Fatih Akin's "Crossing the Bridge"

Grunge, Punk and HipHop on the Bosporus

In his new film "Crossing the Bridge – The Sound of Istanbul," Turkish-German director Fatih Akin embarks on a musical search for traditions. The result is a glowing homage to Istanbul’s vibrant, diverse and inspiring music scene. By Petra Tabeling

In his new film "Crossing the Bridge – The Sound of Istanbul," Turkish-German director Fatih Akin embarks on a musical search for traditions. The result is a glowing homage to Istanbul's vibrant, diverse and inspiring music scene. By Petra Tabeling

​​Once upon a time there was a cowboy in Istanbul. The cowboy is the bass player of the German avant-garde band "Einstürzende Neubauten," Alexander Hacke, and he had a mission: to capture the music of the 20 million strong metropolis on the Bosporus. Equipped with a laptop and hi-tech equipment, he made his way through the loud, hectic and bubbling hot city in order to portray the musicians that lend Istanbul its musical identity.

Fatih Akin had been dreaming of this film for a long time. The shooting for his multi-award-winning drama "Head On," which partly took place in Istanbul, is what gave him the final impulse.

The bassist Alexander Hacke was responsible for the music in "Head On," and he was fascinated with the city on the Bosporus and its sounds. So Akin and Hacke returned to the Turkish capital for a few months during the hot summer in order to find out what makes Istanbul a city of dreams and love songs, and above all a musical metropolis.

The search for music and identity

What they came up with is a medley of many different musical directions, oscillating between hip hop and arabesque, Turkish grunge and Roma folklore, electro beats and melancholy street music.

Unobtrusively and yet with a close up view, Akin follows the musicians and the film's narrator, Alexander Hacke, through the narrow streets of Istanbul, into the studios, on a boat trip. No fancy camera scenes, no stagey drama.

But "Crossing the Bridge – The Sounds of Istanbul" is not just a ninety minute film survey of the city's music scene – it is much more. It is a documentary film in which the musicians and their understanding of music and their identity play the main role.

Rapper Ceza, for example, whose quick-rapping songs are reminiscent of the black musician Puff Daddy. But he would reject any comparison with American role models. "Knowing where you live gives you music and identity," says the young musician. And for this Turkish rapper, that doesn't have anything to do with drugs, money and fast cars. Even his father sees it this way: "Turkey needs hip hop," he says looking straight into Akin's camera.

Flower Power and 1001 Nights

The rather surprising support offered by the older generation did not exist in the 1960s and 70s for the eccentric musician Erkin Koray. He was one of the first to play Turkish music on electrically amplified instruments, to cover the Beatles and the Stones, and to inaugurate the Beat era in Turkey. With this kind of Western influence, he faced rejection in the Turkish Republic, but for the next generation he had opened the door to a new understanding of music. And for this he is still a role model today.

The same is true for bands like "Baba Zula," who play a mixture of Oriental sounds and jazz-oriented psychedelic, thereby expressing the notion that Istanbul is neither in the East nor West, but is made up of different ethnic influences. For this reason, in Akin's film the band doesn't play in Istanbul but on a traditional ship on the Bosporus, the strip of sea that separates Asia from Europe. For the “Baba Zula” musicians, the borders are fluid in the most literal sense.

The freedom of identity

The title of Akin's film, "Crossing the Bridge," thus has many meanings. This is not just about a bridge between East and West, Islam and Christianity. In the world of music, these definitions do not exist. One of the musicians portrayed in the film puts it like this: "I don't believe that Asia begins at the Bosporus and ends in China and the West begins in Greece and stretches to Los Angeles."

Music and identity also form a painful symbiosis in the life of Kurdish singer Aydur. Long banned from the stage, she is now allowed to play for her audiences once again, combining Kurdish music with modern sounds.

"Crossing the Bridge – The Sound of Istanbul" documents twelve bands in the melting pot of Istanbul, its various cultures and their unique music, including the experimental.

This has led to a new sense of self-awareness, one that – given the possibility of Turkey's entry into the EU – cannot be lost, says Akin: "Every place looks so much the same in the EU. Everywhere the same shopping chains and the same products." For Fatih Akin, who lives in Hamburg and whose mother is from Istanbul, the city on the Bosporus and its music scene are very significant. It is his second home, one that compels him. And to which he has dedicated a love song with his latest film.

The last song in the film is a melancholy, beautiful and almost painful homage to the old city of Istanbul. Superstar Sezen Aksu, accompanied by the piano and Hacke's guitar, sings "Istanbul Hatirasi," "Memories of Istanbul." And time stands still for a moment, also in the movie theaters.

Petra Tabeling

© Qantara.de 2005

Translation from German: Christina White

"Crossing the Bridge – The Sounds of Istanbul" by Fatih Akin starts on June 9 in theaters in Germany. The soundtrack to the film will appear on June 6.

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