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A Story on Music, Migration and Mobility

general introduction


Yolda Music, (on the road) Migration, Mobility Yolda is a musical celebration of the 50th year of Turkish migration to Belgium. In 1964, the Belgian government invited Turkish workers to move to Belgium to make a new home for themselves and thus support the local economy, which was lacking in labour force. Cities changed. Turkish restaurants, shops, weddings, and musical events coloured the streets. To celebrate this anniversary, in October and November of 2014, Handelsbeurs Concert Hall and De Centrale (two major concert venues in the city of Ghent) set up an event together with the Europe Jazz Network (EJN), with the support of The Creative Europe Programme of the European Union and several international EJN partners. The event was called Yolda (‘on the road’ in Turkish) and had both an artistic and a research angle to it. For the artistic component, we asked three groups of musicians, each consisting of two Turkish and two Belgian musicians, to travel from Istanbul to Ghent along the same migration routes that were used in 1964. The musicians met for a short stay in Istanbul and Izmir. Two groups then took off on trains along different routes, and one group travelled by car. On their way, they were to stop in a major city where they would meet up with a migrant musician who would give them a song – a gift song. The songs they learned became part of the Yolda repertoire as they were travelling along the road. More detailed information about how Yolda grew from a challenging idea to a concrete travel project is provided in Yolda: the process on page 5.


The final result of this collaboration was presented during the Istanbul Ekspres festival in Ghent, which took place from the 12th until the 22nd of November 2014. The project was also presented in Istanbul in the course of both that season and the following. The artistic part of the project proved a huge success. It resulted in original, creative music that was played with intensity and joy. Short documentaries of each group and some clips of concerts can be found on www.projectyolda.be. As for the research facet, the musicians were asked what international collaborations had added to their careers, and what the process of travelling with Yolda had meant to them. With this, some practical questions arose: How do we establish such collaborations? What are the difficulties and the risks and how do we deal with them? Their thoughts and experiences are collected in Interview with the musicians on page 8.

Wim Wabbes Artistic director of Handelsbeurs Concert Hall, Ghent

There are a lot of similar beautiful and daring projects with great results. But what we noticed was that the process underlying those results, and the way towards them, are hardly ever documented. And that is exactly what we aim to do with the content of this booklet. We can learn from each other’s experiences. We can avoid falling into the same traps and take something away from examples that have worked well. This is an invitation to discuss and share similar experiences. We hope that it will be inspiring. Let’s have a talk about it on the road.


the process

Yolda How to select the process the right group of musicians and make it work. Yolda consists of three groups of music­ ians, who all travelled from the 31st of October till the 3rd of November 2014. A lot of names and instruments; in order to get an overview, we list all of them, including their way of travel and route. After that, our trip can really take off. Ghent

Vienna Munich

Budapest Györ Lubljana


Group 1 by train

Wouter Vandenabeele (violin), Thomas Noël (guitar, keyboard), Özge Öz Erdoğan (vocals), Ayten Çelik (darbouka, percussion), gift song by Gaya Arutyunyan (vocals)


Bucharest Sofia Istanbul

Group 2 by bus

Karen Willems (percussion), Stijn Dickel (guitar, vocals), Barkin Engin (guitar, keyboard), Burak Tamer (samplers, keyboard), gift song by Eduardo Raon (harp)

Group 3 by train

Dirk Moelants (viola da gamba), Mattias Laga (clarinet), Meriç Dönük (harp), Mehmet Yalgin (kemençe), Şirin Pancaroğlu (harp), Bora Uymaz (vocals), gift song by Paolo Profeti (saxophone)



When our artistic team of the Handels­ beurs and De Centrale started working on Yolda, we selected a pool of both skilled and open-minded Belgian musicians that are good improvisers as well. They all come from different musical backgrounds such as rock, jazz, classical and world music. We sat around the table with 6 musicians whom we thought were the right fit for the job. We needed 3 duos to match with a similar amount of Turkish duos. As it turned out, the best way of matching the musicians up was by letting them choose for themselves, and we ended up with the perfect combinations. Each group had its specific colour: Karen Willems and Stijn Dickel both have an alternative rock background. Wouter Vandenabeele and Thomas Noel are active in the world music scene, whereas Mattias Laga and Dirk Moelants combine jazz, contemporary and classical music. The theme of the project was migration and music. We shared stories about Turkish migration and gave each musician a book telling the history of Turkish migration to Ghent. Each duo was asked whether they knew Turkish musicians they wanted to play with, or if they could sketch what kind of musical adventure they wanted to embark upon. With that information we approached our Turkish partners: Ceyda Söderblom, at that time artistic director of the Izmir European Jazz festival, and Ulas Salgam, an Istanbul based agent for alternative bands. They suggested some musicians who were interested in collaborating.

