Sezen Aksu, Coliseum, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

A warm spring evening in central London - or was it Istanbul? Inside the Coliseum, the Turkish invasion was complete. But despite the operatic setting, this audience had come to hear a diva of a different sort.

A warm spring evening in central London - or was it Istanbul? Inside the Coliseum, the Turkish invasion was complete. But despite the operatic setting, this audience had come to hear a diva of a different sort.

Sezen Aksu is the voice of Turkish pop, an altogether superior brand compared with its Western counterparts. For three decades, this feisty woman has dominated her country's musical landscape, writing 600 songs, of which many have become standards. She has passed through many phases in her creative odyssey, and the result is that she sings in a variety of languages and national styles.

Her creative partnership with the Armenian-Turkish composer Tunc - whose death in a plane crash left her frozen in grief for months - has imprinted her music with a mournful stamp. She has, at various times, gone political, championing the Kurds, oppressed women, and mothers in search of "disappeared" sons, but now she sings for the sheer joy of it.

Which is why so many of her compatriots were here. The ovation was deafening when she made her appearance - a short, plump blonde in a shimmering green dress slit to the hip - and the crowd was singing along before she'd finished her first verse. Her band was an amalgam of rock and Turkish instruments, in which the ney flute and electric oud loomed large. Each seat had a notice forbidding flash photography, but flashes came from all sides, and the stalls were a forest of mobile glows.

"Are you happy?" she asked, after the fourth successive love song. "You are the voice of love!" shouted an ecstatic girl from the gods. "Thank you, I'll try my best to be," she replied. My obliging neighbour had to translate for me because, apart from one sentence - "I am sure the English people here feel my heart" - every word of the evening was in Turkish. But it really didn't matter: almost all of the songs were love songs, some raunchy, some tender, some aching with nostalgic melancholy, but their real subject was her plangent, protean voice. Those who argue that English National Opera is dissipating its energies with world-music evenings such as this should wise up: there's more to life than bel canto.

On the dot of 10pm, Aksu looked meaningfully at her watch, but the crowd screamed for more, so she delivered one more song about love in Istanbul, which had everybody singing and swaying along. Then a formal bow, a regal wave, and she was gone.

Comments