Derya Yıldırım & Graham Mushnik


Hey Dostum, Çak! Derya Yıldırım and Graham Mushnik

Derya Yıldırım is oh so many things: she’s a gifted singer, a virtuosic bağlama player, an underground star, an ambassador of Turkey’s rich musical heritage, an innovator and preserver of this musical tradition, and a damn good performer. She’s got groove and she’s just as wonderful in the Anadolu soul band Grup Şimşek as with the chamber orchestra Ensemble Resonanz. She makes the concert venues go wild—no matter if it’s the Elbphilharmonie or a small club. And now she has made a children’s album with the French keyboardist and producer Graham Mushnik entitled Hey Dostum, Çak! which can be translated as: “Hey, give me five!” What a great idea!

Graham Mushnik is a musical polymath, a “master of the art flute,” as ZEIT wrote, in that he effortlessly combines styles and eras. With projects like Guess What, Curly Wurly, The Slow Slushy Boys (where he played with his father, the French garage band legend Denis Oliveres), or as a solo artist, he has released numerous amazing singles, Eps, and albums over the past two decades.
Mushnik and Yıldırım have known each other since 2014, when the keyboardist came to Hamburg to produce music for the Hamburg Schauspielhaus’s project New Hamburg. Back then, Derya Yıldırım was already a local celebrity in the Veddel district where she grew up, where she was known as a singer and bağlama player. Together Mushnik and Yıldırım formed the band Grup Şimşek, which so far has released three albums, an EP, and toured internationally. “Graham is one of the most important musicians for me. He’s incredibly sensitive when it comes to music, it just comes naturally to him. I can trust him blindly,” Derya Yıldırım says.
Many of the songs on Hey Dostum, Çak! are songs that Derya Yıldırım, a Hamburg-native, knows from her childhood: they’re lullabies she was sung to sleep with, folk songs her father played on the bağlama, ones she sang in Turkish lessons, others that could be heard on her grandparents’ cassettes, or those she learned from her bağlama teacher, who provided lessons to her and other Turkish-speaking kids at the Stadtteilladen (District Center) in Hamburg-Veddel. “Many of my younger relatives no longer know it, they can’t really speak Turkish. I don’t want to bring the kids back to the past, but with the album I want to show them: ‘check this out, look what else is there,’” Derya says. “I would have loved an album like this.”

While it remained impossible to tour in the summer of 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Derya Yıldırım withdrew for a few weeks to the village of her grandparents in eastern Anatolia to research songs and develop ideas for the album. “I was there alone with my midi keyboard, recording the atmosphere in the village, working on it every day,” she says. Together, Mushnik and Yıldırım developed the arrangements and researched material that could be of interest, drawing inspiration from Anadolu rock legends like Barış Manço and Moğollar. Not all the songs on the album are typical children’s songs—many come from the rich, lyrical, and at times defiant tradition of Turkish folk songs.
On Hey Dostum, Çak!, Derya Yıldırım sings and plays the bağlama while Graham Mushnik controls the synthesizers—organ sounds, old drum machines, acid basses, darbuka percussion, flutes, birds chirping, and a plethora of other noises are utilized. Derya recorded the vocals with her five cousins, aged between 4 and 12. “We didn’t do it in the studio, but in their children’s room in Herne, without headphones,” she says. Making an album for children is challenging. “You can’t make it too easy for the kids. For example, when they mimicked the synth sounds on one song, I realized: that works!” Is it an album for the Turkish-speaking community only? Derya doesn’t think so. “I play in so many different countries in front of so many different communities, and I keep noticing that hearing and feeling this music is something universal, it can spread its magic everywhere.”

The booklet is itself a small work of art, a fantastic bestiary, full of animals making music, painted by the Colombian artist Glenda Torrado, who has previously designed the cover artwork for projects like the Meridian Brothers and Luis Ardila Ensamble. The lyrics were translated by Duygu Ağal with love: “it was important to us to convey the content of the songs,” Derya says.

About the individual songs:

Ilgaz is about the Anatolian Ilgaz Mountains. It’s a typical children’s song sung in elementary schools throughout the whole of Turkey. The rock band Moğollar recorded an impressive instrumental version in the seventies. Derya Yıldırım’s younger brother, Yakubhan, plays the main melody on the clarinet.

Tren Gelir means the train is coming. It’s not a typical children’s song but it fits on a children’s album. It’s one of the first songs that kids learn in bağlama lessons. The version by Derya and Graham is joyful, easy to dance to, and has a nice creaky synth bass as well as a flute intoning the whistle of the train.

Çömüdüm comes from Kütahya, a city in western Anatolia. It’s a folk song in nine-eight time, and is named after a folk dance: do the squat. Each region in Turkey has its own folk dances.

Mini Mini Bir Kuş is also a song that every child in Turkey knows. It means Little Bird. “The melody is very simple, you can sing along right away,” Derya says. “That’s what so special about a children’s song, you grow up with it and it’s like it was always there.” It bears a resemblance to the German song “Kommt ein Vogel geflogen.”

Atem Tutem Men Seni—Let me stroke and cuddle you / I’ll rock you up and down is how this lullaby goes. It’s one of the many Azerbaijani tunes translated into Turkish.

Silifke'nin Yoğurdu means The Yoghurt from Silifke, and there’s a folk dance with the same name. Silifke is a town in the Mediterranean region. The song tells the story of a Turkmen woman who comes to the village on Sundays to sell her yoghurt. A young man wants to meet her. He’s very excited, and plays her a melody on the bağlama.

Arkadaşım Eşek means My Friend, the Donkey and is a song by the Turkish rock musician Barış Manço. It’s inspired by the fairytale of the Bremen Town Musicians. In 1981, Barış travelled with his band all the way to Bremen and filmed a video there. The song is known by every child in Turkey.

Ey Çoban means Oh, Shepherd—it’s about a shepherd who loses his flock. It’s considered to be a children’s song but is actually a melancholic song by the Turkish singer-songwriter Ethem Adnan Ergil.

Dandini Dandini Dastana is a Turkish lullaby. In the past, mothers or grandmothers liked to sit on the floor with a pillow on their legs while singing this song. The child would lie on the pillow, cradled by their legs.

Süt İçtim Dilim Yandı is a folk song that is often used in bağlama lessons. The lyrics read, “I drank milk and burned my tongue,” which is of course ambiguous, as it’s a love song. Derya’s cousins gave this version a special touch—they started rapping when they heard it.

Maçka Yolları, the streets of Maçka, is about a town on the coast of the Black Sea. In the studio, Duygu Ağal proposed this song and his darbuka—a percussion instrument particularly known in Turkey—is an important component of the arrangement.

Horoz Havada means The Rooster is in the Air—it’s a folk song from Erzincan in Anatolia. The simple melody and call and response between the main voice and the children’s choir gives it a charming levity.