„We do what we like and what’s in our musical DNA“. The motto of the London-based Duo Kit Sebastian echoes in their music. Merve Erdem and Kit Martin have released two albums merging the best of both words and bringing their unique backgrounds into the mix. 2021’s Melodi follows Mantra Moderne and elaborates on the record’s fusion of French-Noir Pop, Turkish rhythms, and contemporary Anatolian Psychedelica. Singing in Turkish, English and occasionally in French, Merve brings diverse vocal textures with each language. The singer grew up in Istanbul surrounded by classic Turkish music, studied in Rome, and now lives in London where she connected with the guitarist Kit Martin via Facebook.
I meet them at the Iç Içe Festival at Berlin’s Festsaal Kreuzberg earlier this year. The festival highlighted Anatolian music from artists like Kit Sebastian, Evîn, TootArd, etc. We sit down after their show, and they are still energized from the positive vibe of the crowd. Kit Sebastian were scheduled to play Iç Içe two years ago but had to wait until 2022 to get their chance because of the pandemic. The festival that only came together a couple of years ago, manages to create a space for culture that is often marginalized in the Western context. It builds a space for dialogue and uplifts artists based in Anatolia and the diaspora with the aim to provide a counter-program to the German mainstream music industry that dominates the festival culture.
Kit Sebastian inhabit an interesting intersection of cultures. Navigating a creative relationship and – as it becomes obvious during our conversation – a friendship, the duo deals with the different realities they face and power dynamics at play. Merve describes herself as being in a constant process of negotiating her identity and the preconceptions of Turkey, and Turkish women abroad. Moving to Italy and then to London, Merve first realized the stereotypes she was confronted with. “It was a struggle. I felt like I didn’t belong. People treated me differently because I was not a native.”
Harmony and Discord
In their music, the languages and cultural heritage experience equal distribution and value. When Merve sings in Turkish, there is a certain homey warmth to her vocals. Ahenk is almost a spoken-word recital. The title translates to ‘Harmony’ in English. “It is not that I have per se different personas in different languages”, Merve elaborates. “But I can express different things. Turkish is more about emotions and more expressive. I can express emotions without being cheesy in Turkish. English is more academic and colder, to me.”
In the songwriting process, finding the language that works best depends on the melody of the songs Kit Sebastian tell me. But that does not mean that the language itself does not carry a special creative meaning. Even though Merve does provide an English translation to the Turkish language songs for Kit and for the listeners, there will always be a part lost in the translation – the nuances like small secrets whispered to only native speakers. “For us, the lyrics are just as important as the music. In the UK, I feel, music is very much about the instrumentation whereas from my background in Turkey and Italy, I learned that the lyrics and the singing transport important emotions and melodies. Music is a means of transportation that uses language to transmit culture.”
When Kit Sebastian played the Turkish Classic Zühtü on stage, the relevance and emotion that listening to music in your language became obvious. I don’t speak the language but when most of the concert venue started singing along with Merve after they recognized the song, I got goosebumps. Music is a vehicle of identity and a connector. The duo create a fusion between Western jazz harmonies with a bit of dissonance and melodies from Anatolia. “Ahenk, to me, is the most successful compositional attempt to bring these two together”, Kit comments.
“‘Ahenk’ is more like an abstract poem that questions our place within history and the burden of the dark side of humanity that’s carried from one generation to the other.”
The song paints a utopia – bringing the Western and the Eastern influences together in creative co-existence. Music is the connector, the vision of a harmonious world in a reality in which people are still racialized and made to feel like they don’t belong and face discrimination on many levels. From structural and institutional inequalities to racist hatred and violence, the far-right terror attack in Hanau 2020 is a document of the continuous problems present in Germany.
Music As Dialogue
Yeter speaks of the violence of being silenced and is an outcry of a voice that is not heard. In dramatic timber that almost makes her voice slip, Merve clings to the microphone on the stage at Iç Içe. There lies undeniable pain in her vocals. Yeter translates to ‘enough’ and is about a young girl who has had enough of the world not hearing her voice. It speaks to the pains of many people at the margins silenced by the hegemonic voices.
Music and art can be a relief for collective pain and trauma, Iç Içe provided a space like that in the middle of Berlin. Just like the festival’s existence in Berlin, the creative partnership between Merve and Kit is in constant negotiation. They navigate the complex realm of power dynamics – as a male-female duo, as a UK-native and a migrated person, as a Turkish woman and a white man. Their music grows out of that dialogue, that open-ended conversation, and invites the listeners to reflect on their own position in society while expanding their horizons to music that is outside of the Western mainstream and indie discourse. Once you have the Melodi stuck in your head, it is not going anywhere.
This week’s 30-track-strong Introducing Playlist highlights Anatolian Psychedelic Rock roots and contemporary elaborations. It includes brand new music from artists like Palmiyeler, Lin Pesto, and Lara Di Lara. Come and hit the play button.
Melodi is out via Mr Bongo.