Review: 22nd Istanbul Jazz Festival

At the 22nd Istanbul jazz festival, enthusiasm met with optimism triggered by an advance for the left wing in recent elections, says N. Buket Cengiz

In the first general elections since the 2013 Gezi Resistance, the left in Turkey has raised its votes for the first time since the 12 September coup of 1980. As a result, progressively minded people in Turkey are having a nice summer.

Kicking off on 27 June, only 20 days after the election, the 22nd Istanbul Jazz Festival organised by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV) started on the same positive note.

There were three unforgettable concerts at the Cemil Topuzlu Amphitheatre. There could be no better concert than that of Joan Baez (pictured right by Muammer Yanmaz), one of the most enthusiastically anticipated appearances at the festival. She is an icon of late-60s counter-culture and her songs have dealt with social issues in an admirably poignant manner.

Baez radiated joy and happiness even in the saddest songs. She sang, in Turkish, Zülfü Livaneli’s Kız Çocuğu, a song whose lyrics are based on a Nazım Hikmet poem about a seven-year old child killed in the Hiroshima bombings.

Towards the end of the concert, Kardeş Türküler, an acclaimed ethnic-folk-jazz band from Turkey also known for their activism, came on the stage. As Baez sang with the band their song Tencere Tava Havası (inspired by the Gezi Movement), the whole amphitheatre was covered with Gezi slogans.

The band also sang a part of Baez’s song Donna Donna in Kurdish. That was an unforgettable concert for her followers of many decades as well as those from younger generations lucky to see her on stage with such beautiful, endless energy.

Another highly anticipated musician was Marcus Miller (pictured left by Selcuk Polat), who gave a concert based on his Afrodeezia album. Accompanied by Alex Han on saxophone, Adam Agati on guitar, Brett Williams on keyboards and Louis Cato on drums, Miller brought a cool air to the festival, playing songs such as Hylife, B’s River and Papa Was A Rolling Stone.

Miller’s presence got even stronger as he spoke about his visit to the House of Slaves on Gorée Island and how this helped inspire Afrodeezia. He also stressed his belief in resistance, struggle and the human potential to change the bad in the name of the good.

Another highlight of this year’s festival was Jools Holland who, unlike Baez and Miller, met with the Istanbul audience for the first time. He and his 20-piece Rhythm and Blues Orchestra’s dazzling performance under the Istanbul stars included three songs from Marc Almond as well. The audience sang along and danced as he sang a selection of songs ranging from Edith Piaf to Soft Cell.

Holland and his orchestra were supported by Imelda May from Ireland, whose concert was actually much more than a support performance; it could have easily been a separate concert. Her invitation of a little dancing girl from the audience to the stage and the girl’s amusing dance next to May fit extremely well with the atmosphere of her joyful rockabilly music.

Tigran Hamasyan (pictured right by Selcuk Polat) & the Yerevan State Chamber Choir Luys I Luso had a very special place at this year’s festival programme in the centennial of the Great Calamity of 1915. The venue of the concert was the mesmerizing Hagia Eirene, a former Eastern Orthodox Church which now functions as a museum.

Jazz pianist Hamasyan and the choir directed by Harutyun Topikyan invited the audience to meditate on ethereal Armenian sacred music from the 5th to 19th centuries. The concert was dominated by melancholia, but it left in the listeners’ hearts the hope for warmer and closer relations between Turkey and Armenia. Hamasyan also gave a second concert at the festival with Mockroot, which had a completely different atmosphere.

Singer and songwriter Melody Gardot (pictured left by Kubra Karacizmeli) gave a wonderful concert at the festival two years ago and was with us again. Hearing her beautiful voice against the background of the stunning Golden Horn at the Sepetçiler Kasrı, the crowd at the concert wanted the night never to end.

This year also marked the centennial of the births of Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra. At the garden of the Germany Embassy’s Summer Residence, the ravishing Bosporus view was the background for classics such as Lady Sings The Blues, Lover Man and Only The Lonely sung by three young and outstanding jazz singers - China Moses, Oleta Adams and Aloe Blacc - accompanied by an ensemble directed by Terri Lyne Carrington and featuring pianist Aaron Parks.

Another special project at this year’s festival brought together reggae duo Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare with Norwegian trumpet virtuoso Nils Petter Molvaer at the cosy open-air venue Uniq, by the Maslak forests of Istanbul. The audience heard exciting cover versions of songs such as The Wall by Pink Floyd.

The program of the festival included many other acclaimed musicians from different parts of the world such as Charnett Moffett, Mahsa Vahdat and Michael Kiwanuka. One can only congratulate the dedicated team of the İKSV and wish them great success as they move towards a quarter century for the festival.

N. Buket Cengiz is a freelance writer who writes on culture and arts, focusing on music and cinema. She is a PhD candidate at Institute of Area Studies, Leiden University and works at Kadir Has University’s Writing Center in Istanbul.

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