Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul

The film begins when Alexander Hacke, the bass player of the group Einsturzende Neubauten arrives in Istanbul, checking into his hotel overlooking the Bosphorous. Hacke had also worked with Akin in his previous screen gem “Gegen Die Wand.” First band Hacke encounters is Baba Zula, a psychedelic rock group. What’s even more interesting than the way Baba Zula depicts authentic eastern tunes with eccentricity, is the ambience and scenery. With all their equipment on board the band gets on a boat and plays under the setting sun on the Bosphorous. The sun shines in such a way that both sides –the east and west- of Istanbul look as if they were shot in a dreamy sepia color.

On the boat with Baba Zula and Alexander Hacke, there is also Brenna MacCrimmon, a Canadian singer who came to Turkey; and settled down in Istanbul with a growing passion for old Turkish folk songs. She admits that the emotional level is much higher and way more intricate in Turkish music than it is in Western music. Even more surprising than a Canadian embracing old Turkish folk is a Turkish young man called Ceza taking on rap and turning it into a way of political expression. Unlike the gangsta’ rap and hip hop with constant references to girls and bling-bling; Ceza and the other Turkish rappers rap about politics and current events as social commentary. What’s more impressive is the speed and energy with which Ceza can rap.

Another group we encounter is Replikas. One member admits that they have all been brought up with the influence of Western cultures and their music. It was at their twenties that they recognized and claimed their origins, the origins and tunes of Turkish music. Among the new musicians Akin presents are Siya Siyabend, a street music group, Duman, a grunge-rock band and a group of break-dancers called Istanbul Style Breakers. After his portrayal of today’s Istanbul music scene, Akin introduces us to the pioneers of Turkish music, musicians who
have brought music of Istanbul to where it is today.

With roles in hundreds of movies and as the composer of hundreds of songs, Orhan Gencebay gives an exclusive unplugged concert (in the 60+ years he had been in the music scene, Gencebay never gave any live performances.) It would be fair to say that Gencebay is the ‘Boss’ of strings, with his original interpretation arabesque tunes and use of Western methods. Similar to Gencebay, Sezen Aksu has been a favorite of many, from the teenagers to elderly and from rockers to rappers. The scene towards the end where Sezen Aksu sings the ever-so-nostalgic song “Istanbul Hatirasi” (An Istanbul Memoir) feeling the emotional intensity is inevitable.

Just like the city itself, the music of Istanbul is a combination of East and West. At the beginning of the film, someone refers to a Confucius saying; in order to know a place, one has to listen to its music. Rightly so, when Akin shows us the music of Istanbul, we start learning the little bits and pieces of the city and its details. Just as the music of Istanbul brings Western music genres and give them an authentic Turkish and sometimes Eastern touch; the city embraces many cultures taking in some qualities from the West and blends them with the Orient.

Fatih Akin’s “Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul” is not just a musical documentary but also an homage to the multifaceted, historically and culturally diverse, and zestful city of Istanbul. While musical documentaries are the toughest when it comes to offering insight about a genre, a city or even a group; Fatih Akin shows us that he can do the toughest with great dexterity.

Rating: A