According to Minor Empire’s Ozgu Ozman, your average Turk is a cheery soul who loves life—but not to the exclusion of some very sad songs.
Turkish tunes, she explains from her Toronto home, are all about suffering and longing. “You’re longing for a better life; you’re longing for a woman you cannot get or a man you cannot get,” she notes. “You’re always chasing something and always failing. There’s some hope, but there’s more sorrow.”
To illustrate her point, Ozman turns to the first song on her band’s 2011 debut,
“The story is about a girl whose family gives her away [in an arranged marriage] to another village,” Ozman explains. “And in this time the villages were always on top of mountains, so she can’t really visit her family anymore. She doesn’t really feel that much love from her husband, so she starts talking to the birds, saying, ‘Please, flying birds, when you go over my village, tell my mother how much I miss her. Tell my brother how much I miss him. I wish that there was a way they could make a boat and sail up here and take me home.’
“She’s so hopeless that she thinks the birds can transfer her messages,” Ozman continues. “And the weird thing is, that song is played at traditional weddings!”
The singer laughs, but there’s a serious and personal side to her choice of song. “Yüksek Yüksek Tepeler” embodies the sense of dislocation that she and musical partner Ozan Boz feel as Turkish immigrants in Canada, with music being the force that wings them home. Yet at the same time, they’re treating their band as a way of integrating into North American life, through their use of funky beats, electronic processing, and jazz-trained accompanists.
“As musicians, we are actually a mixture of East and West,” says guitarist and programmer Boz, joining in on speakerphone. “When we first started playing with Canadian musicians, as students, we found that they were struggling to get into the odd metres of Turkish music. But it was very easy for us, so we thought, ‘This is our strength!’ ”
“We kept the Turkish part pretty true to its nature,” Ozman adds. “Like, the melodies are staying in a traditional way, and the traditional instruments are played very traditionally. And the rock guitars are very rock!”
The result rocks, too. Minor Empire’s sound is simultaneously ancient and modern, happy and sad—and perfectly suited to the folk-festival stages the band is hitting on its first cross-country tour.