Apparently, the new capital of cool is Istanbul. No longer merely the punch line to a They Might Be Giants song, this bustling, mysterious and vibrant former jewel of the Byzantine Empire is gaining notice for its diverse music scene. German-born Turk Fatih Akin, director of the critically acclaimed thriller Head-On, introduces us to said music scene in this well-crafted documentary. Situated between Europe and Asia, Turkey is a breeding ground for all sorts of funky, cross-cultural mash-ups and creative collaborations. The classic-meets-modernist music scene reflects a city where cell phone-toting teens in designer clothing dodge the dust billowing from ornate rugs beaten by old women in traditional Muslim garb.
Alexander Hacke of the German metal-experimental-noise band Einstürzende Neubauten serves as a tour guide, even sitting in with the Turkish group Baba Zula, who sound just like a psyched-out American space-rock band. We also get the delightful weirdness of watching musicians rap in Turkish dialects, and a young kid trying to "represent" with chrome spinners on his compact Volkswagen. Stripped of the usual gangsta posturing of the United States, Istanbul's hip-hop scene gets at the root of social and political limits, though it's tough to tell just what they're getting at in the precious few clips shown. Then there's a scene where pop icon Orhan Gencebay (who looks alarmingly like Burt Reynolds) treats a delighted Hacke to an "unplugged" performance on a saz, a long-necked mandolin-like instrument, while crooning a love ballad. Gencebay is a tremendously influential performer, and his style of music, dubbed Arabesque, melds Arabic and Egyptian elements with traditional Turkish sounds.
It's hard not to watch all this without a mix of awe and amusement, suppressing a laugh yet marveling at an amazingly diverse culture that seems that seems both steeped in tradition and teetering on the cutting edge.
In English, German and Turkish with English subtitles. Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-3237), at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 1.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].