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Sunday, September 14, 2014

My Work [3]

Read part one here | Read part two here

A song doesn't always ascribe to the time of its gestation, but to your own. It's only when we attach some moment or circumstance to a track that we suddenly seem to get it. It becomes special to us, the lyrics provide new meaning. That's why some songs become timeless classics: they hit every new generation in their own way.

With Tarkan - although his songs sometimes take time to work on you anyway - the pop maestro's charting hits have been in sync for the most part with the personal experiences I've attached to his songs. Possibly because I grew up listening to him, A-acayipsin and Ölürüm Sana will always signify personally what they mean musically - a time of the greatest highs and lows, of youth, vibrancy, sex, love, passion: a horny young man willing to do all to get the girl, part I and part II. If you were there from the start, you listen to it thinking, those were the days.

That being said, Karma will always be my favourite record - his magnum opus in a way for me - of that blood-boiling love maturing into a calmer more spiritual version of retrospection and realisation, but never regretful of the love that has crossed its path. It's such a hopeful album, so sad and yet so seeped in hope, it gives you the same. It came at the perfect moment during a rough time in my life, and it was then I discovered that timeless music heals. You listen to it, and it makes your day.

Metamorfoz was the tougher twin of that album, a product of its times conceptually and musically - a six-year metamorphosis of the spiritual back to the physical, but with none of the naivete of youth. Here Tarkan was showing us his lyrical prowess, flexing his muscles on issues that mattered to him. It was a sudden spurt of growth, a call to man-up, talk tough, and walk tall despite the many pieces life breaks us down into - to have the strength to pick them up and move on.

<< Read more about The Metamorphosis of Tarkan

Tarkan was not completely metamorphosed out of recognition, however. Underneath the buttoned up macho exterior and the tough sounds of those manly vocals there still lay the heart of a lover. Still tempered with the spiritual wisdom prevalent in Karma, which packaged the same messages with whispers rather than shouts, and a slight touch of the sexiness and sass of his nineties nonchalance underlying it all.

In fact, his 2014 effort for İskender Paydaş' celebrity compilation album, "Hop De" harks back to that time of metamorphosis vocally, musically and lyrically. With the edgy vocal execution reminiscent of his Metamorfoz era, it sounds like a song that wouldn't feel out of place in its playlist, but which didn't quite make the cut conceptually.

Listening to Paydaş' arrangements it also makes me think that he might have understood the concept behind the husky growl of Metamorfoz far better than Ozan Çolakoğlu's finely tuned power pop sensibilities. No matter that Ozinga was playing slightly too far outside his popular field, though, they still managed to produce one of the best albums of 2007 in its domestic market.

And whereas lyrically if we were to say that the early nineties were culturally a period of Westernisation, and Karma pointed to the poetics of the east, then the lyrics of Metamorfoz echo how it's completely a (two-man) Turkish effort. This relatively abrupt change seems at odds with the music that frames the words, so purposefully is most of it stripped of ethnocentric motifs, added only as salad dressing to a veritable American feast of sounds and arrangements. Nevertheless, when Tarkan talks tough, he talks Turkish.

<< Other Tarkan articles >>

This is the lyrical style of language presented in his 2014 track with Paydaş, with a few lines updated here and there hanging over from his nineties cheek. Ölürüm Sana's older brother come to have a go, if you like. And as with Metamorfoz, you may think that such "Turkified" lyrics, locked too tightly in their own cultural barriers, filled with repetitively pronounced agglutination and idiomatic brevity - and which Tarkan has chopped and changed at will to suit the mood - would be an English translator's nightmare.

Although generally I guess this is true, the Metamorfoz lyrics were a personal favourite to translate, and the problem I usually face is choosing the different alternatives I have in mind. In this line of work, I've said before that translating is really all about choices.

Choosing words is a tricky business. One slip and you fall into absurdity. But how does one accurately reflect what is being sung without resorting too much to artistic licence of one's own to stop the translation from turning into gibberish? How does one stay true to the spirit of the song? For me, finding answers to these challenging questions actually makes the work more enjoyable.

Let's take an example: the 2013 Ozinga production "Ara Sıcak" featuring Ajda Pekkan and written by Gülşen. I know what the title means, and it isn't literally used to mean "hot interval" (although there is a clue in there). It's a dining term for the starter course of a three course meal, or appetizer.

