“ Let's start from the beginning it was only love and unite in paradise,
As it was in the beginning, shall it be in the end?
Let me remember you something if you forget it humanity
We are all brothers and sisters from adam and eva
Babylon system they make borders, nations for deportation
But it is enough we don't need no more strife.
Let's sing together; no borders, no nation and no deportation!”
(Enzo Ikah, from his “Red, Black & White” album)
Enzo Ikah sings about war, social injustice, racism and religious discrimination; he states that reggae music is a universal language, a powerful way of transmitting his message.
Enzo had to leave Congo due to political reasons and has been living in Istanbul since August 2007. He defines his music as dub-reggae-African and emphasizes that his songs are based on love and peace.
“We should be able to say ‘no’ to hate and ‘yes’ to love! I do that through my songs.”
For him, making his dreams come true is a matter of determination: “I have devoted my music to the struggle. My songs voice the concerns of my people, they voice freedom and equality.”
The journey from Congo to Istanbul
“Soldiers serve to protect the territory of their country / the enemies of soldiers are not the civilians of their own country / Soldiers, don’t kill civilians / Sometimes it is good for a soldier not to obey orders so that he does not become a criminal / Although it is said that discipline is the mother of an army”
(Song “Le Soldat Voyou”- Brutal Soldier)
Enzo is a famous singer in Congo. The struggle he expressed through his music forced him out of the country. After singing his song named “Brutal Soldier” which tries to raise awareness about the soldiers’ exploitation of people on a live program, he was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
At that point, the corrupt system that he had been criticising worked to his advantage, and Enzo was able to bribe the soldiers and run away. In fact, he wanted to go to Paris, but his connecting flight was through Istanbul and since he did not have a transit visa, he had to stay in Turkey.
Enzo stayed at the Kumkapi Foreigner Guest House. He states that during his 78-day stay there, he did not experience any bad treatment and that his only difficulty was that he did not understand Turkish: “I had entered the country illegally and it was normal for me to stay there. Now Turkey is like a country that has adopted me.”
The 29-year-old Enzo lived in Europe for eight years. He studied psychology and philosophy and got a master’s degree in French Literature.
Returning to his Music Career
Enzo, who worked as a porter in Istanbul to earn money, came across a music store on his first job. The store owner gave him a guitar as a gift and so he returned to his music career.
He met many musicians as he played the guitar on Istiklal Avenue (a busy pedestrian-only avenue in the centre of Istanbul’s entertainment life). He played with his Tanzanian friend Bob for a while, and then with the Turkish music group Bandista, which plays revolutionary marching music in a ska-dub-reggae style.
“At first, the fact that Reggae music is not that known in Turkey was a disadvantage. But my music is not standard reggae. I synthesize it with instruments such as drums and hammered dulcimers. I add the energy reflected to me by the audience to my music. This interaction is very important.”
“I try to raise awareness”
“I am a citizen of the world, Africa is just a reference. What concerns us today is not race, it is humanity. So many years have gone by with wars and hatred… I promote peace and love with my songs, I try to wake people up and make them become aware.”
It is very important for him to be able to express himself and his ideas through his music. He says that when he first arrived in Turkey he was always asked to sing Bob Marley songs to be able to make money. But he preferred to sing his own songs.
“Bob Marley is one of my heroes. But I do not want to repeat what he has said. I want to speak for myself. Of course, I have to earn money to survive, but I will not make music just for the sake of earning money.”
Enzo’s determination has made its way. His “Red, Black & White” album will be soon released and he has already performed in 31 Turkish cities.
He talks about one of his concert experiences: “In some cities, the majority of the people had never seen a black person before in their lives. They could not understand my songs because I would sing in French, English and the Lingala language. But as soon as the music began, they started to dance and after the concert they were screaming, ‘one more.’ This gave me hope.”
In a city that harbours different cultures
Enzo has now an asylum seeker status in Turkey after having applied to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
He states that although he came to Istanbul by mistake, he is happy with his life for the time being. He adds that he does not trust the UN: “The UN first starts a fire and then tries to become a fire-fighter,” he says.
Although not all end in the same way, there are many stories similar to Enzo's. You come across Africans selling jewellery and handicraft in the streets, and music groups that play Cuban music in bars in Istanbul, which is gradually becoming a city inhabited by many different cultures.
Despite all the difficulties they face, these people find a creative way to express themselves thanks to their hope.
The artist Raouf Ghasemi, who used to work for the Afghan President Karzai, had to first go to Iran as a result of a conspiracy, and then came to Turkey after being deported from Iran. As he waits for his transfer to Australia in Van (a satellite city), he continues to do wood carvings, paintings, and produce ornaments from plaster and clay.
The Armenian painter Movses Tadevosyan is opening painting exhibitions in Turkey, from where he had been previously deported.
Love and peace instead of war and hatred
In his songs, Enzo talks about his life and the things he comes across each day. He states that, “To be able to talk about now, you have to understand the past, and to be able to talk about the future, you have to understand now.”
“The fact that I talk about the state and the corrupt system in my songs is not a political engagement. I talk about civil war because I have lived through civil war. These political issues that I talk about are in fact things that I have faced in my life.”
Because of the poverty, pain and despair he has witnessed, Enzo tries to give hope to people. He also emphasizes that he does not like to talk about religion in his songs.
“I believe that religions divide people. As Ziggy Marley says in his song; ‘Love is my religion’.”
These people who have been forced to migrate talk about the injustices that they have faced and their demand for peace and freedom through their art. Their free expressions exist through their art.
Love, peace, unity, respect.(CT)
Translated by Esra Aygin from Turkish into English