Hakalmaz explains this was due to the lack of proper legal regulations, causing people to claim intellectual property rights over folk songs. In an exclusive interview, the singer answered Sunday's Zaman's questions on his recent album and his opinion of the music scene in Turkey.
We are used to hearing folk songs from you. However, there are no folk songs in your new and previous albums. Why is that?
Folk songs limit us. I did not sing folk songs in this and in the previous album because they localize you in a musical sense. This album includes folk song-like compilations; we could call them works that could qualify as folk songs. We have been quite free with the arrangement.
I presume this is not the only reason.
True, this is not the only reason. There have been different developments with regards to folk songs after the introduction of the new legislation on property rights. Because the intellectual property rights are attractive, everyone has started to claim their rights over certain folk songs. Right now, there is an ongoing fight over the legal rights associated with folk songs. These songs belong to all of us; the fact that they are anonymous does not mean that people have the right to claim ownership. People cannot do this just because the songs are anonymous.
What should be done to address this problem?
Because people are attempting to claim their rights over folk songs, in the future we will not be able to find a folk song to perform. And this means that there will no longer be any folk song performers. You follow all the necessary legal requirements; you acquire all the relevant permits; and then you include that song into your album. But then somebody claims their rights over it. Some of our friends had to pay five different people because of property rights for just one song. I referred this problem to the Ministry of Culture but they did not care. A law must be passed; for instance, this law should state that a folk song will be considered public property after 70 years. The unattributed songs should be taken under protection just like how we protect historical artifacts.
Folk songs were pretty popular at a time when you were also popular. But only a few names remained popular and influential. What is the reason for the decline of folk songs?
To me, there were only a few folk singers back then. But it seemed like there were a lot of people also singing folk songs just because they were popular. These people are gone but the songs are still well loved and attract a great deal of attention. And they will remain so. What is really important is to reinterpret them without changing their originality. You have to present the folk song well through your attitudes and music. You should represent it very well.
So you are saying that the performers did not represent the folk songs well?
Yes indeed. You cannot be a performer of folk songs just because you sing a few of them. You need talent and hard work. Sometimes, singers attempt to perform in different styles. Why are they doing this? They should not. These are separate matters. I am not saying this because I am in this business. But singing folk songs really requires expertise and hard work.
Those who sing folk songs are looked down upon because it's seen as a sign of being parochial. What is the reason for the decline of the Turkish folk song at the moment?
Presentation is what is missing in the folk songs. You have to believe in the folk songs. In addition, you have to work on it. Folk songs are ethnic music and there is no ethnic music in the world comparable to ours. Take a look at the lyrics; in this century, we are still making reference to them. They are just perfect. You look at their rhythmic structure and you just think you are nothing as a musician. And yet some elites adopt a condescending attitude towards those who perform folk songs as peasants and parochial people.
Is there some sort of defense vis-à-vis those who perform folk songs?
First of all, young performers are not allowed to appear on the TVs on the grounds that they will not appeal to the people. But they should be given a chance. There are no album sales. So how will you make an investment in the music then?
Some of your statements sometimes raise debates; are you doing this deliberately?
This is something that I learnt at school. I like offering a scientific explanation for everything. For instance, some talk about Alevi folk songs. But I say, “Maybe there is a notion of an Alevi folk song, but there is no such term.” We call them deyiş, bengi or semah. Should we call the others ‘Sunni' folk songs, then? I said we should not make any distinction between songs. When I made this statement, some argued that I was being dismissive of Alevi folk songs. Another time I said Neşet Ertaş was a local singer. People asked me why I called him that. I got upset when I hear all this. Sometimes when I make a statement on TV, I say I made the statement for those reasonable people.
So you did not make these statements to attract attention and become popular?
As a person, I would like to be recognized and noticed. But not based on others' plans. I cannot make compromise on who I am. I don't live for material gain. And if you sing the folk songs by feeling them, you could not be otherwise. My name is not mentioned frequently but people attend my concerts. People love listening to folk songs.
In the song ‘Aheste,' which your album was named after, you wanted to criticize the mistakes people committed. Have you assumed a mission all by yourself?
I do not like talking rubbish. I have a great opportunity that only a small number of people have. This chance should be used properly. I have worries about future; I am worried about the afterlife. I have concerns on our country, our kids and the world. Thank God, I am not concerned about making money. In my concerts, I try to deliver messages which I believe are useful to the attendees.
What bothers you the most?
I get mad at unfairness. I do not tolerate unfair treatment. It is not certain what will happen tomorrow. Nobody is buried with their title and wealth. I am mostly sad for the kids due to this unfair treatment. Those who acquire power resort to persecution. And when you do this, God destroys your throne. Many people have passed through this world since Adam. I performed “Aheste” in an attempt to draw attention to all of this. I also tried to do the same in the other works in the album.
Do you have any dreams for music?
I had a dream of building a conservatory for young musicians. But such dreams sadly disappear. I think the conservatories should be divided. There should be specialized conservatories for Turkish folk music or Turkish traditional music. Regional conservatories could be introduced in the future. I considered preserving this tradition by relying on the expertise and wisdom of competent people, but the number of competent people is low. This tradition should be preserved. The state protects natural preservation areas. You cannot make any changes there. But folk songs can be easily amended or modified. You just do not have this right. When you say this, you are referred to as a defender of the status quo, but there is nothing I can do. I will keep telling the truth.