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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sometimes it Snows in April

April is my favourite month. As well as being my birth month, the real reason for its place in my affections is that the 23rd of the month is a triumvirate of chatter: International Children's Day in Turkey, Shakespeare's (likely) birthday, and the United Nations' World Book Day are all commemorated on this day (the United Kingdom celebrates World Book Day in March).

In the UK we are celebrating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death this year, and he is as popular as ever. You'll find him sitting on shelves in African bookshops, on laptops in Lapland, and on stage in jungle theatres. You'll hear his words stamped on stamps, pop up in pop songs, being quoted in movies, and spoken on the street.

This year has also become notorious for its rapid fire succession of celebrity deaths beginning with David Bowie's in the second week of January and including its most shockingly recent: another guy who crossed boundaries and cultural divides - music artist Prince. Like words to Shakespeare, music was his language and he was the greatest dramatist of all time. And like Shakespeare, he remains with us through everything he made.

An original who influenced many, Prince was incomparable on stage. His mastery of music, of movement, of the musicians, of the audience was instinctive. Fans and critics alike attest they never heard him sing out of key. They never saw a bad show. They saw a man in his element who loved to play to a live audience.

I am one of those who mourn a brilliant musician and the social revolution he represented, but have to confess I was wary of him at first until his music and the sheer power of his talent won me over. Others are asking, however, whether our compass has shifted when we make more of the death of one (immensely talented) man than we do of the nameless and faceless deaths which seem to be the current signature of our times.

When we mourn the passing of Prince but not 500 migrants who drowned in the latest Mediterranean catastrophe, we have to ask: have we lost all sense of perspective? Or is it just the news media? One lone voice writing for the Independent, Robert Fisk questions whether one of those dead children among the five hundred souls on the sinking Mediterranean boat could not have become a ‘superstar’.

The more the death toll, the less we seem to mourn. Or is it that we are more moved by what touches us personally? Shakespeare is still relevant because he had this unique genius for understanding us all. David Bowie and Prince had something in common, in that they had nothing in common with anyone. They stripped masculinity of its insecurities. They were immune to labels, immune to the generics of genre. They were born into a world that expects certain things and they spent their careers defying those expectations.

When Turkish music artist Tarkan appeared on his own domestic scene in the early 90s, he was channeling a little more than just the look. The contradictory shyness, the brash endeavour to be different, the musical integrity were all there. So, too, was the copious amounts of sex. In the early 80s, Prince was being a baddass in the conservative era of Ronald Regan, a generation later Tarkan was tearing through Turkish traditionalism.

Both also replaced their youthful exuberance for sex with a maturing spiritualism as they aged, but with Prince you felt that he always had the courage of his convictions. His input was solely his own choice. He had fought for it - almost to the point of ridicule. One feels that Tarkan needs his audience more than the music, which is just the rope to tie them to his bed.

This is why Tarkan's 2016 tribute album to classical Turkish music, released in March, rings so hollow. It wasn't a labour of love. It was the lazy-then-hasty fulfillment of a promise to a public who wanted to hear him sing in the genre he first studied under the diktats of a strict father. The anticipation leading up to the release was so much, initial sales from the album put it in 10th place on Billboard's World Album charts. Tarkan became the first Turkish artist to be heavily promoted on the iTunes homepage, where the tracks were released simultaneously to 10 countries and Turkey. Fans shared their newly purchased CD selfies across social media sites.

Domestic sales of the album, amassing just under a quarter of a million, have been the highest since the last best selling solo artist album in Turkey - which was Tarkan's 2010 pop offering. But domestically and on Billboard the classical record's impact only lasted a few days. In my opinion it fails critically on two scores. First, the classical songs Tarkan chose to sing, with one or two exceptions, are common fodder, easily sang by the youngest of children in Turkey. No truly difficult song was chosen to test his vocal range.

UPDATES: GQ report: Tired songs from a loved star >>
Tribute album top selling of 2016 >>
Turkish press: Tribute album breaks sales record >>
Tribute album sells 290,000 copies (2017) >>
Tribute album's public award (2017) >>

Second, he did not bother to retrain his voice for the project. If you prefer pop, sing that. Don't sacrifice your musical integrity to sing in a genre you obviously have no interest in. Will the album ignite a classical music revival? Not when the portrait Tarkan paints here is one of indifference. Like his emulation of Prince early in his career, his attempt brings nothing new but a fractured echo. The echo has been heard, however: it is the call to his domestic market to buy his latest pop album when it comes out.

<< Other Tarkan articles >>

Prince never gave up his musical integrity. He may have lost widespread adoration but ultimately he never lost respect. Have you painted a perfect picture of the world you think you know? The beautiful ones always smash the picture. Always. Every time. And maybe it is because we want to believe our world can change, that we hold those who have the strength to hold on to their own artistic integrity for change in such high esteem.

Because what they say in their work can hold truisms that pop up at the right time in our ever changing lives. For any age. Take this month with its highs and lows. Sometimes it signifies spring and rebirth or, as Prince prophetically wrote and we have seen, sometimes it snows in April.

And sometimes it is both.

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