“Kaybola” means something like “Let’s get lost” in Turkish. It is the second album of Istanbul trio Islandman. The idea is to create for the listener rich soundscapes, layered with elements culled from around the world – be it the Turkic realm (Anatolian folk-rock), Bulgaria (women’s folk choirs), Bali (gamelan music) or Mongolia (throat singing). Tolga Böyük is the personality behind Islandman. In addition to mastering knob twiddling sound-effects, Tolga plays guitar, but in a way that recalls traditional saz playing. The ten tracks exist on various levels, appealing to different audiences. Jazz music buffs will find something, as will World Music aficionados, as will devotees of electronic down-tempo music. At times one thinks of Baba Zula, particularly in the use of far-out distortion effects. In fact one can see Islandman as Istanbul’s next generation of Baba Zula spin-offs, having grown up with the famous Istanbul psych band, as well as with Barış Manço, Selda Bağcan, Erkin Koray, Cem Karaca and Moğollar. Sometimes the sound of Islandman is filmic, which is not surprising as Böyük also does quite a bit of work for Turkish film and television on the side. In sum Islandman is feel good music, meditative, ambient and soothing while at the same time complex and richly textured.
Tell me about the name “kaybola”.
Kaybola is a Turkish word, which I found while reading poetry. It means like, “let’s get lost”. But we use it in a positive way, too. You can’t translate it directly into English. It’s like, getting lost in order to find something beautiful. This word caught me the moment I read it. We are a Turkish band, but at the same time our music is without any national boundaries, because, among other things, there are no lyrics. So the word “kaybola” sounds very universal, too. That’s why I wanted to give the album this name.
Can you tell me something about the new album? What were you shooting for?
Actually, I was trying to create a soundscape which makes you feel that you are surrounded by nature. And I am always influenced by some meditative music, like sound-healing and everything. So I am trying to put inside some sounds that have the intention of healing. But of course, I want to make this like a bridge, so that it feels like pop-music, too, very easy to listen to. And so I want to forge this bridge between all of these cultural roots, like Bulgarian vocals, Japanese, Turkish saz and bring in a dance element, as if one were at an open-air festival. This is the feeling. To create something easy and something you can move to or dance to, or just put the vinyl down and chill to. I wanted to create this space and this ambience.
Who is your audience both in Turkey and outside of Turkey? I guess you have world music fans, also jazz fans, electronic music fans. What kind of people come to your concerts?
I think it is a very wide spectrum. Because sometimes we can play like, jazz music. Sometimes we play party music at festivals. Actually, it varies a lot. Sometimes people over fifty come to our shows. Because I think that everyone can catch something similar. In Turkey, of course, people can catch the Anatolian feeling of the guitar I am playing. Because I started playing with Turkish saz. So, when I play the guitar, I play it a little bit like the saz. It comes naturally, actually; I am not trying to do it like that. I just can’t play it any other way. So I think people can catch that feeling. And when they hear something electronic over it, of course, something catches them. But in Europe maybe it is the same thing. Because in Berlin there is this down-tempo thing; dance music has always been there and people are very educated about it. So maybe that’s what they catch in my music, too.
Talking about Anatolian rock and psychedelic music from Turkey, who are some names that you are into, or have influenced you?
From the seventies, eighties era of course Barış Manço. He was my only hero when I was a child. I was collecting all of his pictures from the newspapers and cutting them out and making like, notebooks full of his pictures. He was like a real hero. Because he was really different from all of the artists and all of the musicians from the era. And then after that, maybe five years ago this whole Turkish psychedelic music exploded in the world. And then we had a chance to dig deeper, too. Because before it got popular in the world it was a little bit hidden in Turkey, too. Nobody was really aware of how many gems there were. And then I started to like Selda Bağcan, too and Erkin Koray and Cem Karaca and Moğollar. And the list goes on. Actually, you know, everything was so nice in its own way. All of them had their own unique way of expressing their sound at the time. And it was a time that everything came together. Because these musicians started to know about their own culture again from Anatolia. And at the same time in the world there was this rock music, all of these electric guitars and drums came to Turkey. So of course they made something very unique which you can not do again. You can only pretend. It was something special, with its sound engineers, with its amplifiers and with its drums and everything. So, it is not like a genre. It is like a time, like an era. Just like Krautrock. You know, this time of Can etc. You cannot actually make it again. It was all very precious.
