Sunday, February 26, 2006


CROSSING THE BRIDGE aims to do two things. First, it wants to show us the range of music being played in the vibrant Turkish music scene. Second, it wants to use this insight as a spring-board to a deeper discussion about Turkish culture and politics. Indeed, it starts off with a quotation from Confucius: "To understand a place you must know the music made there."

Where the film succeeds beyong all expectation is in showcasing the best of Turkish music. This is made possible by German prog-rock guitarist Alexander Hacke's close links with the musical community in Istanbul. This allows him to simply show up with a whole bunch of microphones and record what is happening. We go from progressive rock to hip-hop to traditional Romany and Kurdish music and back again.

We start of with Turkish prog rock played by Baba Zula and Orient Expressions. The music is great, rhythem-led, and sounds rather like the sort of stuff being put out by Sebastian Rochford's jazz fusion outfit, Polar Bear. Next, we move on to Istanbul's grunge rock scene, with bands Duman and Replikas. After that, we move on to the grand-daddy of Turkish rock - Erkin Koray - and lots of hysterical vintage footage of Erkin going Hendrix. Next, on to the hip-hop scene. For me, the music really kicked into gear when we got to the traditional Romany music from Western Turkey, using clarinets and ouds. The musicians Selim Sesler and Brenna MacCrimmon are outstandingly talented and it is a strength of the film that thanks to Alexander Hacke's friendship with Selim, we get a glimpse of traditional Romany jam sessions and weddings. Pure musical bliss.

We head back to Istanbul to meet street musician Siyasiyabend, who criticises people like Erkin Koray for romaticising the street. As one of his colleagues says, when you lay your head on the road to sleep at night you know that concrete is just concrete, nothing more nothing less. And then onto a series of rather poor eighties throw-backs in the shape of movie stars Orhan Gencebay and Sezen Aksu.

Clearly this movie is not for people who have no interest in world music. And, to the extent that the film is basically a series of jam sessions, whether you'll enjoy the film will depend on how much you like each of the acts.
While the movie does give us brief glimpses into the socio-politics of Turkey, the comments are never more than superficial and anyone coming to this purely for the politics will be sorely disappointed.

Having said all that, what social commentary there is in the film is rather cheering. In an age of trumped-up inter-civilisational tension, it is nice to know that angry teenagers are singing whiny rubbish lyrics the world over. It is great to see the Americanised Ali G type claiming that he is "keeping it real" despite the fact that he has just spent 15 million lire on rims for his car. I love the fact that we can have flash chavs in Turkey as well as Staines. And, in a rare success for the European Union, it is cool to see that Kurdish musicians now have the right to sing in their own language again.

CROSSING THE BRIDGE premiered at Cannes 2005 and went on release in France, Germany and Austria last summer. It is on limited release in the UK but there is no scheduled release date for the US.

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