28 Jun 2020


Hadiqa Kiani is no stranger to singing in foreign languages. I met her once over a decade ago and, in the middle of our conversation, she did a little impromptu performance of a Chinese song. I knew it was Chinese because she told me, otherwise I don’t speak the language. She had mentioned how she liked to pay tribute to the country she was performing in by learning a song in their language. The gesture, I bet, did not go unnoticed.

She recently paid tribute to the Turkish TV show Ertugrul by singing a cover of an iconic Turkish pop song, Sen Ağlama [Don’t you cry]. Hadiqa had first performed the song in Turkey at the Atatürk Cultural Centre Opera House in 2005.

Sezen Aksu, the original singer of the song, is an icon in Turkey. And Sen Ağlama is the first song of her album, Sen Ağlama, which came out in 1984. Aksu had co-written the song with Aysel Gürel. The composition is by the late Turkish-Armenian composer and instrumentalist Onno Tunç. Since the song first came out, it’s been covered time and again by many Turkish artists.

Sen Ağlama has a lot of sentimental value for most Turks. The song came at a time in Turkey’s history when the country was experiencing its first taste of ‘democracy’ after a third military coup in 1980. At the time, it was very difficult and expensive to get access to foreign music tapes and there was more of a focus on trying to create and develop an authentic ‘Turkish’ pop music sound. That’s what Aksu’s music became for the country. For many, Sen Ağlama symbolised the internal anguish of a country struggling to find its own cultural identity and get back on its feet.

Hadiqa Kiani covers a famous Turk song with surprising accuracy to great acclaim from Turkish speakers

Aksu is a consummate songwriter who is credited for having written over 400 songs/lyrics/poetry. Around 197 of these works were compiled in a 2006 book called Eksik Şiir [Poems to be]. The blurb on the book reads, “These songs have claimed their place in the lives and memories of three or four consecutive generations in Turkey.”

That’s the power of music — the ability to transport you to another place or a moment in time that seemed endless and scenes from which are entrenched in your memory. For those living abroad, music provides a shortcut to a feeling of being at home. That connection to their past is what Aksu’s song Sen Ağlama provides to the Turkish people at home and abroad.

In contrast to that, it’s the journey to another land, another culture and how they communicate their deepest, most intense emotions is what Hadiqa’s cover of the song intends to do. Interestingly, she points out that her maternal ancestors are from Izmir in Turkey. She’s also an artist whose music holds similar value for people from Pakistan as Aksu’s music does for those from Turkey — different generations will identify with different songs that she has released over her 25-year-long music career. She too is one of the early voices of pop music in Pakistan.

Sen Ağlama is a dramatic ballad. The composer of the song, Onno Tunç, who was known for his ensemble style of music often merging western contemporary styles with local ethnic instruments, uses a variety of instruments in the song. The intro uses makes use of the accordion and bouzouki (a Greek long-necked lute), moving into syncopated brass chords, and the snare drum among others. Hadiqa Kiani’s version online has the translation of the lyrics to a video where scenes from Ertugrul have been stitched together.

I listened to both versions. And Kiani’s version of Sen Ağlama is surprisingly very close to the original. I confirmed with a few Turkish speaking friends — you can’t tell that a non-native speaker is singing it. That’s further evident by the reaction videos of Turkish bloggers on YouTube. They all seem to love it. It’s safe to say, Kiani’s version of Sen Ağlama is a win for Pak-Turk friendship.

Published in Dawn, ICON, June 28th, 2020