Returning to Azerbaijan this month, Carla filmed (and was filmed in) a video for her song, “Azerbaijani Housewife,” off of her debut album Under My Skin. Footage was shot in a rural village in the region of Oguz in the north of Azerbaijan. Activities shown are typical of the ones Seidl observed among village women during her service as a Peace Corps Volunteer but are not intended to represent the activities of Azerbaijani women in larger towns or the capital city of Baku.
New reviews have been published about Carla’s debut album. To read, see:
Tracks from Under My Skin can now be downloaded from the iTunes music store. Just search for “Carla Seidl.”
Carla’s debut album, Under My Skin, is now available for purchase through CDBaby.com.
“Carla Seidl is traveling back to a modern tradition that has been much neglected of late, that of reveling in the female voice…the CD is a feast of her sumptuous talent….”
– Mark S. Tucker, Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
“a collection of well-crafted songs and a stunning vocal showcase”
– J. Turner, Indie-Music.com
“Carla Seidl has this wonderfully distinctive voice made up of honey, amber and wood timbres, almost achieving a dual tone in her sound that is warm and memorable.” -Wildy’s World
“With a blend of folk, acoustic, and a touch of jazz, Seidl’s release proves her versatility….deep and classically soulful vocals….By track two the listener realizes this is unlike any album he has heard before….Seidl is a breath of fresh air….”
-Annie Reuter, ReviewYou
“Folk music for the soul.” -WESU 88.1, Middletown, CT
“For a short time my ears became the receiving echo of your thoughts and depth. Loved your melodies and lyrics, they say volumes.” -Karlin Mathew, Folk Alley
1. “Flame in the Dark” was written about a friend who seemed to carry around a tremendous amount of light and who wasn’t afraid to share it with others.
2. “Quante Stelle nel Cielo Con la Luna” is an Italian love song by Lucilla Galeazzi. To read Carla’s translation of this song into English, click here.
3. “Dreamin’,” one of Carla’s first songs, deals with the beginning stages of romance and in a flowing, personal style conveys how dream can be more pleasant than reality.
4. “I Had Something,” by Lucy Kaplansky and Richard Litvin, combines nostalgia and longing with hope for the future and a sense that we are connected to something larger and more important than ourselves.
5. “Stronger Woman” is about self-knowledge, acceptance, and dedication in face of a stronger force.
6. “Azerbaijani Housewife” is based on two years spent as a Peace Corps volunteer in Azerbaijan. Getting used to the difference in gender roles was the biggest aspect of culture shock Carla faced while in the Peace Corps.
7. “Under My Skin,” written in 2001, was Carla’s first original song and reflects deep-seated discomfort and desire to connect with and be understood by others.
8. The magically lulling first part of “Veins to the Oak” transforms into pure emotion in its wordless, rhythmic, and intense second part.
9. The Turkish “Gül Senin Tenin” by Bora Yalçınduran is a song that was frequently played on Azerbaijani television and radio during her time there, performed by Mahsun Kırmızıgül. Carla has been told that she sings it with an Azerbaijani accent.
10. “A Subtle Glance.” Sometimes just one look can mean everything.
11. “Scarborough Fair.” Carla’s rendition of the traditional.
12. “Not Alone” was inspired by seeing an eerie red glow across the desert sky in Nevada while driving to a new job in Death Valley. Carla only found out later that it had been the Northern Lights.
13. “Far and Wide,” set to the music of the traditional “Wondrous Love,” depicts Carla’s search far and wide for answers and the ideal way of life.
14. The inspirational “Live Like You Mean It,” set to the music of the traditional “Wade in the Water,” urges you to leave the cubicle of “supposed-to,” identify your passion and follow through.
Carla has been singing for as long as she can remember, in no small part thanks to the influence of her mother, who performed songs and stories for children at local schools and libraries and sang with Carla frequently. Carla has sung everything from a cappella, to show tunes, to vocal jazz, to opera over the years, always involved in one ensemble or another. In high school, on Long Island, Carla was named an All-State Singer and received the National School Choral Award and the Catherine Silveri Award for dedication and sensitivity in music. While at Harvard, Carla was a member of the elite Collegium Musicum choir and performed in Dunster House Opera and Gilbert and Sullivan Players’ productions. But it wasn’t until relatively recently that Carla decided to try out a different sound, one closer to the one she had loved and grown up with as a child. She slowly began to teach herself to play the guitar, and the instrument accompanied her through the many travels of her early and mid twenties—from teaching in the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador, to leading tours in Death Valley, to studying in Chile, to researching storytelling in Argentina, to studying documentary radio in Portland, Maine, where Carla finally started to write and perform her own songs.
