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Kurdish Alevi Music and Migration: An Interview with Ozan Aksoy

[Ozan Aksoy. Image via Ottoman History Podcast.] [Ozan Aksoy. Image via Ottoman History Podcast.]

For Kurdish Alevis, music serves as a mode of articulating and transmitting ideas about collective history, identity, and connections to the geography of former homes in the countryside of Anatolia. Our guest in Ottoman History Podcast Episode #187, Dr. Ozan Aksoy, has explored this crucial role of music within the Alevi community from a variety of angles throughout more than two decades as a musician and researcher.

As one of the members of the critically-acclaimed Kardeş Türküler ensemble, Aksoy helped launch a provocative musical experiment that has offered a new vision of folklore in Turkey, one that celebrates the ethnolinguistic richness of Turkey’s musical heritage as opposed to masking it. In contrast to the sanitized, standardized, and Turkicized songs of the national corpus, Kardeş Türküler performs songs from all of Turkey’s historical communities in their original languages. This attempt to build solidarity through mutual appreciation rather than the imposition of a single dominant culture has helped build a space for a more multivocal representation of local culture in Turkey.

Ozan Aksoy has also approached the issues of music and identity from a much different perspective as an ethnomusicologist engaged in the study of Alevi music in diasporic settings. His dissertation research, completed at The Graduate Center of The City University of New York, explored perfomative contexts and modes of transmission for music within the Kurdish Alevi community of Germany. Aksoy examined how Anatolia or “the first homeland” is sonically reimagined in important communal spaces such as türkü bars and weddings. As we discuss in the interview, this reimagining requires not only a transmission of musical knowledge, but also the repurposing or even excavation of songs rooted in intensely local geographies, specific historical contexts, and even the sacred realm of Alevi religious practice.

Please join us this new episode, the first of its kind for Ottoman History Podcast, as Dr. Ozan Aksoy discusses some of the findings of his research on the significance of music within the Kurdish Alevi community with Ceren Erdem and myself and performs some selections live in the OHP studio for our internet audience.

Participant Bios

Ozan Aksoy holds a PhD in Ethnomusicology from The Graduate Center of The City University of New York, where he is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center. He is also currently an instructor at New York University’s SPS-McGhee Division.

Chris Gratien is a doctoral candidate at Georgetown University researching the social and environmental history of the Ottoman Empire and the modern Middle East.

Ceren Erdem is a curator based in New York and Istanbul. She received has an MA in Modern Art: Critical and Curatorial Studies from Columbia University and an MFA from Sabanci University, Istanbul. She has curated online projects and publications and onsite exhibitions in New York, Istanbul, and Seoul.

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