Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul Fatih Akin

Turkey sits between modern Europe and the Islamic Middle East. If music is the sound of a place, then Istanbul is a rich melting pot of styles both traditional and futuristic, East and West. Following the Buena Vista Social Club model of a white musician exploring the music of a foreign country, Germany’s Alexander Hacke takes us on musical travelogue through Istanbul. German-Turkish director Fatih Akin is wise to keep Hacke’s presence (though amiable) to a minimum and let the music do the talking. That music is stunning. I know nothing about Turkish music, so this film was a revelation. Akin and Hacke open the doors to a wide range of modern Turkish music, which, as the films informs, has only been allowed to flourish recently. Crossing the Bridge explores the music of Baba Zula (jazzy psychedelic rock), Duman (punk), Ceza (rap), Mercan Dede (electronica) and many others. It pays homage to national legends actor/singer Orhan Gencebay, the Elvis of Arabesque music, Erkin Koray, one of the first Turkish musicians to play "decadent” rock music in the ’60s and elegant singer Sezen Aksu, who is venerated like a goddess. These musicians do not ape western genres but fuse Arabesque traditions into modern rock, making their music exciting and new. However, the film reminds us that Turkey is a conservative society that only in the past generation has permitted rock music to flourish; ethnic minorities such as Kurdish singer Aynur long battled state censorship until she could finally sing in her mother tongue. (Her soaring performance inside a centuries-old Turkish bath is a feast for the ears.) Meanwhile, the musical collective of Siyasiya fights police harassment as they sing their protest music on the streets of Istanbul. This is a straightforward but infectious introduction to Turkish rock that deserves a spin. (Mongrel Media)