Having fallen in love with Turkish music while working on Fatih Akın’s 2004 Head-On, German avant-garde musician Alexander Hacke returned shortly thereafter—with Akin and his camera in tow—to explore and record the country’s diverse sounds. Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul documents Hacke’s journey throughout Turkey’s sonic landscape, from the grunge-influenced rock of Duman and the multicultural hip-hop of Ceza to the ‘50s and ‘60s tunes embraced by Canadian folk singer Brenna MacCrimmon and the classic pop of regional icons Orhan Gencebay and Sezen Akzu. What he discovers is a country defined by its geographic situation between East and West, a place whose fundamental fabric is composed of threads from America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East but which nonetheless exhibits its own distinctive identity.
Structured as a series of walkabout vignettes in which Hacke travels from one recording space to another (or, in the case of street players, an outdoor plaza), Akin’s documentary functions as a compact introduction to a little known music scene, its aesthetic gracefully reflecting the disposition of its many artists and its narration and interview clips providing just enough historical and social context for its performances. The resulting portrait is one of constant, unconscious cross-cultural dialogue, where the combination of, say, Asian instruments and Twista-like rhymes—or a band’s Western drum kit featuring a traditional darbuka instead of a snare—allows for uniquely personal means of comprehension and expression.
In light of the country’s legacy of suppressing and/or disparaging locally cultivated music (such as that of Zappa-ish Erkin Koray and Kurdish crooner Aynur), contemporary Turkish music often functions as an inherently political act aimed at simultaneously maintaining one’s heritage and forging a new path, even as some artists’ proclamations about their desire to lyrically deal with relevant issues are contradicted by refrains filled with familiar egocentric boasts and wistful laments. Yet ironically, it’s the iconic Gencebay—an enormous movie and recording star who, in film clips, comes across like a Turkish Richard Roundtree—and the regal Akzu that are the true heart of Crossing the Bridge, their homegrown, heartfelt songs about loss and misfortune ultimately drowning out the more hybridized sounds of their rocking and rapping successors.