Saadet Türköz

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family, globalisation, homeland, identity, oral tradition
Music (avantgarde, ethnic, folk, improvisation)
Europe, Western, Middle East, Asia, Southern and Central
Switzerland, Turkey, Kazakhstan
created on:
September 14, 2006
last changed on:
Please note: This page has not been updated since September 20, 2006. We decided to keep it online because we think the information is still valuable.
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Saadet Türköz


Free Jazz in Kazakhstan

Her music combines the best of many worlds. The vocalist Saadet Türköz sings original songs from the highlands of Central Asia, but in her very own way, influenced by modern music from the West. Although these tunes are quite old, the way Saadet sings makes them sound innovative and fresh. Her secret is a quite vague thing: improvisation. When Saadet performs, no rules apply. The idea of traditional compositions requiring a rigid corset of constraints is put aside by her refreshing approach of singing the way she understands the music.
Of course, improvisation is a very personal matter and requires a lot of courage. However, in Saadet Türköz’s life things have never really been fixed. More than forty years ago, she was born in Istanbul, a place which is strongly affected by a clash of eastern and western culture, as it is located at the geographical borderline between Europe and Asia. Her parents were Kazakh refugees coming from East Turkistan, a region in Central Asia. They had to flee from the pressure put on them by the Chinese government in order to incorporate their homeland into the People’s Republic of China. After quite an odyssey with stays in India and Pakistan, they finally settled down at the Bosporus strait.

As a child, Saadet wants to become a hodscha, a Koran teacher. She is fascinated by the sound of the Arabic language and the melodic texts of the Koran. As she is not so good at memorising texts, she is constantly improvising, ‘without paying attention to sense and correctness’, as she says later. When she grows older, this idea is no longer relevant to her, but her passion for experimentation stays. Living within the Kazakh community in Istanbul has a strong impact on her, the stories of the elderly people, the oral traditions and, of course, the music from the highlands captivate her more and more. There is a sense of belonging inside these things; they are a part of her identity.

Her musical career though, starts much later and in a totally different part of the world. At the age of 20, Saadet leaves her family in Istanbul and follows her sister to Switzerland, where she is still living today - currently in Zurich. After some jobs as a free journalist and translator, music develops into an actual professional perspective. An unprepared and improvised performance at a wedding of friends of hers proves to be a crucial experience. It is a great success and people demand encores. The party guests call her the ‘Kazakh opera singer’ and from then on, she gradually finds her way into the business and eventually records her first CD ‘Kara toprak’ in 1994.

During the next years, Saadet starts to experiment even more as she discovers her love for free jazz. Through co-operations with jazz musicians from all over the world, she creates stunning musical results. It is a stimulating mixture of east and west, old and modern, folk and jazz. Both parts nicely complement one another, on the one hand Saadet’s crystalline voice with an impressive vocal range, on the other hand virtuously improvised jazz, partly supplemented by electronic effects. Of course, these musical encounters sometimes also mean confrontation, when they turn out being a clash of traditions, a quarrel of contradictions. ‘I seek to evoke pictures and atmosphere by means of voice and music which transcend cultural boundaries’, Saadet says and she really does. For her second CD “Marmara Sea’ (1999), she records these original musical experiments in duets.

Today, the Turkish singer engages once more with the roots of her culture. For the production of ‘Urumchi’ (2006), her third CD, she travels to Kazakhstan, the home of her parents. She sings love songs and lullabies, dirges and folk songs, partly extended through improvisations, but also own lyrics made out of improvisations. Her singing is accompanied by Kazakh musicians, playing primarily traditional instruments such as the Dombra (lute) or the Kilkobuz (string instrument). After a long musical development and collaborations with musicians from all over the world, Saadet Türköz again turns to the musical traditions of her homeland, carefully enriching it with her experience.
Author: Stefan Mühlenhoff


In 1961, Saadet Türköz was born in Istanbul. As her parents were refugees from Kazakhstan, so was growing up within the Kazakh community in Istanbul and learned about their traditions and culture. At the age of 20, Saadet followed her sister to Switzerland, where she eventually started to sing Kazakh songs in her very own way. Today she is living in Zurich. She regularly gives solo concerts, but she also performs in duos, trios and bigger formations with free improvising jazz musicians. Up to now, she has published three solo albums and featured on countless other recordings. Besides, Saadet Türköz has also contributed to many theatre and video projects.



Published Audio,
Traditional Kazakh songs. Published by Intakt Records, Zurich, Switzerland.

Marmara Sea

Published Audio,
with Elliott Sharp, guitar, Joelle Leandre, bass, Burhan Oecal, Ud, Saz, Martin Schuetz, electric five-string cello, Intakt Records, Zuerich, Switzerland

Kara toprak

Published Audio,
Oriental Ways from Turkestan to Istanbul, Tradition-Improvisation-Voice, produced by Amori, Lausanne, Switzerland.


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the partner institutions.

2nd Festival of World Cultures

"Window onto the World"

(07 September 06 - 10 September 06)


Saadet Türköz´s official webpage