Shortly after, we travelled to Istanbul to meet these musicians and discuss the Yolda project. Even though everybody had their doubts and questions, all participants were very enthusiastic. Each Turkish musician could relate to the genre assigned to them, whether it was folk, classical music or electric music. In an ideal world we would have invited the Belgian musicians to join us in Istanbul to meet their Turkish colleagues and discuss the project face-to-face. Unfortunately we lacked the resources for this. Instead, we provided the musicians with contact data and asked them to prepare the project through internet communication. Some e-mails were sent back and forth, but for some groups nothing really substantial happened before they met each other in Istanbul or Izmir. Karen and Stijn (group 2) were the exception to the rule. They decided to make a soundscape of their city Ghent and sent it to Barkin and Burak, asking them to do a similar thing with the noises of Istanbul, with the intention to use each other’s sounds for preparatory compositional work. For most of the musicians their arrival in Istanbul was quite mysterious still. For example, Wouter and Thomas (group 1) met Ayten and Özge in the practice space of a music school. Özge was really amazed that Thomas did not play the bağlama. At first she thought she needed the sound of that particular instrument to make the music work. But as soon as Wouter and Thomas played the songs they had suggested on their violin and guitar, Özge was completely

the process

overwhelmed by their sound and got convinced that there was no need for a baÄ&#x;lama after all. Dirk and Mattias (group 3) travelled to Izmir where they met their fellow musicians. Sirin had prepared a repertoire of beautiful songs referring to travelling, migration and all the sentiments that are related to it (only Meric and Mehmet hit the road, Sirin and Bora had other engagements and joined the band later in Ghent). During their trip each group met up with a migrant musician who donated a song. These musicians where selected and informed thanks to 3 EJN partners: Cankarjev dom ICW Druga Godba (Slovenia), Mediawave in Budapest (Hungary) and The Bucharest Jazz festival in Bucharest (Romania). For all musicians this was a crucial part in the process. Not only did it add a new song to the repertoire, but it also created an opportunity to play together in a more challenging way. In Budapest group 1 met up with an Armenian/Hungarian singer Gaya Arutyunyan. She donated a beautiful Armenian song that Ă–zge was very happy to perform. Group 2, the most electronic group of the three, travelled to Ljubljana. They met up with the Portuguese/Slovenian harp player Eduardo Raon. Eduardo had composed a pretty complex contemporary piece for the occasion, which turned out to be an interesting challenge for the musicians. In Bucharest group 3 encountered Paolo Profeti, an Italian saxophonist who had migrated to Romania. His work was


partly composed, partly improvised. Moreover, the score was not written for the instrumentation and needed to be adapted. The musicians had to tap into other skills than they had so far, which brought them even closer. After arriving in Ghent, all the musicians confirmed that meeting these migrant musicians had been an important experience in the process. In Ghent, the Handelsbeurs hosted the EJN Board meeting, where we welcomed the travellers with a drink in our foyer. It was a delight to see all those happy faces and hear the positive stories. Within a group of 20 people (including filmmakers and road managers), working together on such an intense creative project and travelling in such basic conditions, we could never have imagined that there would not be any accidents or falling-outs. However, the stories were unanimously enthusiastic. As you can read in the interview a general remark concerned the length of the journey. All musicians wished that both their stay in Istanbul or Izmir, and the meeting with the migrant musician had been longer. Most of them wished to have had a longer practice period as well. Due to financial restrictions we were unable to stretch the period, but we are convinced that the result would have been even more profound if we had been able to. For us it was a learning experience as well as for the musicians. In the following interview, you can read what they had to say about it.


