Opening its doors on the 27th of June, Istanbul Jazz Festival is celebrating it’s 23rd birthday with more than twenty venues and the participation of more than 200 local and international artists, spreading all over the city. We talked about their new age and the festival with Pelin Opcin, who has been the director since 1994.

You’ve been the director of the Istanbul Jazz Festival since 2004. How did your paths join with IKSV?

I actually got quite a different education; I studied Molecular Biology and Genetics at the Bosphorus University. However during my education, I constantly participated in music activities and organizations. I worked both in fundraising and board of management for Radio Boğaziçi, and I also did some shows there. I began at IKSV as a guide during those days. In 2004, I moved to the festival department. It might sound boring, doing the same job for so many years, but it’s a very dynamic job on its own, there is no monotony. On the contrary, every day is a new excitement.

What has changed about the festival in the last decade?

The festival has a solid audience, of course. However there are also various age groups who are interested in our events. Years ago, the program schedules were much different. We used to bring big names one by one, Turkey was so hungry for that. For example, during my first years, famous names such as Nick Cave and Lou Reed were included in the program. If the program were to have only jazz artists, maybe it wouldn’t have drawn so much attention back then. But everything changed through the years; Turkey, especially Istanbul, has a more colorful art and culture scene. If you decide to bring a star, you’re probably not the first one to do so. You also won’t be able to guarantee that it is about to be their one and only concert here. That’s why we began to search and rather than building the festival on each star separately, I think we managed to turn it into a long-lasting experience of fifteen to twenty days.

Well, how did the audience change?

With the addition of new events such as Gece Gezmesi, Parklarda Caz, Tünel Şenliği, the audience has been asking “What is the program of the festival?” instead of “Who is coming to the festival?” So, they also see the festival as a concept, the atmosphere of the festival grabs more attention than the names of stars.

One of the star names of this year is undoubtedly Damon Albarn. However now we’ll be listening to a different project of his, taking stage together with a Syrian Musician Collective. Can you tell us about this?

Damon Albarn is a very productive artist. Not only is he a pop icon, but also someone who works to bring the world of music forward. He must have been affected by the current events, so he decided to explore the Syrian music scene. Actually, he had already worked with Syrian musicians for Gorillaz’ Plastic Beach album on the son called White Flag. In a way, he is addressing his duties to these musicians. They are taking the road with the support of Holland Festival and they’ve picked certain cities. Istanbul is of course one of them. We’ll be listening to Albarn’s own music and seeing surprise names on the day when Albarn and the Syrian musicians take the stage.
İstanbul’un çok önemli bir unsur olduğunu düşünüyoruz. Kentin dokusu ve kültürel mirasıyla insanların yeni alanları deneyimlemesinin çok şey kattığını düşünüyoruz.
We believe Istanbul is a very important element. We think that it’s very beneficial for people to experi- ence new spaces through the texture and cultural heritage of the city.

What do you pay attention to when matching a space to a musician?

We choose concerts and venues which address various age groups and tastes. We are a festival that uses many other places as well as conventional venues. We might as well say that we began this tradition for festivals. We believe Istanbul is a very important element. We think that it’s very beneficial for people to experience new spaces through the texture and cultural heritage of the city.

Will there be a new venue addition to the festival this year?

There is Beykoz Kundura Fabrikası. There will be two concerts held there which match well with the identity of the space; one is Ibeyi, the other is Kamashi Washington. Ibeyi consists of French-Cuban sisters Lisa-Kaindé Diaz and Naomi Diaz, which blends Yoruba, French and Afro-Cu- ban melodies with jazz. Kamashi Washington is a saxophone player whom we know from works with Kendirck Lamar, Flying Lotus, Snoop Dogg and many famous hip hop artists.

How did you create the poster of the festival?

We’ve been working with Alametifarika for so many years. We wanted something that felt good this year. An Indonesian artist, Inekeke made a watercolor piece for us. The result is a bouquet which brings together many olors and creates a good composition that represents the festival.

Is there a concert you look forward to at this year’s program?

Nile Rodgers and Chic! Nile Rodgers is one of the most famous producers of the world. Recently, he produced a David Bowie tribute with Lady Gaga. He reflects emotions of both the past and the future. I am looking forward to it!

Photography: Tabitha Karp