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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Sounds from Istanbul

Sounds on Film

Crossing the Bridge
In this documentary released last year, German director Fatih Akın attempts to detail the diverse sounds of Istanbul, ranging from Ottoman classical to Turkish pop, from street music to Hip Hop. The film features various singers from different backgrounds. Bands, instrumentalists, the young, the old, big stars and street musicians all collaborate in this long overdue tribute to the Istanbul music scene.

A rare insight into popular Turkish musicians, such as the progenitor of the Turkish Arabesque music genre Orhan Gencebay, the Ottoman classicist doyenne Müzeyyen Senar and the Turkish diva of pop music 'Queen' Sezen Aksu, makes for interesting viewing.

The viewer is introduced to Alexander Hacke, a German musician and member of the cult band Einstürzende Neubauten, as he travels to Istanbul to get to know the music scene. His sparse voiceovers of what he experiences are a guiding line through the film, but it is the various artists from Istanbul that do the talking through their music.

Spoken comments from the musicians nicely illustrate the music being played, and the social context in modern Turkey intertwined with urban scenes of Istanbul give you an insight to a place often overlooked. Important topics are omitted however, such as Turkish jazz music, and the contributions of the Ottoman Armenians and Greeks, possibly because time constraints kept references to the history of Ottoman music to a minimum.

After his award winning feature film Gegen die Wand (Head on), Faith Akın proves with Crossing the Bridge that he is equally able to touch, entertain and guide his audience in a documentary.

Sertab Erener's oriental rendition of Madonna's song "Music" as its the opening track, the documentary's soundtrack CD is strong enough to stand as a concept album on its own, as well as being a necessary supplement to the film.

If you want to read more about Istanbul, then the official website for the ancient city Istanbul.com has zipped the best of Istanbul into the pages of the book entitled simply In Istanbul.

Why was Hacivat and Karagöz Killed?
Karagöz & HacivatHacivat Karagöz Neden Öldürüldü? is a little film that will probably disappear from the Turkish cinema screens without making as much impact as some films will have on box office records. This is a pity, but a fact of any film industry. Sensational issues and polemics rather than style tend to generate money and fill cinema seats.

Shot in a medieval setting often overlooked by the Turkish film industry, this Ottoman period drama covers the emergence of the art of shadow puppetry. It is an artform in Turkey that has almost been relegated to showings at public holidays, so this movie has made a timely appearance.

Set in the 14th Century, the story centers around Karagöz and Hacivat, two main characters whose comical antics delay the construction of a mosque that ultimately costs them their lives. The fact that these two unlikely friends parody those in power did little to save them from execution. So deeply did the public feel their loss, the film suggests that they decide to immortalise the heroes in the form of puppets, continuing to make critical public statements under the guise of comic plays.

The movie's underlying themes revolve around the topics of political satire and freedom of speech, which is also relevant to our times. It is evident, too, that the film has paid close attention to historical detail, correctly dressing the characters from the early Ottoman Empire depending on their region or religion.

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Sounds by Artists

Bad Boy Rocker Teoman
Cover of Teoman's album En Güzel Hikayem In the genre of Turkish rock, with his distinctive voice and dark charm, Teoman is in a class of his own. Originating from the name of an old Turkic King, Teoman's name has ancient roots similar to Tarkan's, but that is where the similarity ends. Composing most of his songs himself, Teoman's lyrics are unique, harsh and often thought provoking. He has experimented with styles that test traditional boundaries and claw away at the usage of subtlety to leave the raw meaning beneath, as in his 2004 song "Duş" (Shower) where he openly sings about "millions of tiny Teomans dripping down" his lover's thighs. Sometimes his words are metaphorically sharp and accurate, and a few lyrics are reminiscent of the poetry of Rimbaud.

Born in 1967, the Turkish rocker's outlook on life is coloured by images of a fatherless childhood, but he also credits his lawyer father, an amateur poet, for his own writing skills. Teoman has been quoted to have said that his favourite topics range between women, humanity and fear.

He released an album in early 2006, Renkli Rüyalar Hoteli (Colourful Dreams Hotel). Those that listen to him are glad they did.

Rocker Chick Şebnem Ferah
Cover of Şebnem Ferah's debut album Kadın This lady has colloborated with Teoman to produce some stunning rock ballad duets, namely "Iki Yabancı" (Two Strangers) and "En Güzel Hikayem" (My Most Beautiful Story). Along with a tough chic image and a powerful voice, she is often credited for bringing attention to Turkish females in a male dominated rock genre.

Musicologists and fans still regard her 1996 debut album Kadın (Woman) as groundbreaking, changing the sound of Anatolian rock completely. Its imagery and soulful guitar riffs made Ferah's name instantly recognisable across Turkey. In the hit song "Yağmurlar" (Rain) from the debut album, with an aching voice Ferah sings, "If you can't love me/Love the rain/Let tears from the clouds touch my face".

Her 2005 release Can Kırıkları (Life Angst) was met with similar critical acclaim. Read more about Ferah here.

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