Interview with the musicians Three groups of musicians travelled from Istanbul to Ghent. Over the course of the project, each group had a unique experience of their own. On a daily basis, they kept a diary of being on the road, which you can find on www.projectyolda.be. On top of that each group was interviewed by a member of the production team with the same set of questions. Group 2 was asked these questions on the last day of their journey, group 1 and 3 shortly after arriving in Ghent. What made you decide to participate in this project? Wouter From very early on, I was attracted to the music. When this project came along, I had been teaching at De Centrale where I was working with a lot of immigrants. I already had a little experience with Turkish music and it seemed like an amazing opportunity. Thomas At that point I had been travelling and working with other musicians for quite some time. So to participate in a project that would span various different cities seemed like the next logical step. Also, the whole idea of working with people you don’t know and have never met before seemed appealing. We only had little time to get to know each other, which made the challenge even more interesting. Özge When I was first introduced to the idea, the main question that came to mind was “what’s going to happen when I decide to take part in this project?” But soon after, the prospect of meeting all these new people and musicians, and

the chance to travel to these new places, convinced me that this was going to be a unique opportunity. It would allow me to get some real insight into the perspective of migrant workers and understand their position a lot better. Ayten I love travelling and discovering new places and cultures. So from a personal point of view, I immediately felt like I couldn’t miss out on this opportunity. On top of that, it would also allow me to present my work in a totally different context, and in new places. Barkin I think this project is interesting both from a musical and a conceptional, even social point of view. To be on the road and tour with people you’ve only just met, and just play music. Karen I’d never been to Turkey before, so I was definitely open to this new experience. To be able to meet and share music with musicians is a process that inspires me on so many levels. I knew it would be a valuable, nurturing artistic experience.

interview with the musicians


© Jonatan Lyssens

Stijn I was mainly driven by the whole adventure. To get out of my comfort zone and meet new people. Dirk I’m very interested in discovering music from other cultures, and always quite eager to interact with other musicians. So for me, this was a nobrainer. I said yes instantly. Mattias I’m a firm believer that going to a different country specifically to create music together, is by far the best way to travel. Mehmet For me, the whole idea of an intercultural exchange, getting to know the people and their musical traditions, even if it’s only for a short period of time, and then creating something new together, is very appealing.

What did you expect of it? Wouter I learned not to expect too much. The important thing, I think, is to maintain a sense of openness and humility whenever you’re learning new things. You’re meeting people for the

first time, so you don’t know anything about their personalities. It’s important to get to know them a little first, and then, after some preparation, you can just start jamming. Before you know it, both the music, as well as your ideas about it, start to develop. And of course, in the end, meeting people from Istanbul is not that different from meeting people from Brussels. We’re all basically struggling with the same questions and problems. Thomas I agree it’s better not to expect too much. The best way to prepare yourself is to just empty your mind completely, and simply absorb whatever comes your way. That way, you’re almost certainly in for some really good surprises. Even if you don’t necessarily speak or comprehend your fellow musicians’ native tongue, music is about communication and trust: exchanging ideas, feelings, knowledge,... Ayten At first, I was a little worried about working with musicians that aren’t that familiar with Turkish music. But even at the first rehearsal, all those worries


evaporated. It turned out they had a broad musical knowledge. Stijn For me, all expectations were left wide open. I just wanted to meet, dive into the unknown and see what happens. Talking about music and creating it,... it all came very naturally. Dirk I was hoping to meet great musicians and learn their musical language. And that’s exactly what happened. Mattias The process of familiarizing ourselves with the specific musical language was quite a challenge though. The musical scales, for instance, are quite different from what our instruments are used to. In fact, not all instruments can actually handle them. But we achieved a great result when we combined voices and harps (which don’t play extra quartertones) with kemençe which does. We basically learned both the easy way and the hard when we started our journey into this musical world. This could be a project I could keep working on for the rest of my life.

How did you prepare yourself? Thomas I simply started to immerse myself in the music, listening to it repeatedly for long periods of time. Burak We did some groundwork by exchanging ideas over e-mail and during a couple of sharing sessions. Karen and Stijn sent round some recordings, very personal stuff even, which is odd considering that at the time we had never even met in person. Mattias I looked into some compositions with Turkish musical references in the title, but I couldn’t really find anything authentic and just decided to see what would be offered. So our actual preparation for this project was pretty minimal, but then again, we had been doing this kind of thing all of our lives. Meriç It’s nice to see how this project interweaves all these different threads: migration, foreign countries and unfamiliar cultures, being far away and yet sharing on a very personal level,…

