Mammal Hands, Lizz Wright and Youn Sun Nah share the healing power of music at Istanbul Jazz Festival’s 30th anniversary edition

N. Buket Cengiz
Tuesday, July 25, 2023

A diverse range of international artists bring the healing power of music to a city still recovering from the aftereffects of a devastating earthquake

Mammal Hands at Istanbul Jazz Festival - Photo by Cem Gültepe
Mammal Hands at Istanbul Jazz Festival - Photo by Cem Gültepe

Istanbul Jazz Festival, organised by Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV), was held for the 30th time this year, between 7-19 July. At the festival, sponsored by Garanti BBVA once again, audiences of over 35,000 heard concerts from more than two hundred foreign and local musicians. While the absence of the Harbiye Cemil Topuzlu Open-Air Theatre created a bit of a disappointment, the inclusion of Parkorman [Parkforest] added a delicious flavour to this year’s festival.

The three days at Parkorman brought along a free-festival atmosphere with the lineups, and university students, to whom tickets were sold for a symbolic 10 liras (30 pennies), radiating youth spirit among the audiences. Takeshi’s Cashew, which played for the festival's opening night at the Austrian Consulate, was the first band the next day in Parkorman. In the evening, accomplished Israeli songwriter and composer Riff Cohen, and Okay Temiz, an internationally acclaimed Turkish percussion legend, were on stage with the first presentation of The Ritual project, which was received with great enthusiasm by the audience. The day's headline was Kovacs, and the idiosyncratic Dutch singer’s mesmerising performance, enriched with the perfect harmony between the band members, was one of the most unforgettable moments of not only this year but the entire history of Istanbul Jazz.

The next day in Parkorman started with a concert by the British avant-garde jazz trio Mammal Hands that fascinated their dedicated followers. The band members responded to this enthusiasm with warm and sincere communication, marked with admirable humbleness, both on stage and after the performance, when they met some of their Turkish fans and signed CDs. The second concert of the day was by the talented Turkish songwriter Ekin Beril who pleased the audience with her beautiful, effortless electronic tunes and genuine presence on stage. On this very Brit day of the festival, next on stage was keyboardist Alfa Mist with his band, followed by an unforgettable concert by Morcheeba adorned with the incredible energy and charisma of Skye Edwards. Three days after that fantastic weekend, the third and final day at Parkorman was again colourful and full of life with Adamlar, a new-generation Turkish rock band, and The Lumineers from Denver, Colorado.

Youn Sun Nah, above, one of the much-anticipated musicians of this year’s festival, delighted as she sang in the dreamlike atmosphere of the Robert College Konak Terrace. The Marmara Esma Sultan Mansion, another venue on the European side of the Bosporus, hosts one of the top performances of the festival every year, and the 30th edition was no exception: Afro-pop legend Fatoumata Diawara from Mali sang her captivating songs in Bambara, the national language of Mali, while the lights of the Bosporus Bridge, the passing boats, and the buildings of the ‘opposite side’ – the Asian continent in the swimming distance – joined her in perfect harmony. The concert was also unforgettable with Diawara’s passionate remarks on Africa, and on the anti-racist and anti-sexist struggles all over the world. Lizz Wright (pictured below) whose concert was at Sultan Park the next day, also shared some heartfelt comments on blues and jazz heritage and their meaning for African people, between the standards she sang with awe-inspiring perfection and serenity.

In this year’s Night Out With +1 event of the festival, where multiple concerts are held simultaneously in the clubs of the hip neighbourhood of Kadıköy, Sababa 5 from Israel received great enthusiasm with their disco and funk grooves infused with Middle Eastern melodies and psychedelic tone. The Flabbies, with their sophisticated music swinging between post-rock and surf-revival, and Dilan Balkay, with her brilliant dance/electronic tunes containing her effortless rapping and/or trumpet playing, were the other highlights of the night and hidden gems of this year’s festival. Once again, free concerts at the city's green spaces spread the jazz winds to different corners of Istanbul. As part of the festival, IKSV Altkat organised free workshops for children where they were introduced to jazz music through the world of colourful paintings.

In its 30th edition, Istanbul Jazz Festival offered much-needed emotional nourishment to the residents of Istanbul amid the grief of a devastating earthquake, a wasted chance for democracy in the elections, and ongoing economic problems. One can only be grateful to IKSV, and wish that in the coming years, they will be organising the festival under better conditions in a rehabilitated Turkey.

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