Author: David Bola
Illustration Credit: Gizem Winter
After a career of curating music and arts festival in Poland, Kornelia Binicewicz created the Ladies On Records project, a platform which combines two facets of her work, music selection with anthropological and social research.
Through his various projects, Intimacy of Longing, Drop Of Luck… Binicewicz examines tracks made of stories pressed on vinyl, packed in cassettes, stories lived, above all. We sat down with her for an exchange about her project.
In 2015 you moved to Istanbul, in order to get closer to records you were interested in. Would you say that “Ladies on Records” started at that time?
Ladies on Records as an entity was something that I decided to create for a long time. I moved to Istanbul in 2015, but I was collecting records and working with music earlier than that. I was curating festivals, so I was already doing some kind of stuff. 2015 was the moment I decided to focus on a project.
I didn’t know exactly which direction I wanted to go in. I knew that I wanted to explore music and talk about important issues through it. I knew that I wanted to release music. I knew that I wanted to communicate with people, to create collaborative situations. Through time, the project became a sort of label, a kind of curatorial entity. And this is how it is right now. I’m a curator that delivers music with a new understanding of music from a social perspective.
You have a background in anthropology, something that appears throughout your curating work. How do your projects link social elements and music?
Music is a kind of a mirror of reality. Whatever tune you hear, whatever album you listen to, there’s a human behind. And there’s always a story. These people and these stories are completely implemented in the reality we live in. So this means that if we touch music, we touch a very soft tissue of reality, a representation of the situation people live in reality.
I take music as the way of telling, sometimes fixing, something. It can be the way to see a different perspective of things. I use music as a soft tool. Sometimes it’s difficult to talk about some issues. However if you deliver it through music for example, the perception changes, it’s softened and people can approach it easily.
A good example of that is the Polish Women Revolution Tapes project. It was designed as a collaborative project of producers, DJs & people who love music, who were concerned by the issue of the abortion law of 2020 in Poland. This project was a way to direct the attention of people towards this issue.
When you hear the music and you see the people unite, you want to be involved too.
The mixtapes were amplified with texts from women working in the music industry who gave statements about the situation. We didn’t fix the reality, but we were able to pinpoint this dangerous moment in time and bring attention to it. Polish Women Revolution Tapes also helped create a community to unite around this delicate issue.
It also happened at a time where it was difficult, almost impossible to demonstrate and protest in a typical manner (i.e marching in the streets), because of the pandemic. It’s good to have tools like this, made to show support, available to the people who aren’t able to protest in direct ways.
I was exactly this person, who couldn’t go and demonstrate because I lived in Turkey. I looked at this every day and I couldn’t go there. I was on the phone all the time with friends talking like “Where are you going? – We’re marching to the Parliament”. In this project because I couldn’t be a physical participant of this revolution. The idea was to unify people who could not be there. It worked well, the mixtapes were even played on the protest. In a way we were there.
What observations were you able to make since you based your project in Turkey? Ladies On Records is mainly focused on music made by women, were you able to learn more about women’s condition in Turkey for example?
I feel that when I touch the issues of women from Turkey, I touch the issues of women all around the world. Which means that when I work with this music I don’t talk from an orientalist perspective. The women that I work with, the women who I represent belong to the society that we are all part of. I don’t divide.
However, through my own lense, being in another country, I can direct people’s attention. First they may look at this from an orientalist perspective, but then they see a little bit deeper and understand that it’s not about Orient, it’s about cultural issues that are present in the lives of everybody else.
In Turkey there are two major states of mind: “We want to be European”, and “We are conservative, different from Europe”. You can hear that in music. Turkish music is like a huge patchwork. I work mostly with sounds from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. In these times, those states of mind were very visible.
Since I deal mostly with music created by women, I touched on the topic of how women could exist in social spheres, what they could talk about, how they could exist. In the music business, as you can imagine, they were very objectified.
It does not come only from the music business, it’s also about education. Lots of Turkish girls in the 70s, 80s did not go to school. Parents did not want them to study. It comes from here, if you have more abilities, more chances, if somebody gives you ability, you have chances to become something.
You can also become a professor, you can become a musician. You can play instruments.
Few women played instruments in Turkey. If they were going to musical school they were only trained for voice, in 99% of cases. There were no women composers. Music is a reflection of what is happening socially, on the ground base.
