it explodes with dense layers of strings and choral parts… I could go on forever about Björk. She’s a true inspiration.
Thus far, what’s a favorite memory or something quirky that’s taken place with the band (in-studio, onstage, or elsewhere)?
The day before my show at Pianos in June, I sprained my ankle on my way to the rehearsal and my bass player, Drew, had to practically carry me all the way to the rehearsal space. My drummer, JP, got some ice, and I had to keep my ankle elevated throughout the rehearsal and I performed with an ankle brace the next day, but somehow, it was the best live performance of my life. I just felt their support and I couldn’t be more grateful. It helped me get through the pain and do my best no matter what.
Any pre-performance rituals?
15-minute warm-up and peppermint tea.
When you aren’t performing or writing new material, what do you like to do for fun?
I’ve been really into billiards lately. I only know how to play 8-ball, and I’m not even that good at it, but it’s fun, it’s relaxing. It’s a great excuse to have a solid conversation with a good friend.
The music I enjoy the most deeply is the music that gives me chills. I hope that my music has that same effect on people.