Rising: Emir Taha is speaking to the soul
Emir Taha is happy to be home.
Home, for the 25-year-old artist, is Antalya, Turkey. Taha has spent the last few years in Brixton, south London, unable to visit due to a combination of visa issues and travel restrictions. Now, he’s finally enjoying a summer of family catch-ups, beach trips and recreation. Last week, he accompanied his girlfriend to the nail salon and came out with a set of his own. “I love them!” he beams over Zoom, wiggling his fingers into the webcam to show off four blue flames and an evil eye on one hand, and gothic lettering spelling out ‘hoppa’ – a Turkish word used when someone tells you good news – on the other. In a bucket hat, big tee and gold chain, he’s dressed like the sort of heartbreaker you’d see vaping around Market Row on a weekend. Behind him, a wall of vertical blinds are tilted shut to block out the midday sun. A similar cultural juxtaposition defines his music, in which the signifiers of East and West crumble into a soulful melting pot.
Singing in both Turkish and English, Taha blends alternative R&B and pop experimentalism with the traditional folk music he grew up surrounded by. Anatolian grooves, drum patterns and melodies link arms with aching hooks and woozy beats, creating a distinct sound that’s already minted him a number one hit at home (the sultry B.S.G with Turkish trap artist BEGE) and a rising profile everywhere else. From nocturnal slow jams about getting “too faded” and “rinsing” pay checks (Kendine Gel) to his dreamy new single Lades, Taha shifts seamlessly between styles and languages, exploring everything from heartbreak (Baka Baka) to fading faith (Bad Reception) in a way that speaks to the soul even if you can’t follow all the lyrics.
The response has been huge. Taha has already surpassed 50 million streams on Spotify with his debut EPs Hoppa (pt. 1) and Hoppa (pt. 2), signed to Polydor, and counts D.C. rapper Wale and producer Benny Blanco among his fans. But it wasn’t until he played live in London for the first time in May that he actually felt his impact. In videos of the set online, he’s perched on stage with a guitar and you can barely hear his voice over the crowd – some of whom travelled from across Europe to be there.
While he couldn’t travel, the desire to connect with his heritage was especially strong. He found himself diving back into Turkish folk songs that rose to popularity in the 60s and 70s, when large numbers of nationals migrated to western Europe for work. He performed a stripped-back cover of Özdemir Erdoğan’s 1972 psych-pop hit Gurbet (a word that vaguely translates to homesickness) last summer, while cultural references have become even more prominent in his visuals. Recent single artwork sees him kicking in a giant mezze platter – a nod to the “different flavours” he’s bringing with his sound – while the intimate video for Lades features Taha plucking a classical guitar while a zenne (contemporary male belly dancer) twists elegantly in the foreground.
“It’s important for me to stay true to myself,” Taha says of his determination to put his culture on the map. “Turkish is a really poetic language and there are some things you can’t say in English. I like taking elements [of Turkish culture] that are perhaps old and dusty, and translating them into different forms.”
Alongside the rise of similarly fusion-minded groups like Şatellites and Altin Gün, Taha hopes to tear down the barriers that have historically made it so hard for Turkish artists to break into the international market. “In a lot of people’s heads, the answer is to be more like the US or Europe. But as long as things feel authentic they don’t need to be polished,” he adds with determination. “We’re [a people] coming up together and need to have each other’s backs.”
Lades is out now via Polydor Records