The earthquakes that shook Turkey and Syria on Feb. 6 were among the most powerful those nations have ever seen, resulting in catastrophic destruction and loss of life. More than 50,000 deaths have been confirmed, and the economic toll could exceed $100 billion. For Christina Marie Gleixner, founder of the Richmond-based, Turkish-language band Yeni Nostalji, the weeks following were characterized by shock, sadness and a desire to help.
“As I was digesting what had happened,” she says, “I knew that we would want to do something … I know that I can at least put together a bill of music and hopefully people will come out and enjoy it and contribute to the cause.”
The resulting bill will play at Gallery5 on Friday, March 17, featuring Yeni Nostalji, members of Miramar, the Chris Whiteman Trio, and Classical Revolution RVA. “Gallery5 [is] such an amazing staple in the music community here,” Gleixner says. “Also they’re so generous in that they’re not taking anything from that night. One hundred percent of all of the proceeds are going to be donated.”
Funds will be split between AHBAP, a non-governmental organization founded by Turkish musician and philanthropist Haluk Levent, and the Syrian American Medical Society, which is funding the delivery of medical supplies and the repair of damaged hospitals. With the show, Gleixner will be paying forward the inspiration she received upon first visiting Turkey at the age of 25, becoming enamored with the kindness and openness she found during repeated return trips, and eventually learning to speak, write and sing in the language.
Gleixner, an American of Lebanese and European descent, describes finding a “second home” in Turkey during those years. While staying in a family village on a hazelnut orchard in the Black Sea area, she developed a love for the pop that rode the region’s radio waves between the 1960s and 1980s. “It keeps me connected to people and a place that I can’t be,” she says of her group, whose name translates to “new nostalgia.” “It’s a way for me to still be connected to relationships and experiences, and really a place and a group of people who defined my mid-20s and late-20s in a way that completely changed my life.”
In the mid-2010s, she struck up a collaboration with guitarist and Sub Rosa bakery founder Evrim Doğu, whom Gleixner describes as “the only Turkish friend I had at the time.” She soon learned that Doğu’s father played bass on some of the very tracks she reveres. “His dad is actually featured on a lot of these vintage records playing bass guitar in Turkey,” she says, “and he lives here in Richmond now … We listened to him on one of my favorite songs on a record.”
Evrim has a pair of primary songwriting credits on Yeni Nostalji’s 2018 self-titled LP. Another handful of the album’s songs were co-written by Gleixner and Moldovan-born guitarist Vlad Cuiujuclu, who contributed to the band’s early development before moving to New York. These days, however, you’re likely to see the group perform as a daringly minimalistic duo. It’s often just Gleixner's vocals alongside the double-bass work of Ayça Kartari, who was born in Bilecik, Turkey, and whose husband Emre Kartari, a jazz drummer by training, occasionally contributes percussion in a trio format.
The Yeni Nostalji you hear on record offers varied and layered instrumentation, but the COVID-19 pandemic gave Gleixner occasion to revel in the freedom simplicity affords. “It was hard to get together as a full band,” Gleixner says. “Ayça and I started rehearsing as a duo, just to rehearse. We felt a connection happen during those rehearsals where this purity of the songs started revealing itself, and our level of intimate communication between two musicians was really hyper-focused.”
That focus extends to the crowd, given the way the format naturally invites leaning in and savoring each melodic and harmonic cue. Christina and Ayça have played to especially rapt audiences in the listening room environment, from the Four Folia Music Series at Emmanuel Episcopal Church to the Sefton Listening Room shows hosted by the proprietors of Sefton Coffee Co. Gleixner rarely launches into explanation or translation of her songs’ lyrics, intentionally making space for listeners’ intuition and imagination to actively participate.
“It’s not really meant to be background music,” she confirms. “We kind of have to play to a quiet audience if those subtleties are going to be picked up on, which is fine with me — which means we may not play as often. I’d rather it be more substance than playing more often to louder rooms.”
The same might have been said of the Low Branches, the ethereal indie group Gleixner fronted in the years leading up to Yeni Nostalji’s formation. She began writing songs while studying art at Virginia Commonwealth University, from which she graduated in 2010. While an appreciation for sonic spaciousness carried forward from her earlier music, writing in Turkish presented a welcome opportunity to cast aside many other established songwriting instincts. “It completely changes the way you think about a song structure, about what you’re even going to say,” Gleixner says of writing outside her first language. “And frankly, at the time, I really needed a challenge.”
Gleixner is currently eyeing her next songwriting challenge: compositions that reflect her group’s newfound sparseness. “I’m super excited to start writing with Ayça,” she says. “One of our goals is to do an album that is just super-minimal with voice, bass and possibly percussion … I like the challenge of it, because it’s always going to be something that I have to do work for to achieve a product. That’s all music, but I like the way it makes me use my brain, and the way I have to think.”
Ayça Kartari also performs with Classical Revolution RVA, which will perform a string sonata for two violins, cello and bass at the benefit show. Ayça’s husband Emre, whose curriculum vitae includes adjunct teaching at VCU, James Madison University and Longwood University and the establishment of Turkey's first college-credited, state-supported jazz program, will play as part of the Chris Whiteman Trio. Add in the sounds of Miramar, whose membership is also represented on Yeni Nostalji’s eponymous LP, and you have an all-star assemblage of globally minded musicians who are determined to lend a hand where it’s needed most. It’s a community-within-a-community Gleixner knows well.
“I think it’s been really inspiring to collaborate with a lot of these folks,” she says. “It’s important that we do have that community, because we get each other and we can help support each other.”
Yeni Nostalji will perform with the Chris Whiteman Trio, Classical Revolution RVA and members of Miramar at Gallery5 on Friday, March 17. Doors open at 7 p.m. and music starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance ($15 at the door) and can be purchased at gallery5arts.org. 100% of proceeds will benefit earthquake relief efforts in Turkey and Syria organized by AHBAP (ahbap.org) and the Syrian American Medical Society (sams-usa.net).