Şeker Oğlan – Oh Sugar Boy

Şeker Oğlan is one of my favorite Turkish folk songs, and has been recorded  and remixed in various different versions, including as pop music, a bizarre online Turkish-Kurdish remix, and disco. My favorite interpretation is Hülya Süer’s (the original, not the Kosmonaut remix), which for me reaches the perfect combination between pop and folk.

The structure of Şeker Oğlan is very similar to that of other Turkish folk songs, and its lyrics vary from version to version. It is originally from Ankara, and the earliest mention we have of it is from the early 20th century, when the city was still a small town. A taste of what Şeker Oğlan may have originally sounded like can be taken from the recording by Armenian diaspora singer and oud player Marko Melkon . The song was played along with countless others by Armenians, Jews, and Greeks performing in Greek-owned nightclubs on New York’s 8th Avenue, reliving the late 19th century cosmopolitan Ottoman experience, replete with gazels (vocal improvisations) and taksims (instrumental improvisations). *

Some of the lyrics may sound strange to a western audience, such as ‘I’ve burnt’, but these are tropes of Turkish folksongs. Whereas in English ‘sugar boy’ means someone taking part in a relationship with a weird power dynamic, here it literally means a young man who sells sugar in the village. And who is by extension sweet.

Kayadan bakan oğlan
                                        Oh boy staring from the rock,
Gömleği keten oğlan
                                        Oh boy whose shirt is of linen,
Gece gelme gündüz gel
                                        Don’t come at night, come in the daylight.
Horozdan korkan oğlan
                                        Oh boy who is scared of roosters!

Aman şeker oğlan
                                        Oh sugar boy!  
Yandim bekar oğlan
                                        I’ve burnt, unmarried boy!
Anasina darilmiş
                                        Angry with his mother,
Damda yatan oğlan
                                        The boy lying on the roof…

Kayaya koydum kutu
                                         I put a box on the rock
Herkes yarine mutlu
                                        Everyone is happy with their lovers
Gelinler tatli yesin
                                        Let the brides eat sweets
Kaynanasi semiz otu
                                        (and let) their mothers-in-law (eat) purslane.

Aman şeker oğlan
                                        Oh sugar boy!  
Yandim bekar oğlan
                                        I’ve burnt, unmarried boy!
Anasina darilmiş
                                        Angry with his mother,
Damda yatan oğlan
                                        The boy lying on the roof…

Notes:

semiz otu: ‘fat’ + ‘black’= purslane, a herb used in Turkish cuisine

Aman:  A great definition of this term is given by Mustrad: “‘Aman’ is used extensively in Asia Minor vocal pieces, frequently at the beginning of a song, sometimes within the body of the text, and rarely to finish.  Evoking lamentation – ‘woe is me’ or ‘alas’ – the singer uses the word as a vehicle for improvising melody lines, in a manner analogous to the way in which less obviously defined sounds are utilised in other traditions (think of what Nusret Fateh Ali Khan used to do with ‘aaaaa’).  It offers both a focus for the vocalist to integrate and immerse their spirit into the song, while simultaneously showcasing both skill and versatility.”

*discussion of Marko Melkon’s version of Şeker Oğlan comes from:
Alajaji, Sylvia (2015) Music and the Armenian Diaspora: Searching for Home in Exile. Indiana University Press.

 

1 Comment

  1. I think there is a huge meaning of this song that is being missed here! When the lyrics say “gece gelme“ (don’t come at night), “gündüz gel” (come in day light), “horozdan korkan oğlan” (the boy who’s afraid of the rooster), “bekarlarin derdini kizlar ceker, oğlan” (unmarried girls will take on the unmarried boys’ tourments)

    Like

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