9 feb 2021

Emir Taha, the Turkish singer giving R’n’B a melting-pot make-over

Inspired by The Weeknd and Kid Cudi, this 24-year-old Turk is revisiting R’n’B in a very personal way, enriching it with his own culture and language, while propelling it towards a whole new cross-over.

His young, clear and gentle voice is similar to The Weeknd. Indeed, both Emir Taha and the Canadian superstar share this fascinating ability to treble up, metamorphosing R’n’B compositions into crystalline glass cascades. Fragile. Intense. While the production is more minimalist than that of The Weeknd, a few beats and an acoustic guitar instead of the big pop machines, it’s because he also draws influence from Kid Cudi, a legend of melodic and introspective rap. Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar and Q have also been influenced by Cudi. They’re all American. Emir Taha is Turkish. He sings about his melancholia and his flaws in both English and his native language. Yet far from being gimmicky, this duality enriches the palette of emotions, exploring the same feeling, blowing hot and cold, using different tools: Turkish harmonies, between vowels and consonants, hard and soft, positioning the breath and the singular musicality of each language. The 24 year old is clever enough to avoid picturesque effects – “traditional” instruments or caricatured vocals. The Turkish influence is subtle. “It colours my music with a Mediterranean warmth and a kind of benevolence,” the artist concedes, all while refusing to indulge in the orientalist fantasies of a West struggling to admit it’s not the only one to enter the 21st century. Others have paved the way for him. In the very heart of Europe, the Spaniard Rosalía has shown that flamenco is far from being an outdated exoticism, but a powerful source to reinvent international hip-hop. Today, she is his role model.

Emir Taha was born in the seaside resort of Antalya, an ancient port thronging with yachts and luxury hotels in the Turkey that’s open to the Mediterranean. He grew up with international music – Deep Purple, Sting, Dire Straits – and yet Emir Taha is passionate about the Turkish icon Baris Manço (twelve gold records and one platinum). In the 1960s, Manço was a member of several rock and twist bands before leaving for Belgium. He met Henri Salvador and sang in French, then returned to his country where he produced great classics in Turkish music inspired by psychedelic rock, before finally pursuing a career as a TV host. His videos can still be seen on YouTube: this tall, moustached man whose long hair evokes as much the French yé-yé movement as a Californian rocker singing in the middle of a spice market. For his second EP, Emir Taha prefers to strike a pose surrounded by oriental carpets while dressed as a young musician from London. He settled there after his studies and travelling in Canada and Los Angeles. He started a band and did some TV appearances. His covers of well-known songs caught the attention of Kenan Dogulu, a pop star who represented Turkey at the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest. “My mentor and my big brother,” says the musician. But who knows Kenan Dogulu outside his country? Emir Taha is aiming for the international scene. His cover of Kanye West’s Ultralight Beam gave him his first world success. And his EP Hoppa pt. 1 was lauded by critics in 2020, to the point of integrating the highly sought-after Spotify Friday playlist. The second opus, Hoppa pt. 2, is set for release in March. 



Hoppa pt. 2 (Hoppa Records) by Emir Taha, released on March 26h.