As a teacher by profession, I can say that one of the important things they don’t teach you on a CELTA course is how to remember students’ names quickly. This skill takes various methods and time to develop. My own preference is making connections between the person and the meaning of the name. What fascinates me most is how frequently a person embodies the meaning of their name, and Aynur Doğan is a case in point.
The name Aynur literally means “Moon Light” – but not “light” in the standard sense. “Nur” is much more than this. “Nur” evokes a certain spiritual light that seems to emanate from a person’s aura or, dare I say without getting to carried away – their very soul. Last night, garajistanbul was literally basking in nur. Aynur has a presence that is as powerful, gentle and moving as a moonlit night overlooking the Bosphorus.
The singer is celebrated as Turkey’s foremost Kurdish-language singer with a striking voice, which was first brought to many foreigners’ attention through the performance of the song “Ahmedo” on the Istanbul music documentary Crossing the Bridge.
Having been mesmerized by Aynur’s album’s and countless Youtube clips for years, it was incredible to see and hear her live on stage. I was not the only person in the crowd who asked others during the performance how to say, “the hairs on the back of my neck were standing diken diken,” in English, or Turkish – or Kurdish, for that matter. The phenomenon was experienced as a collective whole.
And what a collective it was. Far from just the bandana or kafiye-sporting descendents of Eastern emigrées to the city who are generally drawn to Özgün music (the dramatic, tragic and joyous folk music of Eastern Anatolia) concerts, Aynur draws in crowds from the broad spectrum of Turkish society. At a glance, one could pick out intellectuals in their spectacles, hijabs, hair dye, facial hair of all persuasions and, most remarkably – 50:50 male/female ratio, 50:50 Kurd/Turk – the latter, proved by the spiritually moving choruses delivered by the crowd when Aynur sang one of her few Turkish songs.
As the crowd sings the choruses back, Aynur smilingly caresses them with the sing-along affection of a kindergarten teacher preparing her class for a performance for the parents. Her material ranges from soft lullabies to tear-jerking türküs. Her appearance in the movie Gönül Yarası (see below) testifies to her powerful charm, when in one scene, a woman sits sobbing at a small bar watching Aynur perform her evocative and rhythmically, very technical song Dar Hejiroke. A stranger asks if the woman knows Kurdish, to which she replies no. “So why are you crying?” he asks. “Do I need to know Kurdish to cry over this song?” she replies softly.
Aynur’s voice is an instrument which needed little assistance from her simple backing ensemble of traditional drums, ney, guitar and saz. In essence, these instruments – and special mention has to go to the drummer, whose skills were particularly key to the Özgün feature of drawn-out intros, dramatic crescendos, descents that evoke the rolling hills and valleys of Aynur’s native Dersim province.
Many of the songs were adapted wonderfully from the album. The best example was “Keçe Kurdan” – a feisty anthem of self affirmation expressed with what can only be described as ‘punk attitude’ meets traditional instrumentation and raspy, piercing vocals. However, the album version would not have been in keeping with the gentle spirited nature of the set and I like to think that this also reflected the more optimistic post-ceasefire mood of Kurds all around Turkey. Perhaps Aynur thinks the time to be raspy is over. Thus, the final song was tuned to an optimistic and joyous sing-along party piece, with Aynur in playful kindergarten mode.