© Ilkur Cengiz

interview with the musicians

How did you translate the theme of Migration musically? Wouter We wanted to create songs with a ‘universal’ feel to them. Things people can relate to no matter where they’re from, be it Uzbekistan, Turkey or Senegal. We’re focusing more on themes people can share, instead of the actual stories themselves. Özge In my family, migration is a very relevant theme. Long before I was born, and even after that, quite a few of my family members have migrated. So singing songs with this specific theme brings back a lot of memories and emotions for me. Plus, there are also quite a few famous folk artists with a migration background, whose stories I’m very familiar with. So I felt like I could rely on my personal and musical baggage for inspiration. Thomas Music is, usually, universal. It’s always hard to really integrate a concrete story into music, except perhaps when you’re specifically working with ‘migration’ as your main theme. Every place has its own particular rhythm or colour, which we got to experience first hand by physically being there and talking to people we met on the road. You can really hear a difference in the way we play each time. That’s where the theme of migration really gets intertwined with everything: it’s something you pick up on your way, it manifests itself in the music, in the little things that change. You absorb all of it, all the time. Barkin We read a little on the history of migration, e-mailed each other with some


interesting links,... We wanted to get a general idea of what has happened these past 50 years and then figure out how we could integrate that into our music. Dirk Mainly we chose songs about travelling or missing home. The songs we picked are mostly from the region of Emirdag, which is where most Turkish immigrants here come from. Maybe when we played here, the people here recognized them and it made them think about their home country. Mattias We also included sounds that relate to travelling, like railway sounds, and industrial sounds. That way we could also refer to migration’s economic backgrounds.

What are the difficulties you encounter embarking upon such a project? Ayten I think the only real problem was the 36-hour-long train ride. That truly took its toll on our bodies. Thomas It wasn’t always easy to find a piano, particularly on a train. But I suppose the biggest challenge was communication with the musicians. What did they know and expect? What were they told about the objectives of this project? Burak Our single concern was to create music. A little more rehearsal time and some more actual time on stage would have been great, though. Stijn Being on the road all the time can be a pain when you’re making electronic music. It’s impossible to continue


working while the car’s driving, and by the time we got to our destination it was either too late to start, or there wasn’t any suitable rehearsal space.

Did it change the way you perform? Wouter Travelling around does indeed change you a little every time. Even when you don’t realise it, it slowly modifies your way of playing and thinking. It opens up your mind, you’re learning from each other. With this music, we are always looking for some kind of equilibrium, because to Turkish people it doesn’t sound very Turkish and to Belgians it doesn’t really sound Belgian either. Thomas This trip also reminded me of how much I love oriental music. I’ve been working with lots of other styles: hammond, electric, jazz and free jazz. This project brought me back to the acoustic guitar. Inevitably, you are influenced by the others surrounding you. Music is at its best when it’s pure, and this trip reminded me of that. Travelling, eating, meeting new people,... it enriches you.

Did it change your view on the music scene? Özge Listening to different kinds of music and learning from it always creates some kind of progress on that front. Ayten For me this project was not so much about acquiring a new vision about music, though. After all, we played mostly local music, folk songs I already knew. But all the travelling and being on

the road really reinforced my ideas on the universality of music as a language. You see, since I can speak neither English nor Dutch, I have to rely on the music as a mediator whenever there’s some kind of discussion or difference in opinion. Stijn I was very surprised during our listening sessions in the car: we came across Turkish surf and rock ‘n’ roll music. I didn’t expect that at all. Apparently my mind was too conservative to understand that music really has no borders.

If you had organised this project yourself, what would you have altered? Thomas I would have tried to establish a more profound connection between the three different groups. It could’ve opened a lot of doors and would have made the project even more rewarding for everyone involved. We had a good start, but there was no official goodbye in Ghent, for instance. If you work hard on something, you need a moment where everybody can rejoice. To share a moment where you look back on what you’ve achieved, and be in that moment together. Things like that can lead to other projects in the future. Wouter Perhaps we should have had a concert in Turkey at the very beginning of our trip. That would have added another dimension to the experience: to see how the Turkish audience would react to our music. (a concert was organised in June 2015 in Istanbul) Ayten Maybe I would have cut the whole project a little shorter or added a

interview with the musicians

few more concerts. That way we could have travelled to more cities, met even more local musicians and learned more local songs. A few colourful string instruments could also be a nice addition, and perhaps turn the group into a multivoiced orchestra? Karen I would have liked to stay in Istanbul a while longer. We didn’t really get a chance to experience the ‘feel’ of the city. Incidentally, that’s also true for the other cities we visited. It would have been nice to spend a little more time in each one. Stijn I agree, our visits were always a little too short to really absorb the character of the places, the neighbourhoods. I felt like I needed a little more space, sometimes, to reflect on what we were doing and where we wanted to get. Sometimes it takes a bit longer to get inspired, and usually you find inspiration by simply being there, cooking together and meeting people. Dirk Due to some troubles on the railway network, we unexpectedly had to fly from Istanbul to Bucharest, which was a bit of a shame. I would choose a slower means of travel next time. Going by train or by bus is a much better way to experience your journey, instead of going from airport to airport. Mattias Yes, travelling at a slower pace, even if that means it takes you twice as long, allows you to meet more people along the way. It would have been nice to see more of the rural surroundings too, because cities can be pretty dominant places. But now, the time schedule was very strict and there was no time to waste or get lost in the scenery.


