The Songs of Peace and Hope project draws on shared cultural roots to transcend the Greek-Turkish divide.
By Menekse Tokyay for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 25/10/12
Greek musician Eleni Karaindrou and Turkish composer Ender Sakpinar are collaborating in programs that use the countries' common musical heritage to promote tolerance despite their governments' political disagreements. [Facebook]
Musicians from Turkey and Greece are employing their craft to heal wounds lingering from political disputes between the two nations.
Eleni Karaindrou, a renowned Greek musician, performed with Turkish composer Ender Sakpinar and his orchestra at an Istanbul jazz festival earlier this month. With cheering in Turkish and Greek thundering from the audience, the transformative power of the moment was reflected in Karaindrou's eyes at the end of the show.
"Music is a universal language that speaks to peoples' hearts," Karaindrou told SETimes.
Sakpinar and Karaindrou have partnered in a concert series known as "Songs for Hope and Peace," which aims to use the countries' common musical heritage to promote tolerance despite their governments' political disagreements.
Sakpinar is convinced ministerial squabbles are no match for the force of music.
"When the audience hums the melody and keeps the tempo in harmony with each other, political conflicts disappear and we open a platform for mutual understanding," he told SETimes.
But the concert series hasn't been all singing and merriment. Sakpinar, who has co-ordinated the project for a decade, said his musicians had to learn to trust each other before they could bring a message of tolerance to a broader audience.
"When we started our project, there was serious suspicion about our real motives, especially from the Greek side," he said. "Even some Greek musicians playing in our orchestras had difficulty explaining the project to people close to them."
One way the maestro united his group was by drawing from both Greek and Turkish artists when developing their repertoire of songs. This allowed the concerts to realise their goals even in challenging environments, he said.
"Recall how much political tension there was in the summer of 2006, when we came to Rhodes to give a joint concert," Sakpinar said. "There were dogfights over the Aegean sea and crises over the Kardak islets. Despite this, 2,000 people attended the concert."
Added Sakpinar: "When people came to our concerts and saw us, they started to re-discover Turkish-Greek relations from scratch."
Karaindrou told SETimes she's been warmly welcomed by Turkish music fans despite her nationality.
"It's not that all of Turkey knows me, but those music lovers that feel close to me truly show their love for me," she said, adding that it has been a tremendous experience every time she's co-operated with Turkish musicians.
Meanwhile, concert organisers work to ensure their success branches up from the grassroots to the highest reaches of government.
Politicians, mayors and governors are invited to the performances. If they attend, they're required to make a speech before the show to share thoughts about the initiative and their view of the country across the sea.
"Thanks to the concerts, we've had an opportunity to discuss our problems and brainstorm about how to improve the situation," Sakpinar said. "But initiatives like these need more support from businessmen and public officials on both sides."
There are signs that a growing number of artists on both sides of the Aegean are embracing the project's formula of peace through music.
Mehtap Demir, a Turkish singer whose ensemble My Sweet Canary includes Greek, Israeli, and Turkish musicians, was set to transmit the message at the Womex World Music Expo held in Thessaloniki on October 21st.
"The power of music comes from the fusion of local, cultural and religious spheres," Demir told SETimes. "Musicians need to share this with the people and emphasise this theme."
Demir's ensemble was founded to memorialize Roza Eskenazi, known as the queen of early 20th century rembetiko (Greek blues). Eskenazi was born in a Sepharadic family in Istanbul, but early in her childhood her family moved to Thessaloniki, then still part of the Ottoman Empire.
The singer laments the fact that Turkish and Greek people are eager to claim "ownership" of aspects of culture, such as coffee or local dances.
"Musical projects like My Sweet Canary show that these represent the common culture of this region," she said.
Demir told a story about a Greek politician who approached her at one of her concerts.
"He said, "I'm 58 years old. My grandmother used to sing me the song 'Rambi,' which you performed. It reminded me of my childhood."
SETimes correspondent HK Tzanis in Athens contributed to this report.
A link to a performance can be found here