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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Tarkan: Ertegun's Last Legacy?

Editorial by Mark Mayhey reporting from London, UK

Ahmet Ertegun: A recording industry iconA week ago last Tuesday evening, late media mogul Ahmet Ertegun - labelled as Turkey's most influential contribution to music history - was memorialised in New York City. In the Rolling Stone coverage of the tribute, one of the highlights, held at New York's Rose Theater, was a hilarious, affectionate speech by Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, who described Ertegun as a "wicked uncle with a wicked chuckle."

"Ahmet was a fantastically well-rounded man," Jagger said of Ertegun, who died on 14 December at 83. "[He was] able to talk about geopolitics, able to talk about medieval Islamic history - and able to pick the next [hit] single."

Phil Collins performed a solo piano version of "In the Air Tonight" (leaving out the drum fills that Ertegun famously convinced him to add in memory of Ertegun's loss), with Bette Midler, the surviving members of Led Zeppelin, Kid Rock, Ben E. King and a myriad of other musical guests paying their own special tributes, leaving Midler to surmise: "Only Ahmet could have brought this group of people together".

The star power and varied backgrounds of the speakers testified to the expansive life Ertegun lived: They included Rolling Stone editor and publisher Jann Wenner (the magazine had called Ertegun "the greatest record man who ever lived"), New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, designer Oscar de la Renta, director Taylor Hackford, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and entertainment mogul David Geffen.

During the April 17 star-packed tribute to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Atlantic Records co-founder, Neil Young spoke for his fellow artists: "Ahmet was our man," he said.

Ertegun Tarkan's Man?

Following the death of Ertegun, in my article "Death of a Dream" I reflected whether the music giant's untimely demise would come as a large blow to Tarkan, who had been aiming to change popular music's landscape across the American continent with his own brand of music.

It is no secret that the late music producer had reputedly been preparing Tarkan as pop potential for the American music market ever since the mid-1990s, which had led to the disillusionment of Tarkan's American dream. Nevertheless, Tarkan had kept up contact with Ertegun. Open invitations to Ertegun's New York social events, and claims by Ertegun to a Turkish newspaper in 2003 that he and Tarkan were working on songs together, indicated that the partnership had not ended, but evolved.

However, other Turkish artists cite that Ertegun didn't really help Tarkan to make inroads into the American music industry, even though the singer refutes such claims himself. In his 2006 English language release "Come Closer" he mentions Ertegun in his prosy thank you credits (in which he mentions everyone but the caterers) for starting him on his way.

Now - with news that Tarkan is going to release an American edition of "Come Closer" - is the music artist closer to realising his dream? Will he be seen as Ertegun's final legacy to the US music market, or with the media mogul's death has the Turkish superstar's American Dream been buried for good?

Will Tarkan be known as Ertegun's last or his lost legacy?

The Unknown Known

While Tarkan's a huge star in Turkey, where he and his family moved from Germany after his birth, we know that Tarkan is relatively unknown on the other side of the world. From a family of modest means, Tarkan first turned to music as a coping mechanism. It became clear, however, that a lyrical fire burned within and Tarkan made it his mission to break into the industry. Is that fire strong enough to light up the US?

We also know that Tarkan's first efforts always seem to fall flat, too. At the start of the 90s, Tarkan nearly moved back to Germany before meeting a produer who saw his potential. But now more than a decade later, Tarkan's released a number of albums, including his first English speaking album.

So, possibly there is still a chance that Tarkan may do the unthinkable and enflame America, and become a fitting tribute for Ertegun - the man behind some of America's greatest music legends.

What Must Happen For Tarkan to Come Closer?

Tarkan needs to re-conceptualise his album, not just re-produce it. He arguably needs to ditch his European cover sleeve (where he dons furlined frump) and not be hesitant to hark back to his roots. The Bollywood-esque parlance of the 2001 era worked well for Tarkan, it could do so again.

He also needs to emulate the successful charm of his Turkish albums.

The interest my articles have generated at Tarkan DeLuxe have led to a correspondence with Ali Yildirim. Of his blog, Yildirim states: "It never ceases to amaze me how diverse the listeners of Tarkan are. One day I could be contacted by a 54 year old English woman who listens to him en route to work every morning on the bus, and the next I could be emailed by a 16 year old Mexican boy who finds Tarkan's songs life-changing."

I, too, am in agreement that when Tarkan sings in his native language, there seems to be a little something for everyone. His career CV is testament to this: He is one of a few European (or Middle Eastern) singers to have chart success across three continents by singing in his native language. Yet, in English he polarises people instead of - as he famously does - bring them closer together. This is a major factor that could make success in English an insurmountable task, with the danger of his "coming closer" remaining in name only.

Unless he can echo the wide appeal of his Turkish songs in the new showing of "Come Closer", last week we may have seen the final tribute to the late, great Ertegun.

Tribute report courtesy of Rolling Stone. Picture reprinted from BBC News online.

The views in this article are those of the author alone.
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