A “strong breeze” from the Balkans will blow this weekend in İstanbul when the most important representatives of Balkan music will come together on the same stage as part of the ongoing World Music Festival.
The festival, part of an İstanbul 2010 project called “Golden Routes for Intercultural Dialogue,” will host Esma Redžepova and the Koçani Orkestar, Ivo Papasov and His Wedding Band, Mostar Sevdah Reunion, and Suzan Kardeş & Bekriya Band in a concert on Friday at the Lütfi Kırdar Concert Hall. All the musicians in the concert’s lineup are legends in their own right, and one of them, Redžepova, is known as “the Queen of the Gypsies.”
The Macedonian-born Redžepova, who has visited İstanbul several times for solo concerts, started her musical career at a very early age. “I started making music when I was 11,” the Skopje native told Today’s Zaman in a recent interview. “It was quite an unusual start since I was a very young student and my teachers knew that I could sing well. There was a radio program called ‘The Microphone is Yours.’ The schoolmaster wanted me to take part in the program. I was participating as a representative of my school, but my family didn’t know anything about it. I told them that it was a school event. In the end, I won the contest and I received a good prize. It was impossible for me to hide it from my family. My father was a shoeshine man and many people came to congratulate him after I won the contest. At that contest, Stevo Teodosievski [who was to become her husband later on] discovered me and came home to talk to my family, saying that he wanted to help me. That’s how my career got started.”
“I’d like to speak more about my roots, because people don’t have clear picture of it,” indicates Redžepova, as there are many rumors in the media about her family. “My grandmother was a Jew, my grandfather was a Roman Catholic, and my mother was a Muslim. My family declares itself to be Catholic, but when my father married my mother, she raised us Muslims.” So, it was inevitable for such a multicultural and multi-religious ambiance to influence Redžepova’s music. “This means that when I was a child I had different music influences in my family, but my father was fond of gypsy music. He was a good percussion player and played dajre very good, so he taught me in music, too.”
For Redžepova, music is an important tool for conveying emotions and ideas but realistically not enough for changing the world. “First of all, music is the form of expression of the emotions and ideas,” she says. “Beyond that, everybody receives the message they want. For instance, I can feel very different emotions from the same song. That’s totally related to mood. And I do feel that music is influential in introducing a culture to the world. Since music is a universal language, you can express and convey your feelings in the best way with music and again, you receive the best feedback through music. For that reason, I try to give concerts all over the world as much as I can. On the other hand, societies which are subject to ethnic discrimination can make their voice heard better not only through music, but also if they work hard and become influential in politics, education and government.”
Redžepova is also well known for her humanitarian work, aid programs and concerts and her activism against all kinds of discrimination as she has also been honored by UNICEF and was a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. “Helping people makes me happy,” says Redžepova. “I know that I’m saving some people’s lives or helping some medical equipment to be bought to a hospital. If we are living in the same world, everybody must share the responsibilities in order to make this world a happier place to live.”
Redžepova -- herself adopted when she was a little girl -- is also the great-hearted mother of 52 children: five of her own and 47 street children she adopted and raised.
A journey to the past with İstanbul
Having given many concerts here before, Redžepova has special feelings for İstanbul. “I love İstanbul very much,” she says. “It is an old city that takes me back to my childhood. I’m very happy to visit the hamam when I’m in İstanbul because it really takes me to the past, to the times when my mother’s grandfather ran his own hamam in Skopje. I like this type of bath. When I was a child it was the only way to have a good bath.” Herself also familiar with Turkish music, Redžepova’s favorite singer is İbrahim Tatlıses. “I respect İbrahim Tatlıses very much and when I have spare time I listen to his songs. He is a great singer,” she says.