Music review: Çiğdem Aslan – A Thousand Cranes

After her critically-acclaimed 2013 debut release Mortissa¸ Çiğdem returns with an inspired follow-up. Her musical cue is again Rebetiko – the shared cultural heritage of Turkey and Greece in the 1920s – but Çiğdem spreads her musical wings in A Thousand Cranes, travelling from Istanbul and Izmir to Greece, the Balkans, and eastern Turkey picking up popular folk songs of the 1930s-70s.

The album was recorded in the legendary Antart studios in Athens under the tight musical direction of Nikolaos Baimpas, who also plays kanun, santouri, mandolin, and sings. He leads a gifted band of Greek musicians and guest artists who breathe new life into 13 traditional songs from Asia Minor and Anatolia, allowing Çiğdem’s vocals to soar and shine.

Flitting effortlessly from Greek to Turkish, she shows greater emotional range as she takes the listener on a serene journey of cheeky love songs, rousing ditties and regional Blues.

In the hauntingly beautiful ballad of the title track Tourna Çiğdem and co-singer Matoula Zamani capture the pain of migrants separated from their loved ones. Sang in Kurdish, Destmala Min is another of the standout tracks: the violin and drum play as a young man courts a lady who prefers to rebuff his charms.

Take an exotic trip across the eastern Mediterranean with Zaire – a sultry tango. Stop off at the taverna for this flirty Rebetiko ode I Lili I Skandaliara (Cheeky Lili), with a wonderful santur solo. Things get livelier still in shimmy-shaking Lingo Lingo Şişeler, popular in meyhanes. Half-way, the song morphs into Ana Mori – a Balkans-infused Çiftelli.

From start to finish, this is a superb treat for the ears from a singer whose reputation, like her repertoire, continues to grow.

Çiğdem Aslan’s A Thousand Cranes out now on  Asphalt-Tango Records