A lullaby-composing engineer is not a professional profile you are likely to encounter in the course of everyday life, yet Mircan Kaya, a leading engineer at an Italian-based company and the first musician in Turkey to polish up traditional Anatolian lullabies, is just that.
Having enchanted children and adults alike with her soothing vocals for the past seven years, Kaya released her eighth album, “Nanni,” the first contemporary lullaby collection in the Laz and Mingrelian languages, at the end of June. An album steeped in cultural richness and nostalgia, Kaya’s latest collection will equally secure the affections of sleepless toddlers and more mature listeners.
The idea for “Nanni,” Kaya recalls, came to her on a cold December night last year in her home in the Çırağan district of İstanbul. Taking time out from the rigmarole of working life, Kaya, who spends her winters in Turkey, found herself reflecting on memories of her childhood in the mountainous villages of the Black Sea region. “My job was slowly wearing me down,” the 49-year-old told Today’s Zaman, adding, “I have always been a successful engineer, but have found that the more successful I become, the greater the pressure is. Success breeds loneliness and stress. That night, sitting at our dining room table I started to write about happy, simpler days gone by, submerging myself in memories of a time where there was nature, innocence, cows, sheep, horses, baskets of fresh fruit, unconditional love…”
The next morning Kaya, inspired and resolute, contacted old friend and co-producer Jon Wygens, with whom she previously collaborated on her “Niminosum” and “Outim” albums as well as on the track “Mircan’s Lullaby,” which featured on Kaya’s award-winning soundtrack for Selim Güneş’s 2010 film “Kar Beyaz” (White as Snow). “I felt this urge to do a new music project, almost in the sense of therapy for the stress I was feeling at work. Music has always been a tonic and a shelter for me,” the mother of two related.
And so the project began -- pianist Alcyona Mick and cellist Ivan Hussey joined the team, and the decision was made to record the album in Wygen’s Camden-based studio in London. As the daughter of a Mingrelian family who migrated to the Karadeniz region of Turkey from Georgia, Kaya told Today’s Zaman that “Nanni,” which has been praised by the UK-based NGO Foundation for Endangered Languages, is all about keeping the torch of her ancestors’ language alight.
“An album like this needed to be made, but in my opinion only a person closely affiliated with Laz traditions, as well as being familiar with the West, could write these lullabies and recite them from the heart,” she explained.
Despite the fact that in retrospect Kaya says she regrets not singing lullabies to her own children in Laz or Mingrelian when they were babies, she is pleased that now, as grownups, they can enjoy and appreciate the old songs. “They both enjoy listening to ‘Nanni’ and not just as a lullaby album, but as a relaxing collection of music,” she said, adding that both contributed to the project, her daughter Setenay with illustrations and her son Oğuzhan with translations.
The importance of passing indigenous traditions down through the generations is indeed one Kaya believes cannot be underestimated. “If traditional cultures and old languages and dialects are not protected, can you imagine what a dull place the world would be? I am very much against the practice of globalizing and neutralizing cultures; we need to hold tight to the richness and diversity of our individual heritages and ancestors,” Kaya said.
Currently in the process of preparing for a new release, “Minör,” in autumn, the prolific Kaya told Today’s Zaman that during her research for the album she read Abkhaz author and philosopher Bagrat Shinkuba’s “The Last Departed” and was inspired to dedicate the last track on the album to the memory of the now extinct Ubykh people. “While reading this book I was constantly on the verge of tears. Parents should be proud of teaching their children about the heritage of their ancestors. Why, for example, should those who know both Laz and Turkish not speak and write in both languages? Why should languages that have been spoken for thousands of years simply be allowed to become extinct?” Kaya asked.
Reflecting on the difference between “Nanni” and past musical projects, Kaya said while every album she produces stands as an individual work in its own right, that “Nanni” is technically a bit different from all the rest. “Producing an album is like writing a novel for me. With this album the aim was not only to produce soothing, relaxing sounds but also to try and teach a language,” she said.
Another point the team was keen to focus on with “Nanni,” Kaya explained, was the integration of natural sound effects from everyday life in eastern Black Sea villages. “We have learned from past albums that babies are soothed by sounds similar to those that they make themselves. In the song ‘You Tell Me What to Cook,’ for example, there is a constant background sound of a baby hitting their high-chair with a spoon and making slurping noises,” Kaya related, adding that the studio recording of the track “Lullaby of Lamb Counting,” involving a chorus of “meeee” sounds from the musical team, was particularly enjoyable to record.
Kaya and her team are set to embark on a promotional venture to İstanbul in September where fans of all ages will have the opportunity to get acquainted with the whimsical singer in specially curated promotional events, lullaby-themed parties and autograph signings. “Nanni” is available for purchase from branches of the D&R bookshops and other major music retailers.