Göksenin – Women’s Blues
Self-Release – 2020
9 tracks; 29:31 minutes
It’s not surprising to see a blues album coming out of someplace other than the United States. There are thriving blues scenes all over the world, so an artist’s country of birth is no longer a musical plot twist. Instead, the fun of singer/guitarist Göksenin’s Women’s Blues is in how she mixes her Turkish roots into a few of the album’s tracks, creating a personal sound that’s a clever twist on the blues.
Göksenin’s journey to the blues wasn’t straight-forward. Born in Istanbul, Turkey, she quit her job over a decade ago to focus on music, releasing two rock albums, in addition to commercial work, and even some children’s theater. She eventually pivoted to blues, developing a live show around blues women, like Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, designed to introduce these artists to a non-American audience. She started with covers, adding in some of her own songs, with the live show culminating in Women’s Blues.
Göksenin has a smoky voice, jazzy as it is bluesy. She uses it on a mix of originals and covers that range from straight-ahead blues funk, to the aforementioned combinations of Turkish melodies and lyrics inserted into blues structures. These blues/Turkish mash-ups are the album’s strongest moments, with Göksenin unearthing new ground that allows her to internalize the blues, rather than interpret it from a distance, both geographic and emotional.
The best example of this is “Take Me Out,” an original co-written with Gürkan Özbek, who plays resonator guitar on the track. The song is Göksenin accompanied by Özbek’s guitar. Özbek shifts between blues, classical, and Middle Eastern, and Göksenin is right there with the guitar, tapping into the sadness of the blues, her voice displaying a bluesy grittiness, but also sounding like herself. The track is blues influenced, but also finds a new, unique perspective.
Göksenin continues the Turkish blues work on “Çayda Çıra,” a traditional Turkish folk song reworked as a blues. The song begins with Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” riff before settling into a 10/8 time signature that gives the song a shimmy, as Göksenin sings in Turkish. The rest of the song is traditional blues rock, but between the Turkish language and the non-bluesy beat, the song feels new, like a fight between two genres. And the battle gives the song a tension that’s riveting. “Hala Vazgeçmedim,” Turkish for “Haven’t Given Up, Yet” is a more familiar blues, sung in Turkish, but also one of the album’s looser tracks, with Göksenin and her band sounding like they’re cutting loose, less interested in controlling the tune, and more open to letting it unfurl a bit more raggedly than any of the album’s other tracks.
Göksenin initially came to the blues as a proselytizer, trying to teach her compatriots about American artists who weren’t well-known in Turkey (and to be fair, they’re not nearly well-known enough here in the United States). Somewhere along the way, she began to integrate her own experiences, sounds, and time signatures into the music, creating something new, and those fresh moments are the album’s strongest, Göksenin singing her own blues. Turkish blues might not be its own subgenre, but it’s one we should consider adding.