Carla’s depth of experiences and understanding of foreign cultures are evident in the selection of songs on her debut album. While at Harvard, she designed her own major, called Expression and Culture Studies, to combine her interests in writing, folklore, anthropology, music, foreign language, and dance. It was at this time that Carla studied Italian and first heard and connected with Lucilla Galeazzi’s beautiful song “Quante Stelle nel Cielo con la Luna,” (How Many Stars are in the Sky with the Moon), her own version of which is featured on the CD.
Despite her early academic achievement, Carla has found greatest happiness off of the beaten path. She is always seeking to understand the world around her, and isn’t satisfied with trivial answers. It is this relentless searching and questioning that has given her such meaningful experiences over the years: in addition to the travels above, Carla has completed an Outward Bound wilderness course, mountain biked down the world’s most dangerous road in Bolivia, worked as a private cook, done organic farming in Italy, and spent over two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Azerbaijan, where in addition to teaching English, she led chorus and improvisational dance classes for youth, learned Azerbaijani folk songs, and performed at numerous weddings. Her “Live Like You Mean It,” put to the music of the traditional song “Wade in the Water,” shows her commitment to following her own instincts and passions even when they may be outside of the cubicle of “supposed-to.”
When invited to be a lunch guest in an Azerbaijani home, be prepared for cultural difference and great hospitality.Aired on American Public Media’s “The Splendid Table” on November 1st, 2008, this radio piece documents Carla going guesting in an Azerbaijani home and receiving an unexpected gift.
“Four Eggs” shows how integral hospitality is to Azerbaijani culture and also illuminates how food often represents a forging of human relationships. Carla recorded this piece while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Azerbaijan. The language you will hear spoken underneath her English narration is Azerbaijani.
The piece is also featured in this blog posting from the University of Chicago Center for East European and Russian/Eurasian Studies.
My experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Azerbaijan was wonderful, but I know other volunteers whose experiences were less than positive. Before making a commitment to spend over two years of your life away from family and friends in a far off and in many cases unheard of part of the globe, you might want to consider these questions:
1. Are your goals broad enough?
The key to a happy Peace Corps experience is flexibility. Your work assignment may not be clear. The people you live with may speak a different language from the one you expected. Your co-workers or neighbors might not be interested in working with you in the way you would like. What to do about these things? Adapt! Make new plans. If you are joining Peace Corps because you want to become an expert in teaching forest ecology to eighth graders and you want to learn how to live in a hut, great—you may get to do just that. Or, you may be placed in a relatively modern apartment building in a large city surrounded by desert. So make sure your goals are not too specific.
2. Do you like to “rough it?”
Before heading to Peace Corps, I had completed an Outward Bound wilderness course in which I didn’t shower for three weeks. This made showering only every few days during my Peace Corps service more bearable. Azerbaijan is actually pretty cushy as Peace Corps countries go—running water (usually), good electricity (in most areas), normal furniture (besides the mattresses), nearby Internet access (maybe even in your house!), low risk for tropical diseases. However, out of necessity, I wore the same clothes for at least three or four days in a row, bathed in a bucket in winter, survived countless dusty, crammed, long, lurching bus rides, and once, when my tea bag ripped while drinking a cup of tea, I immediately thought of getting out my thread and needle to stitch it back up. If your idea of “roughing it” is leaving behind your hairdryer or changing the temperature of your room’s thermostat by a few degrees, you might have extra difficulty with the Peace Corps lifestyle.
