Searching for musical freedom: Defne Sahin | Music | DW | 25.03.2012
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Searching for musical freedom: Defne Sahin

Defne Sahin was born in Berlin to parents from Turkey, putting her squarely between two cultures that don't always understand each other. She's developed into a singer with a cosmopolitan, literate approach to jazz.

Singer Defne Sahin

Defne Sahin's "Yasamak" was released on October 28, 2011

The last lines from Nazim Hikmet's famous poem "Davet" ("Invitation") make for the perfect frame for Defne Sahin's album "Yasamak" ("Live"). The disc is a collage of new musical arrangements of poems and texts by the poet, who hails from Turkey - just like Sahin's parents.

Hikmet himself was born in Thessaloniki, then part of the Ottoman Empire, but spent much of his life away from Turkey - for many years in Moscow. Cosmopolitan without losing sight of home: traits shared by the free-spirited poet who died 48 years ago and the 27-year-old singer, who has been at home in the world ever since she was a child.

Shared sensibility

The word "freedom" comes up often in Sahin's cheerful but pointed comments. It's a word that was equally important to the strong-willed and politically defiant Nazim Hikmet, who spent nearly a fourth of his 62 years in prison.

Singer Defne Sahin on a sofa

Defne Sahin sets poems by Nazim Haket to song on her debut album

The thirst for freedom that Defne Sahin senses in Hikmet's lines finds its way onto her own debut album. "Dünyayi verelim cocuklara" ("Let us give the world to our children") is a poem that has been swimming in Sahin's head ever since she was a little girl. The text was Hikmet's first. Sahin took a shot at setting it to music five years ago, and it has become one of the most striking of the 11 songs on her first release.

The young singer's love of freedom was bound to lead her to jazz at some point. She enjoys the search for a personal language and sound as well as the space to improvise. In her view, jazz opens up possibilities that fit perfectly with the sweeping arcs Hikmet followed in his thought and art.

Sahin got an early start in training for her career. Born in Berlin, she visited a number of schools and got involved in every possible musical outlet she could find before heading to the United States to attend high school for a year. In the birthplace of jazz, she fell in love with the genre once and for all. She sang in a big band group and realized that she had to keep going and become a professional singer.

Defne Sahin and other PopCamp participants

Defne Sahin was one of the 2011 participants in Germany's federally sponsored PopCamp

Drawn to the sea

The German-Turkish singer then studied jazz singing at the Berlin University of the Arts. There, she came in contact with jazz greats like David Friedman and Judy Niemack. A stay in Barcelona at the Catalonia College of Music advanced Sahin's ambitions further. She found a kindred spirit in her Catalonian teacher, jazz singer Carme Canela. Both women have similarly clear, open singing voices that they lend to jazz and Brazilian pieces.

Sahin composed most of the songs that appear on her album in Barcelona, near the sea - which also played an important role in Hikmet's poetic world. Those compositions will soon be put to the test at the closing concert of PopCamp, a music academy and workshop sponsored by the German Music Council. There, Sahin will perform with her trio - fellow PopCamp participants on bass, piano and drums - along with other bands.

Defne Sahin

A second poetic album is on the way from Sahin


When the industrious singer finds time between her many concert dates, she's happy to get away from Berlin and head to Istanbul. In her second homeland, she has been working on another literary and musical project. Together with musicians from both cities, she's setting modern poems about the city on the Bosporus to song.

Defne Sahin is more than just an interesting new voice in jazz. In a small way, she brings together two countries and two cultures that don't always have an easy time understanding one another.

Author: Katrin Wilke / gsw
Editor: Louisa Schaefer

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