What is your relationship to Baba Zula?
You know, they were always there. When I was a child I wasn’t very deeply into their music. But with time I grew up and I started to dig their music and I began to fully respect what they were doing. Because they were one of the only ones who really respected this psychedelic Turkish music. As personalities, too, they were so real. So with time – and you know, in Istanbul of course, we got each other’s attention and we became friends. We are in the same booking agency, so it was easy for us to connect. One day I invited Murat Ertel from Baba Zula to the studio to jam with us and we recorded an eight hour recording session together. And the relationship grew, and now we call each other, we talk about equipment and everything. So it feels really good to have a friend like them.
What about the importance of Istanbul to your music? A lot of young artists and musicians have left Istanbul and Turkey in the time being. What keeps you in Istanbul? Why is Istanbul interesting for you?
I think the first thing that holds me here are my friends. My close friends, my musician friends, my girlfriend and my band. This makes it livable. Otherwise this city is really tough. It’s not like Berlin and it’s not like London. It’s too crowded. No parks. No nothing. But there is something that holds us together here. It’s really like a love-hate issue for me, Istanbul. I don’t know the true reason, actually, but something really holds me here. Even though I come to Berlin for two weeks and enjoy the city so much – it’s like magical and everything – but after two weeks I actually want to come back. But I’m not sure yet, what is the reason actually.
You mentioned that travel is an important influence in your music. What are some places that you have been to of late, and how have they inspired you?
Before this pandemic happened, the last long trip we had was Bali, and that was such a nice place, so full of influences. The whole island was kind of magical. The weather and everything. And we listened to some local musicians playing gamelanIt’s really different. Our ears are used to these notes we use. If you hear something very happy in gamelan music, it sounds actually very scary…And two years ago I made a documentary for a Red Bull TV series – it was called Searching for Sound. So I wanted to make a journey, travelling around the area where the Turkish saz comes from, to find out where it came from and how it changed in time, and everything. So, I started with the local musicians from the seventies psychedelic era. You know Moğollar? So the lead singer and the saz player, Cahit Berkay, we started with him, We made music in the studio. And then we moved to south Turkey. We met with Yörüks in the mountains. They are like nomads. Of course, now they are settled. They came from Central Asia. And then in the last stop we went to Tuva, in Central Asia. It’s like on the north of Mongolia. It’s the place where this throat singing was born. So we took a journey to there, and of course, it was really something amazing. Because it’s not a place that you would like to go on vacation. It’s a long way. This is one of the best trips I have made.
You mentioned also Bulgarian women choirs. Can you tell me something about that. Was that something that you experienced in Bulgaria?
Yeah, that was really interesting. I went to a record store in Istanbul, and I saw a vinyl called Bulgarian village songs. So I came home and listened to one track. It was all women’s choirs, and it was so nice. The melody caught me the first time I heard it. I wanted to make an edit of it. And so I made this edit called Dimitro. And then I wanted to put it in the album. But of course, the sample was not owned by me. It was owned by a music company. So legally I couldn’t use it. But then I learned that it was a folk song, it’s a very old wedding song that no one held the rights of the lyrics to. So I tried to find a Bulgarian vocalist. I was chatting with my friend, and he said, “I know one. She’s half Turkish, half Bulgarian and she is a singer.” So I said, “Let’s meet”. And her name was Elis Dubas. So I called her and I said, “Hey, I want to do something like this with you.” And she said “OK,” and came to the studio, and she sang it and put it in the album.
How is this corona virus affecting you, and what are you doing now that you can’t perform?
Before this happened I was really overworked because I do music for television shows and films. And between this touring and producing for Islandman I was non-stop working in the studio. So after this thing happened it became like a good time to just rest.
Thank you for your time.