Turk Pop

Sezen Aksu and Her Children

The success of the musical program offered by the "Şimdi Now" festival in Berlin can be attributed above all to one woman: Sezen Aksu. She is behind just about everything that has made Turk Pop great, says Wolf Broszies


photo: AP
Sezen Aksu

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She steps onto the stage with a relaxed smile, confident in the knowledge that most of the work has already been done long before. Sezen Aksu's last concert at Berlin's Tempodrom was a lot like a big family celebration. Everyone was welcome to participate: even the background singers had a chance to perform their own songs.

While these were greeted with polite applause, it was Sezen Aksu who really brought down the house. It's simply a matter of honor for her audience to know all the words by heart and to fervently sing along. "She's just the greatest" is the succinct, unanimous opinion of the guests.

The Mother of All Turk Pop Stars

Sezen Aksu need not fear any competition from the other two musical heavyweights at the festival: Tarkan's only worldwide hit so far, "Sımarık," was written just for him by none other than Aksu herself, and Sertab Erener as well, the festival's third pop star, was first discovered by Sezen Aksu. When it comes to Turkish pop music scene, there's just no getting around her.

The fact that the two latter singers are now better known than she is internationally can be traced not least to her own groundwork. Aksu took up and assimilated numerous European and international influences in her recordings during the nineties, opening up Turkish music to the rest of the world – and vice-versa.

A Naughty Boy

Of course, disagreements are inevitable even in the best of families, and Tarkan has not made life easy for his fans. After having grown up in Germany, he had to return to Turkey at 15, where he began to study music. He stirred up controversy with his decision to move to New York in 1994, to escape from his fans, as well as by shortening his military service to only one month.

Finally, in 2001, there followed a blackmail scandal and allegations that he was gay. But perhaps it's his tumultuous biography that in part explains his popularity with young people, who cannot really identify anymore with their parents' traditional roles, and for whom Tarkan lives out these conflicts in the glaring light of the media.

Never Again a Youth Star

At any rate, there was certainly no sign of dwindling popularity in the jam-packed arena on Saturday. It's more Tarkan himself who tends to keep his fans at arm's length. With a professional stage show and velvety-smooth pop ballads, he is demonstrating his new independence and his evolution away from youth star to a more individual profile that also packs international appeal.

Over one quarter of the fans this evening are of German origin; many are here because they have already been following Tarkan's career for a long time and because they enjoy the fusion of Oriental and European sounds. "We love Turkey, we’re there every summer, and of course we like the music, too," says Melanie, a concert guest. "He's so sexy when he dances, so unlike those cold English stars."

The Planned Child

Sertab Erener, on the other hand, the festival’s third star, is more well behaved and predictable, but no less successful. Her triumph at the Eurovision Sound Contest 2003 brought her Europe-wide fame, upon which Sertab also embark upon an international career. A more melodious, finely crafted brand of pop is the hallmark of Sertab’s albums, and her spectacular stage shows have helped her to build a loyal community of fans. With her refusal to give interviews, she is also cultivating the reputation of a diva.

Teşekkürler – Thank You

The idea of putting on diva-like airs is fully alien to Sezen Aksu. She interacts with her audience, cracks jokes, comments on the gifts they toss onto the stage, lets audience members request a song, and only exits for good after several encores prompted by standing ovations, not without thanking her fans at length for their warm welcome and enthusiasm.

With Sertab Erener and Tarkan, Turkey, musically speaking, has already long been a part of Europe, and even if Sezen Aksu is less well known here in Germany than her foster children, for the most part they have her to thank for their success. For this as well: Teşeküler.

Wolf Broszies

© DEUTSCHE WELLE/DW-WORLD.DE/Qantara.de 2004

Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor-Gaida

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