The Balkans are generally remembered for the violent conflicts and suffering the entire world witnessed in recent decades.
However, this has not always been the case for the region. Home to dozens of ethnic and linguistic groups throughout history, the Balkans have engendered a vivid, vibrant culture and music that is still alive today.
Pursuing the traces of this culture, musician İmran Salkan has revealed the stirring spirit of the Balkans and merged it with Anatolian culture, which is as colorful as the Balkans. The outcome is the album “Balkanlar’dan Anadolu’ya” (From the Balkans to Anatolia), which offers a musical journey to listeners across the regions. Released in February by Seyhan Music, the album includes folk songs from İzmir, Bursa, Ankara and Denizli in Turkey as well as those of Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Including the process of selecting its tracks, Salkan took nearly a year to complete the album. This process of finding songs and recording them meant more to her than actually releasing an album. For Salkan, who is of Albanian origin, it was a process of getting in touch with her roots and connecting them with Turkish elements.
“My parents migrated from Macedonia, but they are of Albanian origin,” said Salkan during an interview with Sunday’s Zaman. “We still have relatives there [Macedonia and Albania] and travel there frequently. So we still have strong ties to the region.”
Despite the close historical and cultural ties and the many commonalities their peoples share, knowledge of Balkan music remains superficial in Turkey. “I was well aware of this lack of knowledge,” said Salkan. “There are very few people who make real Balkan music in Turkey and this motivated me to make the music of my homeland. There are also many Balkan immigrants in Turkey. So, the culture is still here and I set off in this way to keep this culture alive.”
Manifestation of brotherhood
Salkan released her first album, “Balkan Şarkıları” (Balkan Songs), in 2010, which she recorded in Macedonia but released in Turkey with Ada Music. “My entire first album was composed in Balkan languages,” said Salkan. “There were songs in Albanian and Bosnian as well as one song in Turkish. My second album has a mix of languages. There are songs from both the Balkans and Anatolia.”
The combination of these languages creates the feeling of a journey, starting in Sarajevo and stretching to Ankara. “We used instruments from the Balkans as well as instruments from Anatolia, of the Aegean region. Actually, there has always been a connection between these regions and cultures; they’ve never been totally disconnected from each other. You may hear an Anatolian melody in the Balkans and a Balkan melody reinterpreted in Anatolia. It is largely due to the influence of the Ottomans that you can still hear some Turkish style in the local music of the Balkans.”
Unlike the first album, the second album is largely in Turkish. “I preferred to sing mostly in Turkish because I wanted to include Anatolia in this album. What I had in mind was a combination like that which Kardeş Türküler creates. I wanted to sing songs in the name of brotherhood; I wanted to include Anatolia in order to reflect the brotherhood between the Balkans and Anatolia. I wanted the people of Turkey to witness this brotherhood. The themes of songs in both cultures are almost the same and I believe that the spirit is also the same.”
For this reason, Salkan wants to continue in this style with a motivation of keeping this brotherhood alive. “I don’t want to break away from the Balkans in my future projects,” she said. “I don’t want to break away from Anatolia, either. I want to collect the songs we have sung and we will sing together.”
Moreover, Salkan wants to expand her range of languages and include other cultures in her future albums. “I want to make an album of the music of various ethnic groups,” she said. “There will be the languages of the Balkans, Turkish, Kurdish, Arabic, Zaza and maybe some others. I have spoken to some musician friends of mine and they also have a positive view of this project. But the musicians I work with will have to be representatives of their own cultures in Turkey.”