3. Are you an experimenter?
You will eat a lot of food in Peace Corps that you’ve never had, and that you may never want to have again (and some that you will miss dearly when you return to the U.S.). It may be insulting or culturally inappropriate to refuse to eat or drink certain things. If you’re a picky eater in the States, freaking out if there’s a slice of pickle in your burger or using only Splenda-brand sweetener in your favorite blend of fresh roasted coffee, take a reality check. In Azerbaijan, they don’t even have coffee that’s not instant, and most people drink it only occasionally. You will never get ice in your beverages, and you may be reprimanded by people for drinking plain water (tea is life there; cold water is said to make you sick). During my service, I had to get used to eating butter and sugar—a whole lot of it. However, I grew to love fatty, fresh yogurt, lean green stalks of cilantro, stuffed cabbage leaves, and pickled garlic. Who knew?
4. Are you resourceful?
For the most part, in Peace Corps, you are left on your own, with minimal resources and not a lot of direction. You will probably have more free time than you have ever had before. Being creative with limited materials and services and making good use of this free time are essential to a fulfilling two years. Imagine what you would do in the U.S if your flight from California to New York were delayed seven hours. If you’re the kind of person who would take that opportunity to make a new friend in the waiting room or pick up a book from the magazine shop that you’ve always been meaning to read, that’s a good sign for your Peace Corps compatibility. If you wouldn’t be able to do anything but gripe or silently fume about your thrown-off schedule, however, adjusting to Peace Corps life may be as enjoyable as jumping off a cliff and realizing mid-air that you don’t have wings.
5. Are you open to a change in outlook?
Peace Corps forces you to challenge a lot of your values, even ones you weren’t aware you had. In Azerbaijan, seeing the emphasis that people there put on family and family responsibility, for instance, I found myself starting to think differently about things like divorce and gender roles. As a woman, I certainly had to act differently to fit into the culture, for instance, never looking a man in the eye when I walked down the street so as not to be seen as promiscuous, never wearing shorts or tank tops, and not walking alone at night. In order to live harmoniously in the culture, I had to accept the way men demanded that their wives serve them tea all the time as a normal mode of behavior (at least for that country). If you come into Peace Corps with a lot of fixed ideas about the way things should be rather than an openness to the way things are, you may have a tougher time adjusting to and enjoying your time at site.
While in Azerbaijan, I was rewarded by many things: I learned how to roll dough into thin circles using a rod-like rolling pin, I enjoyed scrumptious fresh figs, pears, hazelnuts, cucumbers, beans, and tomatoes, and I gained an appreciation for slow, care-filled food. I learned a completely different language, got to appreciate a new style of music and dance, and received an enormous amount of generous hospitality. I made new friends, became a more patient, easygoing person, and experienced the joys of teaching. I also had my share of frustrations and down times, of course, but these were lessened by my answers of “yes” to the questions above.
Peace Corps provides the opportunity to live in a supported way for an extended period of time on the level of local people from another culture and really make a difference. For more information and to apply, see www.peacecorps.gov. There is no doubt that everyone’s Peace Corps service is different, but with the right attitude and personality, it can be the richest experience around.
Mənim adım Karladır.
Onun adı Mikedir.
I learn that to say, “My name is Carla,” I have to add an ending on my name that sounds like “durr,” rhyming with burr. But for Mike or Amy, the “durr” ending changes to sound like “deer.”
And the difference, which comes up frequently, doesn’t depend on gender, or length of the name. To know when to use which ending, you just have to do it by sound. This is the Azerbaijani way of making their language flow smoothly, and sound good. It’s called vowel harmony. You can’t have this vowel next to that one, so change the subsequent one to fit in with the first.
I would soon learn other rules for harmony:
Drink tea. Lots of it.
No plain water, or you’ll get sick.
Respect people older than you.
Serve them and do what they say.
Call meals “bread.”
Never leave bread upside-down.
Wipe dust off of your shoes before you leave the house.
Say, “May we always meet in cleanliness” when someone emerges from the hamam.
Hang clothes shoulders down, overlapped just so.
Slice onions and tomatoes in the hand.
Prepare national meals exactly the way you were taught.
The more butter a meal has, the better.
Females, ask permission before leaving the house.
Phil Nyokai James teaches shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute, in Portland, Maine. For Phil and his students, the lessons of the shakuhachi extend beyond the music to teach them about listening and presence in their daily lives. This 6.5-minute piece was produced while a student at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. It aired on Weekend America in 2006.
Read my 2003 research paper for the anthropology course Food and Culture at Harvard here.