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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Tarkan's Long Hello [2]

In the Summer of '99, the European pop scene had danced to Tarkan's kisses. Since then, Tarkan singing in English has been the avid fan's dream.Yet, outlining the long trek to release Tarkan's English album on the international music scene details a story filled with contractual hitches and stormy professional relationships, which ironically seem to have rendered his international success as brief as a kiss.

The Up-Down Years
The short period between 1998-1999 was to be Tarkan's most successful internationally, but his worst domestically.

During that time Billboard Magazine, in its Global Music Pulse section, mentions Tarkan as the "king of Turkish pop" with "an uncertain future", because while announcing a deal with Atlantic in New York, he was faced with losing his Turkish citizenship in a dispute over his military service at the same time.

Juxtaposed with his rise to the top of the charts in Europe were contractual problems and splintered press relations in Turkey. The military conscription conflict, which the Turkish press had been sowing the seeds of since 1994, was about to bear bitter fruit. In addition, despite being signed to US music company Atlantic Records since 1996, this agreement adversely served to obstruct Tarkan's English album dream.

Prepared by his estranged manager Ahmet San, the agreement was to aid in silencing him in Europe when international recognition came without Atlantic in 1999, because he had signed his publishing rights away.

All this was taking Tarkan further away from releasing an English album.

End to Contractual Hitches
Shortly after the public fight via the media between Tarkan and his old manager San, their quarrel ended in an uneasy truce.

After a long meeting between Tarkan's long time music producer Mehmet Söğütoğlu acting as Tarkan's intermediary and San, an agreement was reached in which San would leave his share in Jonathan Productions to Söğütoğlu. San never revealed how much it cost for him to agree to transfer his 50 percent share to Söğütoğlu.

From that time onward, Tarkan's U.S. album and his other album rights would belong to Söğütoğlu and Jonathan Productions associate, Charles Ibgui. Ibgui gave the rights to Tarkan's domestic album releases to Söğütoğlu.

Yet resolving personal differences with San came alongside creative clashes with Ahmet Ertegün, co-founder of Atlantic Records. Tarkan could not agree with Ertegün on the concept of the English album. Tarkan wanted more Turkish motifs in the songs, but Ertegün wanted a more Western slant. "Soon, I will just say no to Ertegün, and that will be that," Tarkan is quoted to have said.

European Success
Differences of opinion with Ertegün delayed promises of success in America, but it did not delay international success.

With a little help from Turkish diva Sezen Aksu and the 1997 domestic release of his third Turkish language album, brief chart success in Europe was just around the corner.

World Music AwardThe 1997 Ölürüm Sana (I'd Die For You) album was not only to bring him his greatest success in the Turkish music industry so far, but with the opening track from that album, "Şımarık", it was also to reach the ears of PolyGram France (Universal) and to chart success in Europe. This culminated in a World Music Award in 1999 for his internationally released self-titled compilation album that followed the song's success. Subsequently, the 'kiss kiss' song became Tarkan's signature tune.

You're In The Army Now
As Tarkan was winning awards on the international stage, back home the domestic press were calling him a traitor, and his dream to open up to Western audiences was to be put on hold again due to another issue - military service.

This service is compulsory for all young males in Turkey. Tarkan had delayed this since the legal conscription age by taking advantage of time extensions allowed in Turkish law, but a deadline was fast approaching in 1999.

When enjoying his newly gained international stardom Tarkan did not return to Turkey to enrol in the army, traditional media moguls ran a "Boycott Tarkan" campaign in their newspapers and TV stations. Upset with the young trend-setter's rebellious image for years, they seized the chance to portray Tarkan as a traitor and started a national petition to have the singer stripped of citizenship.

Tarkan finally silenced his critics by completing his military service in 2000.*

First English Album Scrapped
The settlement with San, resulting in Söğütoğlu again owning Tarkan's domestic publishing rights, opened the way for Tarkan to release more Turkish language albums. However, due to contractual hitches and disagreements with Ertegün, the pop singer threw away his first international album.

Tarkan had revealed in his accusatory Hürriyet interview about San that a complete English album had been ready, and that he had even sung an English version of "Şıkıdım". However, he decided to start afresh, while other singers found chart success by releasing English versions of his 1999 hit, "Şımarık".

When in 2001 Tarkan's international manager, Michael Lang of Woodstock festival fame, revealed that Tarkan was working on another international release, the Turkish media continued to fuel speculation as to its release date. In May 2004 returning from a trip to the USA, when a reporter asked Tarkan about the album, "The work is going well, and it will be released when the time is right," was all he would say.

Tarkan's Hello
Constantly shuttling between Istanbul and New York, Tarkan is no stranger to turbulence. Yet, the turbulent periods with contractual hitches and stormy relationships arguably caused the postponement of an album that might have been released as early 2001.

Furthermore, along with broken promises and underhand media tactics, Tarkan also admitted that the longer he waited, the more insecure he became about success. He did not want to disappoint his fans who had been waiting so long for his English album.

Nevertheless against all odds in 2006, Tarkan finally said hello to Western audiences.

The fact that it was a long time coming however, makes the 'Hello' more like a 'Hey, remember me?'

The singer's eagerly anticipated English language album greets an international audience that for the large part will have forgotten him after his brief success in 1999. Missing the opportunity to ride the wave of that success consequently means that, whilst ending one expectation, the release of the English album brings with it an even greater one.

The expectation whether the long overdue album will delight or disappoint.

But that, as they say, is another story.

End of part two | Read part one | << Other Tarkan articles >>

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* The military issue was resolved in 2000 (after a new law was passed for the benefit of the August 1999 earthquake victims in Turkey), and Tarkan took advantage of the 28 day military service with the penalty of paying $16,000.

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Updated March 2006

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