Now, let's put it in context. It comes from the line: intikam soğuk bazen ara sıcaktır. What Gülşen has done here is to take the well known proverb "revenge is a dish best served cold" (the same proverb or saying can be found in a number of languages) and add her own slant: revenge is cold, sometimes an appetizer. But I wouldn't use the word "starter" or "appetizer" here. I would use a different word: "warm-up" or "warmer-upper". My choice is based on imagery: revenge is cold, sometimes a warm-up not only works with the cold-warm imagery, but also echoes the underlying context of the song, which is about a woman warning her man about the dangers of leaving her unloved. She's warming herself up for revenge. Warm-up, or warmer-upper, also means a starter.

You may not agree with my choice of terminology, but that's absolutely fine, tastes differ. (This song doesn't speak to my tastes, for instance). The issue is that the translation is valid. Does this mean you need to be well versed in proverbs, restaurant lingo and lyrical precedence and references in popular culture to circumvent gibberish in your translations? I can't say. I don't always analyse too much where my answers come from, or what attributes you need to translate, but I think enjoying the work helps. Or at the very least thinking about which words you are choosing to reflect the line (and more importantly the song) in question.

When it comes to translating Paydaş' production featuring Tarkan, therefore, it's best not to see the lyrics as disconnected lines of words, which you just need to find the English equivalents and stick together. Google Translate can do that. It needs to be translated within its own context, and the larger picture of Tarkan's albums as a whole.

Realising this song has echoes from the Metamorfoz batch means it will have its own share of idioms and proverbs, and its tough talk, to emulate into English while simultaneously keeping to the spirit of Tarkan's style with its onomatopoeic repeats and beats. But it's also had some sauce added, and the language used has to reflect that sexiness, slight S&M feel about it.

But there is the danger that you get so carried away with the translating you might want to add your own voice, and people don't want to hear you, they want to hear Tarkan. That is how it should be, because the purpose of the translation is to act as a vehicle to carry the song (and Tarkan's interpretation) to the audience, not to carry you to the audience. Thus the choices you make in the words you use need to reflect that. If your only justification in the words or phrases you use is that it sounds good to you - but it isn't what Tarkan wrote - then you need a rethink, because you've defeated the purpose of the thing.

If you're a Tarkan fan - even if you're reading his lyrics in (my understanding of) English - you should be able to say: Yeah, this is a Tarkan song. And for those that are thinking: Isn't this all a bit too much work for a simple translation? - again tastes differ. If I am going to expend effort on work that's going to carry my name, I want it to be the best I can do. Besides Tarkan works hard on his output, it would be disrespectful to treat his lyrics with any less effort.

It's for this reason that I applaud all those Tarkan fans who translate Tarkan's songs in English - especially when they come across such a challenging song lyrically. It's partly because of their inspiring efforts that I have written the "My Work" series across the years, to show how I work when I translate and thus attempt to give them a fresh perspective on their own work. My time is very limited, and the more people translating Tarkan's songs the better.

Notwithstanding the limited availability of my free time, this time I also wanted to do something different and share my translation in video format in place of text (having had success with it before). However, as I needed to use an audio version of the song, I wanted to allow for a period where people, who wished to do so, bought the track.

Another difference for this track is that I have left in alternative word choices rather than sticking with one uniform choice for a repeated verse in its translation. I did this for two reasons. Firstly, because it highlights the subject of alternatives I've been discussing, and secondly it works with the spirit of the song, as Tarkan has written it with alternate verses, playing with meaning and sound.

So, on to my translation. For those interested, I provide note cards on some of my selections below the video, in case you're wondering why I chose as I did and to see my workings out.

Remember, what validates the justification, above all else, is for its aim to be the same as the song it attempts to translate. To reach the heart. In its own good time.

"Hop De" (Say Whoa) by Tarkan

Warning: Repeated viewing might be essential if you're not a quick reader.
How to pronounce whoa | Note Cards: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

2014 Copyright Notice. All rights reserved. This video cannot be used in any way without the permission of the relevant copyright owners. Please click here for further info.

Watch more: Subtitled Tarkan videos 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 >>
Re-synced Tarkan music videos 1 | 2 | 3 >>

Hop De Original Credits:
Recording Artist: Tarkan (from İskender Paydaş's 2014 album Zamansız Şarkılar II)
Lyrics & Music by Tarkan

Production Credits:
Production and Editing by Tarkan DeLuxe
Titles and Effects by WMM
Video Stills from the "Hop De" MV (netd)
English Translation: Ali Yildirim

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