By Matze Kasper
Independent Turkey sat down with rap trio Tahribad-ı İsyan on an İstiklal side street to discuss Turkish hip-hop, gentrification and the importance of making your voice heard.
Formed in 2008 by former classmates Slang (Asil Koç) and Zen-G (Burak Kaçar) in Istanbul’s historic Sulukule district, before being joined by third member VZ (Veysi Özdemir) in 2009, rap group Tahribad-ı İsyan has given a voice to those whose communities are being destroyed by the city’s relentless gentrification.
Since coming to mainstream attention with their breakthrough song ‘Ghetto Machines’ in 2012, the group has built a following both at home and abroad with their powerful message and community activism – including organizing hip-hop workshops throughout the country.
Their collaboration with Fuat Ergin in Halil Altındere’s video ‘Wonderland’ was showcased at the 13th Istanbul Biennale, where they impressed singer-songwriter and producer Kenan Doğulu, who began working with the trio and with whom the group released their eponymous first album, Tahribad-ı İsyan, in March 2017.
In your most recent single and video, ‘Suç Mu?’, one of your lines is “Sulukule is the gun, we are its bullet.” What exactly are you expressing with that statement?
Slang: Sulukule was the beginning point of gentrification in Turkey. The state came to demolish our houses and there was a rebellion, but only the people who lived there witnessed it. We had already begun making rap back then, but at some point, we began telling the story of the neighbourhood because we could represent it and become those people’s voice. Our stories became intertwined.
Zen-G: During that time, we also began realizing that rap could inform people about what was going on. We thought ‘if we aren’t going to tell these stories then what are we going to rap about?’
How has Sulukule been affected by gentrification?
Slang: Most people in Sulukule aren’t well educated. When the government came, they took advantage of these people’s lack of knowledge and evicted them from their homes. No-one thinks about what happens to these people. That’s the problem we have with gentrification. If they want to restore the area, go ahead, there are so many crumbling buildings but do it well and for those people. Unfortunately, if you are a Roma or a Kurd here there is a mentality in the system that dissociates you. They don’t think you have a right to live. They don’t like your culture.
Zen-G: They see you as different.
Slang: Actually, that’s the awareness we are trying to awaken in our people. You can be Roma, you can be Kurdish, but at the end of the day you’re a human, man! You shouldn’t be put in a category; you can do anything. It’s important to us that Roma children see us doing things and feel like they can do something too.
Did being openly political make your road more difficult?
Slang: Simply making rap means you are a part of the opposition. I don’t think our bad language or taking a stance was a disadvantage because we weren’t gaining anything anyway.
Zen-G: We talk about real, true things. Even our more ‘fun’ tracks talk about these things. These are real experiences, but they are somewhat difficult topics. To some, this appears like a protest of some sorts but we are simply explaining these things as they are in reality.
As artists, do you feel constrained by the political situation?
Zen-G: Of course. You can’t perform, you can’t get a venue. Or you plan a concert and then you think, ‘will a bomb explode tomorrow?’ How can you go up and perform? How can you stand there and smile on stage?
VZ: You have no energy to get on stage. When something happens in the middle of Istanbul, even if the sky is blue and the sun is shining, for you it’s black.
How is rap viewed in Turkey?
Zen-G: Ceza [arguably Turkey’s most famous rapper] came out young, everyone else came out young. In Turkey, people don’t really listen to kids, they think that the words you say have no value.
Slang: People see it on television and think that we are just about sex, guns, and drugs. There needs to be an industry, there needs to be concerts. Today we come from Sulukule, so tomorrow someone should come out of Izmir, and the next from Diyarbakir. Now, there’s a concert and it’s in a wedding hall. It’s a joke! Some 20-year-old gets all the underground rappers together, organizes it, and pockets 2000 lira. Do you think a guy who is 30 years old wants to take his girlfriend to a party at a wedding hall?
Zen-G: The most alcoholic drink is cola light.
Slang: I mean, that’s not even the biggest problem but at least build a stage!
You started working with Kenan Dogulu about 3 or 4 years ago. Most recently you’ve been on O Ses Türkiye, and appeared at a Teoman concert. Now you have an album out. Do you have the feeling you’re gaining a broader fan base?
Slang: I like to think that many of those who listen to us do so without making it clear, because we have a specific political stance, perhaps if their family knows they are listening to Tahribad-ı İsyan they might get some flak. So I wouldn’t say we had an extraordinary jump in fans
Zen-G: But I think people like that we are saying things they can’t say, so the people who agree with us make up most of our fans. For example, you can feel that there are some musicians who are very famous but they can’t say what they think because they’re too big. They want to say the same thing as we do, but we can say it and they can’t. I’m proud of that
You’ve collaborated with Fuat Ergin, been portrayed in international documentaries, and performed in various European cities. Do you have more international plans in the future?
Zen-G: Of course. And it good to work with subtitles because that way people in other countries can understand what we are talking about. It’s important to open this to the outside because I believe we are making music that has meaning. We were able to go to the art space in Berlin, or go on stage in France, and this is great for us because we are seeing new places and meeting new people.
Slang: But first we need to make a change at home before we go and start representing things abroad.