Those issues are everywhere. When I talk about Turkey, I don’t talk about Turkey. I talk about the possibilities and the lack of possibilities.
Some like to browse Discogs for hours on end, others explore flea markets and yard sales…What is your digging process like?
I’m attached to the physical, very old school. I dig in records. Besides that I work with old labels that have the master tapes, or cassettes, or data cassettes… all kinds of physical archival material. Of course, I sometimes work with digital. But I always try to get to the analog material first. I like to go to weird places, trash collectors, talking to people and working with collectors.
In Turkey, in the 70s, there was a cultural censorship. At the time, Turkey didn’t want to acknowledge that it’s a country in the Middle East. So they kind of rejected the sounds that sounded too “arabic”. Lots of the music was absolutely cut out or didn’t make it to the radio.
Even though you can buy those records today, and they are everywhere, nobody listens to them, because there is an inner bias “No, it’s too conservative, too traditional”. Some artists have been banned from television just because their voices were considered too “dark”. I think that people’s taste is kind of curated by all the cultural and political situations.
Through Intimacy of Longing, a project commissioned by the Goethe Institut, you’ve explored the stories of migrants from Turkey living in Germany. What have you learned? What did your background in anthropology bring to this project?
Intimacy of Longing is a project telling the story of women, migrants, workers who left from Turkey to Germany and how music helped them survive. With this, I touched a topic that nobody in Turkey was talking about, in terms of music.
Last year was the anniversary of 60 years of the work deal between Germany and Turkey. In 1961, there was a deal signed between Germany and Turkey. Workers, (they called them guest workers) were coming from Turkey to Germany because the country needed a workforce. They were brought in, put in the lowest position, working hard and sending money back. However, all the music that those people created was kind of neglected in Turkey. When I started to dig for this project, I bought records to people saying “Don’t take it. It’s a piece of shit”. Nobody wanted to listen to it because of the bias “Oh those poor workers”.
This music showed how they lived, how they managed, how they went through hardships. They didn’t have a rose-colored life.
My educational background is anthropology. In this project, I came back to interviewing people. In Germany, I sat with people like you and me, I went to their houses, ate dinners with the women who told me their stories.They shared with me how music really helped them to go through those hard times.
One of them told me about the days staying at home because in her conservative family, nobody allowed her to work. She was an immigrant brought by her husband, and she stayed home all day, everyday, not speaking the language, totally separated from reality. The only thing that made her stay connected to the world was cassettes. She had a huge bag filled with cassettes in her attic. To her, they were a window to the world.
She knew the owner of a small record cassette store and would order items from him. “Bring me this and this. I want to listen to music that reflects this and that from my home country, I want the music that I heard my neighbors were recently listening to”.
It was fantastic to learn how cassettes were an important element of connecting to reality. When I was working on the project, I was giving it to other people to read. A couple of friends of mine also came from migrant families. They thought “This is about Turkish families, but my family who is from Napoli and migrated to the north, has exactly the same story of connection through music”. So again, it’s not only about the Turkish people and their identity, it’s about migration.
Were you able to get in touch with some of the people featured in your projects?
I met most of the people I chose to represent. For example, the blonde woman with a red dress on the cover of the Turkish ladies compilation who used to be a very famous singer in the 70s. She came from a traditional family, and when she started to sing, they told her to get out of the house. She continued her career. She achieved what she achieved, but her family never talked to her again.
When we met, I told her that I wanted her song to be on the compilation as the opener. She was extremely happy because after the 70s, she got totally forgotten, nobody remembered her. She said: “I lived 40 years without knowing that this song can become an anthem of the existence of women in the Turkish music business”.
When she shared the story of her family with me, she said “You know what? I would like to give these records to them”. I gave her a couple of copies.
Whenever I do a compilation, I like to add liner notes, stories, because I also want people to learn. With knowledge, your musical perception is different, better. I wouldn’t be happy to just compile, to make a compilation of songs or make a Spotify playlist or be only a DJ. I want this to be part of a bigger story.
About the author
David Bola is We are Europe Media‘s content editor. Formerly working at Radio Nova as a freelance journalist and hosts a monthly residency on Piñata Radio, with Ludotek, a show focused on video game music.