Finding your voice is the essential personal quest for a musician. But what if you find your truest, most honest voice in a foreign language?
One answer is Yeni Nostalji, the Richmond band whose eclectic, eponymous debut CD was released by Ropeadope Records on May 4.
Fittingly for a band whose name translates to “new nostalgia,” the music is a magpie mélange of decades of international influences, including bossa nova, country, folk, German electronica, French, Turkish and Arabic pop. The mix is melded by appealing melodies, sophisticated arrangements, and the polished charisma of Roanoke-born singer Christina Marie [Gleixner]. All the lyrics are in Turkish.
The project started around the kitchen table at Church Hill’s Sub Rosa Bakery, with Christina Marie finding her way into the music with Turkey-born owner Evrim Doğu. “It is my first exploration into another language. I first heard it in watching some films. It almost sounded Eastern, and when sung traditionally more Arabesque.”
It was anything but an obvious choice for someone cites Leonard Cohen, Dolly Parton, and John Denver as key inspirations.
“I never thought about how much of a challenge it was going to be,” says Marie Gleixner, “or that it would get this far. People latch onto words. I cannot blame anyone who cannot connect, all my influences write in English. If there is not a big audience in America, I hope to find one in Europe.”
At once sweeping and intimate, the new CD features players from the Richmond Symphony, NoBS! Brass, and Bio Ritmo- notably the piano and string arrangements of Marlysse Simmons. It is a record that can be enjoyed either drifting across the polished surface, or diving into lovely sonic depths.
“She does not have a big vocabulary,” says Emre Katari, a native Turkish speaker and the drummer in her performing band. “But what she says with it is huge.”
For Christina Marie, the limitations are liberating. “It is so easy to mask things in English,” she says. “Turkish forces me to be straightforward, dramatic and intense.”
The songs are nakedly honest, treating love as a storm, a battle, at one moment immortal and eternal, at another slipping through fingers like water. For a non-Turkish speaker, the phonetics have the sibilant charm of Brazilian samba. The soulful, gently hook-laden melodies effortlessly bridge the gap of verbal comprehension.
The album was recorded in chunks over several years, with every session at Lance Koehler’s Minimum Wage studio. It took a while to find the right label before the genre-spanning Ropeadope enthusiastically snapped it up. People liked the sound, but the US market for pop records in Turkish is untested.
Moreover, even in Turkey, Yeni Nostalji is unique.
“Nobody plays music like this,” says Katari. “The records there are all conservative and traditional.”
Christina Marie said she once heard Katari describe it as “country music for Turkish people.” There are times when it sounds a bit like alt-country. “Başka Bir Sey Şöyleme” evokes “Fox Confessor”-era Neko Case.
However, Yeni Nostalji’s singular combination of styles and influences defies easy categorization. That is both its biggest strength and its greatest challenge as the group continues to evolve its sound while trying to reach audiences through tours, grants, and opportunities to play in international festivals.
“I know it is not for everyone,” Christina Marie admits.
Then again, what is that is worthwhile?
The album release party will be held on Friday, May 18 at Gallery 5. Doors are at 8 p.m. and the music starts at 9 p.m. $8 advance and $10 day of show. DJ OlNuBi spins until 9 p.m. and Keilan Creech opens the show with his striking, intimate ballads.