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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Tarkan's Long Hello

Ever since Turkey's most famous export exploded on to the European music scene in the summer of 1999 with his 'kiss kiss' song, "Şımarık", the longest running question for fans has been: "When will he release an English album?"

Unfortunately for thousands of fans around the world, this question has remained largely unanswered for the best part of 10 years and the story of Tarkan's English album project reads like a spy story full of espionage, broken promises and back stabbing.

The story of Tarkan's uphill struggle for his English album to arrive on the international music scene begins four years before Tarkan's brief kiss with international success. It begins in 1995, with the sudden news that the young singer was being signed to one of the world's music giants, Atlantic Records, largely due to the company's Turkish founder Ahmet Ertegün.

This caused a stir in Turkey. At a televised press conference on 22 March 1996, Ertegün, who first saw the singer perform in Istanbul, stated that he had faith in the talented young man and that he was going to give him his full support, with plans for him to crossover the musical divide and become a top pop act in America.

Filled with Eastern promise: Tarkan signs historic music deal with Ertegün

And yet more than 10 years after that press conference, fans were still waiting for an album to be released in America under an Atlantic recording label.*

Music Manager Destroyed my American Dream
Ertegün wasn't the main problem. Tarkan blames his manager at the time, Ahmet San, for the problems he encountered in trying to get his voice heard to a wider audience.

San is the Turkish version of Pete Waterman in the UK or (more recently thanks to Pop Idol and American Idol fame) Simon Cowell. Funnily enough, San has also sat on the jury panel of the Turkish version of Pop Idol. A "star-maker" in his own right, San has brought such Western acts as Madonna and Tina Turner to Turkey and had persuaded the Spice Girls to give their first ever live concert performance in Istanbul. He is seen as a mould-breaker in his profession.

In 1995, San promised Tarkan the American Dream. Three years later, in 1998, Tarkan had sacked San accusing his manager of "destroying" that dream.

San's Relationship with Tarkan
Tarkan's relationship with San began at a time the singer had suffered some setbacks early in his career. Consequently, San credited himself with saving the inexperienced singer's career and making him a pop star.

In the early 1990s Tarkan's career took off unexpectedly in Turkey with his first album Yine Sensiz (Without You Again), while his second album A-acayipsin (Oh You're Something Else) rocketed him to star status domestically in 1994.

Suffering from the side-effects of fame and an over-enthusiastic, intrusive Turkish media, Tarkan began to move his focus to the USA. Having recently signed up with manager San, Tarkan was "moved" by him to New York at the end of 1994, amidst huge speculation in the press that Tarkan was leaving to escape his compulsory military service, an obligatory duty for all Turkish males over the legal age.

Ahmet San
Star Maker Ahmet San had begun to direct Tarkan's life.
"I made him what he is today," San claims.

In New York, Tarkan began going to Baruch College to perfect his English, although he was never to graduate. San had begun to direct Tarkan's life completely in the years leading up to his third album between 1994-1998, enhancing the aura of stardom that was quickly enveloping the young man.

Subsequently San believes that Tarkan owes him a lot.

Of that period, San has said: "I sent him to New York to get over the heat he was getting from the press for saying to a presenter on live TV that he had "gotta go pee". I then brought him back to Turkey to a crowd of five thousand cheering fans, with the Turkish media witnessing the whole event. He also did a special on TV singing Turkish Classical pieces. It was a major PR-spin, and it worked. I had saved Tarkan's career from his one slip-up. I made him what he is today."

San and Tarkan Part Ways
In 1998 Tarkan and manager San's relationship came to a sudden and bitter end.

Tarkan, usually guarded and reserved against a gossipy Turkish media, now began a public battle of interviews between San and himself. By giving an exclusive interview to the Hürriyet newspaper about his old manager and their disagreement, Tarkan had effectively declared war on San. In response, his sacked manager gave an interview to the same paper.

What follows next is as convoluted as an old thriller story.

Each threw accusations at the other. Tarkan claimed that San had not only cheated him financially but had tricked him into signing away his release and performance rights to a company known as Jonathan Productions, set up and owned in equal shares by San and a French producer called Charles Ibgui, who was an old friend of San's.

It's said that it was Ibgui's partner, Ronny Abitbol, who first put Atlantic's Ahmet Ertegün on to Tarkan, through Abitbol's old friend, Atlantic's Vice President Jason Floom.

The subsequent agreements signed between Tarkan, Atlantic and Ibgui were to effectively block Tarkan from releasing any new album without the permission of Jonathan Productions. This not only frustrated Tarkan artistically, but was also to frustrate PolyGram (now Universal) and any other music company that was going to try and build upon the singer's European success in 1999.

San argued that Tarkan should have read the small print and that most international recording contracts were drafted in this way.

Tarkan Belongs to Ibgui
When PolyGram wanted to release Ölürüm Sana (I'd Die For You) in Europe, the record company received a warning letter from Ibgui stating that: "neither Tarkan nor his producer Mehmet Söğütoğlu can without our permission release any album in any language any where in the world."

Söğütoğlu was the owner of Istanbul Plak, the recording label credited for discovering Tarkan. The agreement between Tarkan and the Turkish producer had only been for three albums. It seemed there was nothing to be done.

Arguably this 'contractual hitch', as one newspaper called it, is one major reason why the pop singer could not bring out an international release of original songs to build on the hit of "Şımarık", consequently forcing Tarkan to scrap an entire English album and start again.

Tarkan and San's collaborations over, the singer's English album project was pushed further back than ever.

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

* Updated March 2006: Tarkan's long awaited debut English language album was released under the Universal Music group instead, outside of Northern America.

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