Sebnem Ferah

Sharing is caring!

Sebnem Ferah in the flesh in Kayseri, Turkey.

Fifteen years ago I was living in Kayseri with my now husband, in the Anatolian heart of Turkey, teaching English at what was then the sixth best government university in the country. Every year, students organized a Spring Festival, to celebrate the end of winter and the completion of the academic calendar. We went to visit the Festival every night it was held. Down at the base of the crater-like hole that’d been dug for a lake but never successfully filled with water, students held stalls selling food and drinks or cheap knickknacks they’d managed to get donated. Up in the carpark we laughed at the boys driving round in go carts, and every night at sunset we watched fireworks being let off. A lot of the locals had come for the spectacle too, so there were always cars parked along the edge of the track, their occupants talking and quietly drinking rakı, while observing the goings on below.

As part of my teaching contract I assisted the Rector, Zeki, with his English. He was very modern in his outlook and had helped the students contact record companies, who’d agreed to provide the talent for free. When I’d shared my excitement about the concert line up, Zeki had arranged for me to have seats in the protocol area of the newly completed amphitheatre. Each night the audiences had been pretty big, but when we arrived on the last night to watch Sebnem Ferah perform, the crowd was overwhelming. All the tiers were full, locals were crammed into cars packed into every available space along the ridge of the hill overlooking the stage, and there was an enormous crush around the entry as people tried to squeeze into the already overcrowded space to watch the concert. Luckily Zeki’s driver saw us and muscled us through the entry.

Our seats were right on the edge of the stage. The students who’d organized the festival sat cross-legged on the floor, directly in front of us. Up behind us we saw current and former students in the crowd who happily called out to us and waved hello when they spotted us. They told us they’d been waiting on the concrete seats, in the hot sun, for five hours. None of them minded because they knew they were in for a treat.

When Zeki came onto the stage the students rose to their feet cheering madly. Even though he was the Rector of the university and therefore the highest authority on campus, to the students he was like the best Dad ever. A chant of “Zeki Baba”, “Zeki Father”, was taken up and the hairs on my arms rose as it got louder and louder. Looking back all we could see was a sea of smiling, loving faces, all directed at the small man in a suit. Zeki took to the stage to welcome them to the close of the Festival, and it took another ten minutes before the students quietened enough for him to speak. He was still smiling when he took his seat beside us and we congratulated him on the success of the Festival.

“The students love it Zeki”, I said. “They haven’t talked about anything else this week.”
“Good, good”, he beamed. “You know, they are like my children, and I want my children to be happy.”

When Sebnem Ferah took to the stage the students went wild once more. As she began her first song I swear every student present began to sing too. Dressed in a white vest and parachute pants with a luminous design, she was a striking figure with the sun setting behind her. Her voice was incredible. Throughout the concert she talked directly to the students, about their lives and interests. Knowing that many of them liked music radically different to their parents, she asked, “Is this a folk song or a rock song”, before launching into a rock version of a traditional tune. She was so touched by the reception they gave her that she stripped her arms bare of bracelets and threw them into the crowd. We could see the tears on her face when the students returned the gesture, raining her with roses and jewellery.

For the finale, she danced on the apron of the stage, three metres in front of us. As she started to sing a love song she leant down to face the organizing committee members gazing up at her in awe, making each of them feel she was singing the song only for them. When she chose one boy to stand up and dance with her his stunned delight was met with a roar of approval from the crowd. The look on his face when she kissed his cheek at the end was priceless and I suspect he didn’t wash his face for a week.

I’ve never forgotten the look of joy on his face, and the effect Sebnem Ferah’s music had on everyone in the audience. I’m lucky to have to have been a part of it.

Like what you read? Learn more about Read more about Turkish music and come Exploring Turkish Landscapes with me.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.