Get to know the bassist and singer lighting up Turkey's jazz scene
On a buzzy Wednesday night in İstanbul, a crowd gathers in one of the most renowned jazz and blues bars waiting for Ceyda Köybaşıoğlu and her band to take to the stage. Ceyda's reputation precedes her; known around town for being a highly talented bassist and rocking out to a combination of Prince, Erykah Badu and jazz-infused RnB tunes. What we weren't ready for tho was the outstanding, characterful performance that Ceyda delivers.
By midnight we're sweating it out amongst a group of dancing women, hands up in the air, being taken on a journey by Ceyda as she adds and removes items of clothing before showering herself in water. All while whipping out Michael Jackson-inspired moves.
A week later we meet up with Ceyda to learn more about her journey as a bassist and singer. As we walk through the city together, Ceyda tells us about the liberation and limitations she faces as a songwriter and producer moving between rnb, soul, funk, jazz, and traditional Turkish music. Tune in to her Ceyd describe how her fluctuating mood impacts her stage performances and her motivations to reach a further audience outside of her city.
As a stage performer, Ceyda was the Sassiest person we saw on the music scene in Turkey. From her fabulous style to her confident dancing and improvisation, the energy she put out was magnetic. But she tells us "I'm a different person on stage, its a part of me but I don't use that part all the time". Today, Ceyda is feeling more quiet, create a space for shared sensitivity and openess. She tells us how "sometimes my mood is so low and I feel so lonely, it delivers an energy but a negative one. So when I go on stage it goes to the other side and it becomes liberated in the moment. I don't know whats going to happen on the stage with me, I'm just experiencing it with the people." This is something we see as a beautiful truth, recognising how important it is to create space for every emotion to be felt.
I don't know what's going to happen on the stage with me, I'm just experiencing it with the people
Seeing creativity as a fabulous outlet for emotions leads us to discussing Ceyda's introduction to music. She tells us how growing up with a father who loved to sing traditional songs which Ceyda describes as Turkish Gospel music, her parents picked up on Ceyda's ability to sing and imitate melodies. "I remember singing along in the car to Whitney Houston's soundtrack for The Bodyguard, I was 10 and singing the flaseto parts of the song which is quite difficult and mum noticed". After that she signed Ceyda up to piano lessons and from there her musical interests grew, leading her to learn classical guitar before studying jazz bass at University. It wasn't until Ceyda was 21 that Ceyda started singing in stage, telling us how "My whole life I studied instruments, I never had that [desire] to be a singer... I studied singing on stage"
My whole life I studied instruments, I never had that [desire] to be a singer... I studied singing on stage"
When it comes to her performances today, it's clear how Ceyda is not only singing and playing bass but leading her band with accurate awareness for each individual musicians role. She tells us how "I always think about the arrangements because I'm a bass player so I'm really good at forms and styles and I can control...the performance". This is hugely beneficial when it comes to improvising during a set, explaining "I can take an idea and blow it to the audience and start juggling....I'm so in the moment, I have eight arms!" With singing, dancing, leading, live production and arranging all at the same time, Ceyda's ability to create a dynamic yet unfiied show is what makes her stand out. From an outsider's perspective, Ceyda describes this amount of onstage energy as "There comes a women, she's a bomb. [But] I don't carry her all the time otherwise I can't walk in the streets." Making us recognise the importance of preserving herself accordingly.
The confident leadership role Ceyda embodies is something we see often being discouraged in women due to misogynistic working environments. Ceyda tells us how "I'm not like other girls, I need to gather my soldiers to blast this blast". But she says how "it took a long time for me to get a crew because of the masculine energy...and men don't like women to be dominant or being a manipulator. There's this thing all around the world - it's patriarchy".
I'm not like other girls, I need to gather my soldiers to blast this blast
Recognising how growing up and living in Istanbul has been both a blessing and a curse, Ceyda is eager to travel and move around different countries to see how her music can expand. "I would love to go out, experience myself in different cultures, with different people". She tells us how she sees it as an exchange of energies, connecting with others so as to expand her potential. "I've always wanted to do a better thing for my country. I love this place but we have so many visa issues, some political issues so sometimes I feel I'm in a cage here." When it comes to Ceyda's desires to put her own stamp on traditional turkish music, she explains how performing abroad allows her to feel more confident and open in sharing her own unique style without the fear of people looking down on her contemporary style.
When discussing Ceyda's influences, she tells us about her love for RnB and jazz (particularly Dee Dee Bridgewater and Dianne Reeves) and how it led Ceyda to move against the grain regarding sound. But when asked whether she connects this to having a rebellious streak she explains how "it's tiring. I didn't plan to be rebellious, I just felt it and did it - but there were so many ups and downs. I say that I died three times so I will manage, I'm so strong but I don't want to be". When asking what would make her life easier, Ceyda tells us "that if I didn't have the passion for being on stage, that would be so much easier". When looking at the limitations Ceyda faces, the topic of sexism comes up leading us to talk about feminism.
Ceyda tells us how "I didn't learn to be a feminist however I can count myself as one. But here in Turkey, there's a belief that feminists hate men and it's usually true so we have to fix that...Because we are all masculine and feminine so if we hate them, that means we hate ourselves too." Reflecting on how to carry the many different emotions regarding gendered differences, Ceyda points out "It's hard to stay calm all the time but we have to think thoroughly". This isn't always easy, and it can take time to find fellow people and women to support and uplift us on the journey, As Ceyda shares "I was alone, I suffered so much and there was a time I struggled so much being intimate with people because I always sensed they were going to harm me." This led Ceyda to struggle with anxiety, which she says felt like "panic all the time. It got in the way - there were so many losses... It wasn't coming in attacks but always walking with me, my dark side all the time... it's sneaky, it eats with you, sleeps with you and you don't know what's going on".
However, the obstacles of daily struggle aren't stopping Ceyda from focusing on dreaming of a positive future. She tells us about her aspirations sharing how she wants to go all around the world performing, filming and expanding her skills in acting. From there, she hopes to develop even bigger stage shows before hanging up the mics and heading to the countryside;"For my retirement I want to be at the seaside in Turkey and build a village school, an institute for ecological and educational purposes, to teach there and be a friend to my people. Making music, art, doing film. I know I will sing jazz for my whole life". These big sparkly dreams are 100 percent the sassyness that we can't wait to see come true.
I love the word sassy - it has a positive vibe...it's kind of cute!
As we end our interview and walk back in the direction we met, we recognise the deep sensitivity that exists within Ceyda. Tho it may seem in contradiction to the confident performer we see on stage, the feelings Ceyda carries are something that we feel both fuel and free her art. Reminding us that to be Sassy is an ever-balanced combination of all sides of our personality, wrapped up in one wonderful body.
When do you feel most confident?
One dream you wish to come true?
Performing abroad from outside of Turkey, giving big concerts because I have theatre on my mind, cabaret.
What's the best thing about being you?
Being so free in the moments when I'm on stage.
Name your Sassy tracklist
Bugging Me - Ceyda Köybaşıoğlu, Eren Turgut
Back to Be Broken, Ceyda Köybaşıoğlu, Eren Turgut
Extension love - Ceyda Köybaşıoğlu,Eren Turgut
Zevzek - Ceyda Köybaşıoğlu
Anla Anlat - Ceyda Köybaşıoğlu
Interview by Bethany Burgoyne @bxsassy2
Portraits by Alp Esin @pimoka