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Michelle Thomas

Published February 24th, 2006 | by Michelle Thomas

Crossing The Bridge Review

Classification: TBC Director: Fatih Akin Rating: 3/5

Okay. I don’t know much – scratch that – I don’t know anything about Turkey, beyond a vague memory of it once being called the Ottoman Empire and playing a major part in the Balkan Crisis that led to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (hah! a musical connection) and thus indirectly to blame for the First World War. But modern Turkey? Nothing, zilch, nada – and so Crossing The Bridge was a minor revelation.

Made by Fatih Akin, award-winning director of Head-On, the film features Alexander Hacke, bass player with German band Eisturzende Neubaten, on a musical odyssey through Turkey. Alexander is open, disarming, and in love with Turkey, which he discovered while working on the soundtrack for Head-On. So he comes back to Turkey to play bass with neo-psychedelic band Baba Zula, but as someone who ‘collects’ sounds and musical styles, he didn’t just bring a guitar. Complete with mobile recording studio, he sets out to capture the musical diversity of Istanbul on his hard drive.

Two things really impressed me about Crossing The Bridge. One is the incredible range of music being produced in Turkey. I don’t know much about music theory, but was interested to know that eastern percussion actually works differently to western, which is why it sounds odd to our ears. But Turkey is not only producing traditional and ‘arabesque’ music. Hacke meets rappers, rockers, dervishes and dj collectives.

As we all know, Turkey sits uneasily between Europe and Asia – Istanbul striding the Bosphorus with a foot on each continent. All of the band members talk about this bi-cultural tradition – growing up unaware of their musical tradition and listening to American and European pop. This is quite a common phenomenon, as global marketing takes hold, but was enhanced in a Turkey where being European was to be civilised, and eastern/arab influences were demonised. Turkish music was even banned in Turkey in the 1930s, and the Islamic population had to listen to Arabic radio stations.

Different bands deal with this complex cultural identity in different ways. Some, like Orient Expressions, a dj collective, dismiss it as a negative stereotype. Others, like Baba Zulu, use the blend of ethnic influences, take from them what they need, and blaze their own trail. Then there are the rock bands, Duman and Replikas, and the rappers, Ceza and his sister, who use their music to get across their social and political views. For if Istanbul is an exciting and vibrant city, it also has a dark underbelly, with serious drug problems.

Hacke is the centre of the film, and he’s quite extraordinary. Clearly some sort of musical genius, he also has the happy ability to make friends with people immediately and has what Shakespeare called ‘the common touch’ – seeming to fit in wherever he goes, whether a Sufi ceremony or a bar in Tarlabese, the ghetto where most of the gypsy population live.

The film is a little bit slow in parts, and how much you enjoy it may well depend on how interested you are in music – and your tolerance for a certain amount of artistic waffle, pseudo-profundity and crazy instruments. Mine was higher than I expected. Give it a whirl.

aka Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul.


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