Name: Ferhat
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, actor
Nationality: Turkish
Current release: Ferhat's Turkish Delights EP is out via RAR / Motor.
Recommendations: Crossing the Bridge is a nice documentary about the Turkish music scene by Fatih Akin. Also I would recommend the great photographer Ara Güler who captured Istanbul in a beautiful way. I also would like to recommend the Movie Hamam – il bagno Turco. Its a gay love story in Istanbul in a hamam and the Poems of Rumi of course, wonderful and inspiring to read.

If these thoughts by Ferhat piqued your interest, visit him on Facebook, Soundcloud, and Instagram. He also has a personal website.

FERHAT · Pehlivan

When starting out, many artists want to "change the world" with their work. What was this like for you? What were some of your early ambitions and in which way were you able to realise them?

Huuuh … that`s a tough one … first I was just bored to work as an actor, you know. The lines are not mine there … I wanted to share my point of view and my opinions with the world and not someone else's.

When I began writing my first songs, I reflected more on my own situation as an actor and wrote a subversive song about fame and celebrity culture in general. But then suddenly crazy things happened in my country, in Turkey. I was paralyzed and shocked and wanted to show with my music what happened there and is still happening there.

This was the moment when the journey for my EP Turkish Delights began.

One of your recent singles is called "My Istanbul". Tell me about your Istanbul, please.

What I love about Istanbul is the fact that this city is built on two continents. It's the place where Europe kisses Asia and you can see both sides of the coin. You have colourful people with a punk attitude walking next to women in burqas.I find it very fascinating that so many different lifestyles can co-exist together in one place.

What makes my relationship hard is that politics changed drastically over the last couple of years. For example: Istanbul once had the biggest gay-pride in an Eastern country and was a role model for other middle-eastern countries. But since 2015 the governenment tries everything to ban the pride. They are closing a lot of bars where transgender people are coming together. The press is also under control of the governement, there is no freedom of speech and artists are scared to express themselves the way they want to.

The situation for women and women's rights is also difficult since they changed some laws to protect women from their own husbands. The list is endless actually.

What function does music fulfill in Istanbul compared to Zürich compared to Berlin? Is the role and importance of the arts more similar or more different, would you say?

The role is totally different.

First of all Istanbul has a big live music scene, people go out to bars to listen to live music from rock to Turkish music, you find a lot of live music bars, pubs and clubs. In Berlin and Zurich I think they don't appreciate a singing voice in public as much. Music has a totally different value in Turkey. I was watching a street musician in the tube in Istanbul and every 15 seconds somebody threw some money in his hat. Zurich is very organized, there are no spaces for chaos and for creative people it is really hard to find their place in this "time is money city".

It's also hard to find bars where live music is played! And in Berlin people are more into partying – it's not so much about the music there, it`s more about having fun on the dancefloor to some beats. Any kind of beats you know. (laughs)

Turkey is a fascinating country. At least from the outside, the limits of freedom and the extent of democratic control are somewhat unclear. How would you describe this yourself: What are concrete limitations of what you are allowed to do and what not?

I want to shoot my next music video. It`s about the homicide of the Russian government in Ankara. Something that happened in reality in 2016 in Ankara and nobody wants to do the video with me. Everyone is scared that they could get in trouble because of the politic dimensions of this case. But it is something that happened in reality and why should I not reenact something that already happened? Artists, writers, the press, the public are all really scared to share their opinions with the world.

What, to you, is the role of the arts in terms of the political discourse, especially in places where the media aren't (entirely) free?

I think its important to keep pursuing the art that you want to do in the way you want to. When you have a repressive politic regime in your own country something fascinating happens with the arts.

There was one street artist who protested with silence in the Taksim Square. He was just starring at the Turkish flag which was hanging there. Many people joined him and began also to stare at the flag. The police couldn't do anything. They  were not screaming or fighting. They were just standing there.

A repressive system challenges artists to find other ways to express their feelings, subversive ways and I think subversivity makes art very interesting.

