Ayhan Sicimoğlu

SPOT: We had a frank and fun discussion with Ayhan Sicimoğlu about his new projects ranging from art and music to food. Omara Portuondo’s voice was playing in the background.

How did your passion for music  begin?
I’ve had a passion for music for as long as I can remember. My love of music took shape in my childhood when my big sister used to listen to singers like Paul Anka. I was 7 or 8 years old and I could sing those songs by heart. We had an American-made stereo system at home. I used to sit in front of it all day long. In those days you could buy American radios, record players and stereo sets from the American soldiers that came to Adana. I never went outside and played ball like other kids. But in high school I had to play on the basketball team because I was so tall. I’ve never cared for football. As a Turk I’m lacking in that area...

What’s it like living a life of music?
Living with music means that your brain is very full. Hundreds, thousands of melodies flit through my brain. I’m making an album at the moment. I can’t explain it, but I don’t get to bed until four in the morning.  Music is something that makes you laugh, makes you cry - I cry a lot over music - makes you active, made you do sports, go for walks, drive a car, eat, give interviews! Whatever it is that makes a person’s heart beat, that makes him want to live, whatever those conditions are, music is like that.

Was it difficult to get Turkish people interested in Latin music?
Latin music actually encompasses the cultures of North Africa, the Muslim countries and Andalusia. The Turks had not discovered that yet. Later, when they heard the music, they really liked it. In fact, they loved it without knowing why. They felt a closeness to that music, because it was in their blood. So it wasn’t difficult at all. It was something that came from their own roots. All I did was play and show what they’d like and what they wouldn’t like. I became the guy who brought out that love, something that already existed.

You once said in an interview: “A few of my friends have suggested that I write a book. You have to start from somewhere, but it isn’t all that easy to draw people into your dreams through writing.” Do you believe that you draw people into your dreams through music?

Whatever I do, I do it with passion. Let me give you an example from a television program: I was at the Selimiye Mosque and I put my arms around a wooden wall there and kissed it. I couldn’t help myself. I didn’t plan it in advance. ‘How did you do that?’ I asked myself. ‘Look at that color…’ I said, and I put my arms around the tree and started kissing it. Think of it. I’m standing inside a mosque and kissing the wall. At first glance I’d be branded a mad man. I do everything I feel like doing. The dreams and urges inside me make me do those things. I never say to myself, “You can’t put your arms around a wall and kiss it. What will people say?” It’s the same with music. Whatever I like, whatever can convey my spirit, I’m up for it.

What was it like living in the U.S. for so many years?
For me it was an advantage in the sense that we went to the U.S. when my daughter was three. I think she was six when she went to a Matisse exhibition with her school. She went crazy over Matisse and went back to that exhibition twice more, once with me and once with her mother. After that exhibition she started painting. We were amazed and couldn’t believe it. Neither could her teachers. They even asked us if we had done the paintings! One year my daughter held a painting exhibition at school. How did that happen? Well, it all started with a child going to a Matisse exhibition at the age of six. Not long ago Ayşe and I went to the opera in Vienna. In the audience there were two little girls about six or eight years old. I thought they would get bored in half an hour, but they never made a peep. They just sat and listened to the opera for three hours without budging.

As a percussionist who has traveled a lot and made music in different parts of the world, where would you say the best music is made?
I always take a look around when I go to a concert hall. If there is some electricity, some chemistry, I feel it right away. But sometimes I go to the most beautiful concert halls and I don’t feel any electricity. They say I should play at Adnan Saygun in Izmir. But I prefer the İsmet İnönü Hall. Everything there is simpler, rounder, I like the shape. They say İsmet İnönü Hall is old but it doesn’t matter. Its spirit gives me energy. I make music anywhere I can feel chemistry and electricity.

Is your interest in good food a family tradition?
There are genetic factors involved of course. My mother was a good cook. No man whose mother is not a good cook will ever appreciate food because he has not trained his palate from childhood. I look around me, for example, and see that the son of a very well-to-do family has absolutely no interest in food. He has no idea what’s good and what isn’t. He’ll say something is good when it’s actually very bad. Later I realize that his mother doesn’t know anything about food. This is something acquired in childhood. My sister, for example, never learned how to cook. She’s in her fifties now and she’s started making fabulous food. She had it in her without knowing it.

What are your favorite foods?
My favorites are spinach with ‘sucuk’ (garlickyTurkish sausage), ‘su böreği’ (savory pastry with cheese and parsley filling), lamb shank stew with chickpeas served on buttered pilaff, and Kayseri ‘aşure’ (Noah’s pudding).

What kind of music do you listen to when you want to relax?
I listened to Cuban boleros… And I’m addicted to Stevie Wonder’s romantic songs.

What can you tell us about your future projects?
I’m making a really cool CD. It should be finished by the end of summer. I also have a book project. It’s going to be called ‘100 Adventures, 100 Foods’. The title could change of course depending on how many adventures there will be. I also want to write a book of short stories. I think I write well. I used to write in English and translate it into Turkish; now I am able to write in Turkish. But it’s too early for me to give a publication date at the moment because this is a project that will come about in the future.

Living with music means that your brain is very full. Hundreds, thousands of melodies flit through my brain.

My mother was a good cook.

No man whose mother is not a good cook will ever appreciate food.

Music is something that makes you laugh, makes you cry - I cry a lot over music - makes you active, made you do sports, go for walks, drive a car, eat, give interviews!I make music anywhere I can feel chemistry and electricity.