Meriç It would be fun to connect more with the local people and musicians, and produce a little musical event together. We’d tap into a much wider and more diverse audience that way.

Do you think all musicians would benefit from spending some time abroad? Do you think it would turn them into better musicians? Ayten I believe there’s always an added value to travelling to new places, exploring new cultures and meeting new people. Both from an artistic and a personal perspective, each journey is an opportunity for personal development and a learning experience. I’m always looking for ways to learn and improve, in this case by cooperating with local musicians and using that occasion to learn as much as I can from them. Those one-on-one experiences, to feel, empathise,... that’s what’s really important. Wouter Travelling does indeed broaden your mind and deepens your understanding of things. For instance, back when I studied jazz, I experienced it as something very theoretical, almost like mathematics. But it was only when I went to West Africa that I really started to understand it. Not as a combination of mathematical principles though, but as a rhythm, a music and a feeling. Dirk I’ve travelled quite a bit, but I never lived somewhere else apart from during my studies in the Netherlands. I think it depends on what kind of musician you want to be. If you want to be the


adventurous type, you pretty much owe it to yourself to travel around. Mattias But it’s not only a musical thing. Being an artist is also about experiencing things in person. There’s a real social aspect to working with others, and you need to see for yourself what’s out there. Meriç Of course, a musician limiting himself to a certain location will only develop within those limits. Exploring other cultures creates world music, with a much wider field of vision. In the meantime it creates a mutual understanding on how different cultures can really infuse each other with new colours. But even within a smaller scope, like just one musical genre for instance, there is beauty to be found in meeting different people and learning from their musical experiences. That’s another reason people should go abroad and connect with others, talk, exchange points of view and learn about different national musical traditions.

Ultimately, what was the biggest added value to being on the road together? Wouter Spending a lot of time together creates quite a close connection. You get to know each other pretty quickly and that’s an invaluable asset to the whole creative process. Even the little pit stops in between are quite instructive in that respect. Thomas There’s this microcosm that comes into existence when you’re on a long trip together, and you feel like that’s where it all happens. Once you’re completely disconnected from your ordinary life and all the distractions that come with it. When you’re on the road, you’re on the road, and that’s really the best place for a musician. In between two places, when there’s only you and the music, that’s when you evolve the most. And that’s the key to this entire project.

© Jonatan Lyssens

Š Rudy Carlier

More info about Yolda on www.projectyolda.be, including a video documentary. Yolda travellers Group 1 Wouter Vandenabeele (violin), Thomas Noël (guitar, keyboard), Özge Öz Erdogan (vocal) en Ayten Çelik (percussion), Jonatan Lyssens (video artist), Steven Van Renterghem (production) Group 2 Karen Willems (percussion), Stijn Dickel (guitar, vocal), Barkin Engin (guitar, keyboard) & Burak Tamer (samplers, keyboard), Ilknur Cengiz (video artist), Jonathan Esposito (video sound assistant), Ulas Salgam & Attila Bakiroglu (production) Group 3 Dirk Moelants (viola da gamba), Mattias Laga (clarinet), Meriç Dönük (harp), Mehmet Yalgin (kemençe), Sirin Pancaroglu (harp), Bora Uymaz (vocals), Mathijs Poppe (video artist), Jasper Persoons (production)

© Handelsbeurs Concertzaal September 2015 Marieke Baele Transcription, translation and final editing interviews dianaboys.be Graphic design Handelsbeurs Concertzaal Publisher Project Yolda was a collaboration between Handelsbeurs Concert Hall and De Centrale, Izmir European Jazz festival, Bucharest Jazz festival and Druga Godba (Ljubljana). It was sponsored by the Ghent City Council, the Community of Flanders, Europe Jazz Network and the City of Beyoglu/Istanbul within the framework of Istanbul Ekspres.

Profile for Handelsbeurs Concertzaal

Yolda / Onderweg / En Route  

A Story on Music, Migration and Mobility. More info on www.projectyolda.be.

Yolda / Onderweg / En Route  

A Story on Music, Migration and Mobility. More info on www.projectyolda.be.


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