You've singled out eroticism, Islam and self-determination as three of your recurring topics. How do they fit together and why, precisely, do these three matter so much to you?

I wanted to create a concept EP-album with the title Turkish Delights so every song on the record has a Turkish topic. I wanted to touch on all the taboos that are swept under the Turkish rug and bring them to the light. Topics like homosexuality in the Turkish civilisation or other political issues. So that's the red thread on the EP.

It matters to me because I grew up in a traditional Turkish family and had to deal with this culture, even if my socialization was in Switzerland and Germany – I had to deal with this confusing situation – at home in a Turkish world – outside in a German-Swiss world. To jump around between these two identities was a challenge and is still challenging to me.

You said that you want to "bring the mosk into the Berghain". What does that mean? In how far are religion, modern life and a liberal state compatible at all?

I always found it very sad that the Turkish community in Berlin is very isolated from the German community. They have their own cafes, mosques, markets etc and there is no real exchange. You go out and eat a döner and that's it, my wish is more exchange.

Germans should go and visit a mosque with the Turks, and Turks should go and visit the Berghain! I love Islamic culture and I find it very bad how Islam is often portrayed by the media. I want to create a different picture and show the peaceful and harmonic side of it. We are not accustomed to seeing women wearing a headscarf working in a bank or as a lawyer. This sort of discrimation is still a big problem.

Otherwise I think Islam could be more modern and could adapt itself like other Religions did.There is a lot to do, actually on both sides.

Do you feel as though, aside from fundamentalism, there are aspects of modern life that also conflict with your own sense of spirituality? What are ways to bridge the gap?

Like I said before – I`m always in a conflict with my traditional oriented parents and how I grew up and my identity as an artist.

Two weeks ago I posted a picture of myself wearing womenswear on my instagram account. My mother called me and she was begging me to remove this picture. I said no mama, thats just a piece of art, why should I remove it? So that's my daily reality. (laughs)

I wouldn't define myself as religious, I would define myself as interested in religions. I am very fascinated by the Sufis and the poet of Rumi and the mystical dimension of Islam. I think I will do more research about the Sufis in the future.

What have been some of the most important successes you've had so far? In which way do you feel as though music can bring about concrete change and lead to tangible improvements?

My most important sucess? Maybe the fact that I danced for Madonna? I was chosen by her for an event that she gave in Berlin.

The main thing about music for me is the fact that it's universal and can touch anybody. You don't have to read, you don't have to try to understand like in the theatre or in a movie, it touches you in the very first seconds. And when you have something to tell and show a specific point of a view, people can connect to you and to your feelings.

Maybe music can not change the world, but in its best moments it can help to understand your own world, even if only for four minutes.

Does your artistic work in any way feed into your activism - and vice versa?

I never saw myself as an activist. When I was growing up I never thought about activism, I had no idea about it. I just wanted to be an artist, that's it. But society saw me as an immigrant first, as a queer person, as an outsider.

When I started discovering my own identity after all these feedbacks and setbacks that was the point when I realized that all these impressions and experiences made me an activist. It was never planned, society pushed me into activism.

Do you feel it important that artists become more engaged with the political/ecological/social challenges facing us? If so, what are the best ways to do this?

That's a tough question. I think everybody has the right to write and sing the songs that they want.

When Britney Spears started her career, we never thought that she would become a "symbol" for sexism in the late 90, early 2000s. So everybody has a story to tell. When you want to write songs about how beautiful the weather is and about the sun and the ocean, go for it.

I prefer topics that I`m really into. I always ask myself before recording a new track, is this really a story worth telling? Does the world need this song? When I can answer these questions with a yes, I start my creative process.

Right now for example I am doing reseach on the Afro Turks. They were slaves back in the Ottoman empire who were brought from Africa to Turkey. There are a lot of small villages in Turkey where a lot of Afro Turks live. I am totally fascinated by them. I want to do a track where I combine traditional Turkish instruments with African rhytms.