Although born in Amsterdam in the early 1980’s, Meral Polat has never lost sight of, nor relinquished, her Kurdish roots and her repertoire of contemporary Anatolian music owes much to the poetic legacy of her father, Ali İhsan Polat.
I have never liked the term folk music. In England, at least, it conjures up images of earnest young men with beards and sandals, slowly eking out a pint of lukewarm beer in village halls. Ethnic is not really a better word with equally restrictive connotations. Traditional music is a better term but that tends to preclude anything being written now. But whatever you want to call it, the genre is always honest down to earth music, usually telling stories of a world where moon never rhymes with June. It comes from the same place as the blues and has the same resonance, describing the hopes and fears of the, usually, underprivileged. It’s the roots, the back-stories that are the crucial thing, the collective memory of a race or people that filters through the generations, adding new dimensions and insights as it goes.
The music of the Meral Polat Trio clearly has its roots in the music and folk-lore of Anatolia, most of which is modern Turkey, and more specifically in its south-east, an area inhabited by the Kurds. Now, it is a sad thing to say but folk music, the blues, soul or whatever you want to call it, rarely thrives on good luck stories. Hardship is its stock in trade and when it comes to hardship the Kurds have had more than their fair share of it and continue to do so.
That is not to say that Ms Polat’s music is all doom and gloom. Most of it is up-beat, maybe not joyous but certainly hopeful and defiant. Her message is one of love, vitality and melancholy of the heart and touches everyone. The title of the album, which this tour is promoting, Ez Kî Me (Who am I?) gives us a clue as to what to expect. There are clearly going to be problems of identity for someone with such strong ties to her ethnic heritage being born in a country with very different cultural baggage.
Despite its ethnic origins this is sophisticated music. Ms Polat is a fine singer and the trio, completed by multi-instrumentalist Chris Doyle on keyboards and guitar plus Frank Rosaly on drums, certainly punches way above its weight, providing a rich variety of sounds which, although powerful, are never intrusive. I think my favourite song was the title song of the album; it had an almost Indian feel to it with the tabla-sounding percussion.
Meral Polat is as much an actress as a singer and accordingly her presentation is assured and she holds her audience effortlessly throughout and, although many of the lyrics are difficult to follow, her message and emotions are universal and present a truth that applies to us all. Michael Hasted 19th March 2023