The Brilliantly Unique Songwriting of Bülent Ortaçgil

Bülent Ortaçgil was only 24 years old when his 1974 album ‘Benimle Oynar Mısın’ (Will You Play with Me) was released. This underground, rather poetic aesthetic of Ortaçgil does not necessarily follow the Anatolian folk scene and is more influenced by Western folk music. To delve deeper into this album, let’s focus on the themes, Ortaçgil’s sound and aesthetic, and lastly, his inspirations that echo the sounds of his music.

The overarching themes of the album are nature, animals, dreams, togetherness, and hopefulness. Throughout the songs, seasons change but Ortaçgil remains hopeful in his search of togetherness. Ortaçgil’s sensitivity creates an empathetic connection with the listener, such as the lyrics of the song ‘Benimle Oynar Mısın’; ‘Will you still play with me even if I were a stone and couldn’t speak?’. Thus, the emotions associated with fitting in and belonging to a group are reflected. Similarly, Ortaçgil anthropomorphises animals to represent the lives of people from a different perspective. He also makes interesting observations about people, such as Latife. ‘Stylish Latife is an individual just like you and me, however, stylish Latife is also quite different.’ Even when mysterious characters are introduced, he doesn’t forget to include the listener in the plot.

Moving on to the sound of Ortaçgil, it is unusual to find a 1970s album that is so musically distant from Anatolian folk elements. Instead of writing melancholic tunes that the Turkish audience could relate to, his songs are optimistic. Additionally, Ortaçgil’s soft vocals contrast with the confident yet sorrowful vocals of Anatolian folk singers. He appears unconcerned about his vocal abilities and instead focuses on telling a story.

While the album features an ensemble made up of strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion, no traditional Turkish instruments are included. Surprisingly, at the end of the final song ‘Günaydın 2’, we hear an unexpected sound recording of the outside world, in which tradesmen shout and the noise of the vibrant city centre returns to our ears.[1] For a moment, this sound recording connects Ortaçgil to the Turkish community, showing his connection to the society in which he lives. The ambient sample perhaps purposefully returns us to our everyday lives, away from the springtime and peacefulness that Ortaçgil creates in our minds.

Focusing on Ortaçgil’s musical inspirations, I believe Fikret Kızılok is one of the Turkish folk singer-songwriters who resembles his song writing style. Nonetheless, his careless vocals and his ability to question listeners through storytelling remind me of Bob Dylan. Ortaçgil’s sound also mirrors Vashti Bunyan’s poetic aesthetic, vocal style, and folk ensemble. Through their music, which sometimes sounds like nursery rhymes, they both create a hypnotic, imaginary world.

Even though ‘Benimle Oynar Mısın’ was an underrated album when it was released, it has since become a highly regarded work of art. Written in Ortaçgil’s bedroom, the lo-fi quality of the album, the engaging vocals, and the visuals of springtime that come to mind are inspiring; it is truly a fairy-tale album.