The European Turkish “Star” Who Carries Balkan Blood
Selda Paydak - 16/11/2006
Yıldız ("Star" in Turkish) İbrahimova, the jazz singer who has gained a world-wide reputation with her "voice that knows no borders", was born in Silistra as a Bulgarian citizen of Turkish origin. Currently holding Turkish and Bulgarian double nationality, she had to change her name in 1985 under pressure from the former administration in Bulgaria. For five years, she lived as Susanna Erova. It was in 1989 when Todor Jivkov was falling … One day, while working at the Sofia Radio, upon information from a friend, she also joined the crowd waiting in front of the Bulgarian Parliament to regain her name. This time, her "four octave" voice echoed amid the cheers of "unity, solidarity, friendship" raised by the exuberant crowd upon the declaration that her names would be given back. İbrahimova knows no borders about the identity. She says: "Borders are in the minds of people. I am Turkish, Bulgarian and European." Blending differences through her voice and identity, Yıldız İbrahimova sings jazz, opera, classical music and tzigane music in her original interpretation. She has been living in Ankara since 1993 when she married Ali Dinçer, a former CHP deputy for Ankara.
What first introduced you to Europe during your childhood/youth?
I was born in 1952 in the Bulgarian city of Silistra. I grew up in Sofia, which is a European city where many European architects worked at the beginning of the last century. It is very close to Europe also in cultural terms. When I lived in Bulgaria, I never felt outside Europe. I regarded Bulgaria as part of Europe.
Where do you feel you belong to?
As someone who has abolished borders in her mind, I find it difficult to answer this question. I think that people themselves create borders in their minds. I cannot call myself Turkish or Bulgarian alone … I am both Turkish and Bulgarian and also European. I am a European but a temperamental European … In addition, I am always a Balkanite and I say this with pride. I say this also with sorrow because the rich culture and music in the Balkans is so great, vast and old that it is not possible to find something like it in Europe. In this respect, Anatolia also has a very diverse heritage. Nowhere else in the world have I ever seen such a wide range of colourful music over such a small area. We are the inheritors of this rich culture.
Being European means a diversity of colours. It means a certain view of the world. If Muslims join the EU with their own traditions and cultures, this will be a gain for the EU as well. The EU can become much stronger if it includes Eastern Europe and Turkey. The Balkan countries are closer to each other than to Europe. If they solve the problems between themselves, they can create a strong Balkan unity.
Turkey's integration with the EU…
Turkey will naturally integrate with the EU. However, education is the key to everything. The problem of education is very great especially in the eastern regions. There are so many illiterate women… The differences of religion and culture could also be obstacles to integration, but I believe that these differences will become less important as Turkey's educational, economic and social level rises. These problems can only be solved through an extensive education that offers equal opportunities. Turkey will then preserve its own culture in an informed way and, at the same time, have an open-minded view of the world.
The aspects that you find deficient in Europe…
I have worked a lot with Europeans. Their biggest deficiency is that they don't have friends. They cannot find people with whom they can share their intimate feelings. They cannot live their feelings. Humans must not lose their feelings. In the Balkans these things still exist and must be preserved.
Turkey and Europeanness…
I came to Turkey for the first time in late 1990 on account of a concert. The first Turkish people I saw were the audience in that concert. Turkey was an interesting country for me. Although the communist government propagated a negative image of Turkey, I thought otherwise. Turkey is not a backward country. When I arrived, I was surprised to find such an audience interested in western and world culture. There were 40 thousand people in my concert at the Hippodrome. Such a thing would be a major event in Europe.
Europe, Turkey, Bulgaria…
As an artist, I think of Europe in terms of its level of arts, culture and education, its cities, the way in which its cities are organised and its way of life in the city. Turkey is very complicated in those respects. When I first came to Turkey, I saw Istanbul. In the shanty areas of the city, there is an unbelievable life where it is impossible to be happy and at rest. There is the problem of transport. This is not a modern way of life. Bulgaria is very orderly. Go to a village and you see good asphalt roads, orderly houses, gardens and orchards, trees and flowers planted along the road. In Turkey, you cannot see flowers in houses and balconies. There is no love of nature. Great importance is attached to the environment and town planning both in Bulgaria and in Europe. I see also that people in Turkey have no discipline. The first things you see when you are in another country are the behaviour of people in the street and the situation of traffic. You get to know the details afterwards. When I first came to Istanbul, I said to myself: "The traffic rules here are very different. People go at the red light and stop at the green light." Actually, discipline makes life easier.
For me, music means the world… A way of life… I do not regard it simply as my career. I started the Children's Musical School at the age of ten. I took lessons in the piano and in music theory. I finished the song department of the Sofia Musical School. I went to the State Musical Academy of Bulgaria. My love of music, my interest in music, is something I have inherited from my mother, who used to sing in choirs. We used to hear Turkish music and hymns from my grandmother, who had a wide repertoire. I have given concerts in more than 30 countries and I see today how useful is the education I received. Whatever kind of music you perform, a good education in music is very important if you want to perform it in a well-informed way.
Art and politics…
The Union of Democratic Forces and the Party of Rights and Freedoms wanted me to stand as a candidate on their tickets in the first free parliamentary elections held in Bulgaria in early 1990. I rejected their proposals. As a musician, I had no place in Parliament. I had neither the talent nor the interest to be a politician… As an artiste, I can represent my country best through music. After a concert at the Berlin Festival, the Bulgarian and Turkish cultural attachés came and gave me flowers and both said the same thing: "You do a lot more work than we the diplomats. You make both Turkey and Bulgaria known to the world."
Tradition or innovation?
Both. I am open to innovations but I also pursue traditional elements of good quality.
This interview was first published by the Monthly Regular Magazine of the EC Delegation in Turkey, conducted by Selda Paydak.