How was your childhood in a house that thrived with music?
It was a time of joy, emotion, and romanticism on every turn. Parents who were in love with each other, guests that were never absent, long dinners, live music, dance and laughter. My father would wake us playing records on Sunday mornings. We would sit down for breakfast with Paco de Lucia, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Wes Montgomery, Al Di Meola, Chick Corea’s music. We weren’t living in luxury but although being the children of musicians, I can say that we didn’t lack anything. There were plenty of desirable instruments around us. There were organs, pianos, drums and my father’s guitar collection, which are vintage now and even more valuable. Unfortunately he had to sell most of them later, when he was battling with cancer. But I still have five heirloom guitars.
Can you tell us about the moment of your first encounter with music and the realization that you would embark on a lifelong journey with it?
I was a student at Kültür College. At age 14, our headmaster Mr. Kutsal asked me to get a band together in order to participate in competitions on behalf of the school. I also had been attending the conservatory since I was five. That’s why the task I was given excited me profoundly. We’ve won many awards. I can say that the awards we won at the Milliyet Song Contest motivated me to set for a career in this business. Until then I thought that I wanted to be a writer, journalist, or lawyer. But the reaction of the audience, the appreciation and interest in my circle led me to take action.
You say that “indecision” identifies with you. Does this state of indecisiveness trigger your creativity?
Even though indecision steals a lot from a creative person’s time, being aware of the alternatives improves originality. I made very few decisions that I later said “I wish”. Every road you embark upon in order not to repeat yourself eventually leads to the right destination. Maybe a breaking point results in a deviation in the cycle of destiny, but these are the turns that determine life and career anyway. I’m not complaining about indecision. Just racking my brain to achieve better. I can hardly even choose the restaurant I will go to, but if there is a feast at the end, then let it be…
How do you manage to fit the zeitgeist and be the Kenan Doğulu of every era?
I’m not disconnected with the world and ongoing events. I keep up to date with the art scene and trends, and although I have to make radical changes from time to time in order to inhabit that life, I do the best I can. Whatever happened in the past, happened. This moment is important and we need to be able to send manifestos to the future. You can’t live without a goal. It’s not really like me to say something like “I’m well-done and I feel fine with it”. I’m trying to analyze what I can do first as an individual and then as a professional, how I can satisfy both myself and my audience more. I love my job and try to shape it according to my heart’s desire. Feeling that it is reciprocated, applauded, followed and supported empowers a person tremendously. That strength encourages me to create the work that I find in my heart, without compromising my music. For that I feel very lucky and rewarded. I’m grateful to every single person whose eyes shine with love at the concerts and I cherish every living moment. At that brief time, the bond between us strengthens and I realize that we have embarked on a long journey together.
What is the element that should not be ignored in order for music to transcend time?
The songs that are made by imitating the sounds in fashion become merely another one of the rest in the following years. The ones that transcend time, on the other hand, are always original and proficient. A good melody, a beautiful lyric never gets old. But musical styles can succumb to technology. For example, when trap goes out of fashion and we start getting bored, a lyric or some clever trick in the harmony can make that song immortal. The compositions that others want to cover, the ones that are more suitable for acoustic versions, last longer. There are huge hits with thousands of versions. They live, be played, spread around, and passed from generation to generation as they evolve.
What would you say about the dynamic balance between the musicians and new media platforms? How do you adapt to the change in the process?
As someone who has experienced the transition from record to cassette, from cassette to CD and then to digital, I have witnessed how quickly time passes. The musician keeps up with it one way or the other. Since the early ages, every artist is concerned with touching and inspiring more people. They want their voices to be heard and their message to be conveyed by crowds. Every tool that serves this purpose is the apple of our eye. The world is smaller now. Everybody can approach any artist they like instantly. We used to bend over backwards to find and watch a concert DVD in the past. Now we have everything at our fingertips. All we need is curiosity. If searching and questioning ends, life stops. There are many opportunities to improve ourselves. Musicians can access workshops, YouTube files, Google information, or an entire corpus through music platforms. It’s wonderful to share your song whenever you want. A huge process made remarkably easy.
What is the secret of Kenan Doğulu’s independence from time?
We’ve worked so hard and we created so much. I was talking with my brother Ozan about this the other day. I alone have released about 400 songs. He also has more than a thousand arrangements he made for others. We surely have caught a common feeling with people from different walks of life. The songs have definitely accompanied a moment, either at a concert, birthday, graduation ceremony, festival, or at a wedding. Not only I want people to benefit from my work while I’m still active and functional, but I also want to go on stage and be in the spotlight as long as possible. My energy on stage is passed on to the people. I feel that they feel how I feel.
I believe that I’m “brave enough” actually. Courage is the first step to success. It is also a great virtue to take another shot when you stumble. Disappointments should not turn into traumas. When you take your logic and emotions as your accomplice, you curb the intimidation.
What would you like to say about the role of “courage” in your life? Do you consider yourself courageous enough?
It was said in a movie that “Danger is real, fear is a choice.” When I know and be certain, of course I’m more brave. But there are times when I protect myself and act cautiously in some matters. I believe that I’m “brave enough” actually. Courage is the first step to success. It is also a great virtue to take another shot when you stumble. Disappointments should not turn into traumas. When you take your logic and emotions as your accomplice, you curb the intimidation.
Carrying your learnings to different heights is in your hands. It’s not about where you take it from but where you lead it to. It’s about your devotion. Music is one of the most delightful areas that lets you dream far and beyond.
Do you think talent can be trained? Or approaching the question from another perspective, to what point in a musical journey can music education take an individual who lacks the talent?
Every talent needs training. Talented people get what they get sometimes from a master, sometimes from a teacher or an elder. Carrying your learnings to different heights is in your hands. It’s not about where you take it from but where you lead it to. It’s about your devotion. Music is one of the most delightful areas that lets you dream far and beyond.
How would you describe “being on stage”? Take us to the moment when you feel the same emotions with thousands of people.
It is quite special to see that what you’ve written in a small room manifests with the masses. It is a moment of reunion with people you spend life with, sharing the same emotions, most of whom you don’t know but love anyway. I’ve been on stage as long as I remember. In that moment, I feel complete and purposeful. I’m on the side that believes goodness will prevail. So are most of the people who come to the concert. That positive synergy brings out tremendous energy and turns the venue into a seance of love. I become ecstatic with serotonin and adrenaline. I don’t want it to end.
Covers, new sounds, fresh collaborations have to be one of the secrets behind Kenan Doğulu’s timelessness… As you prepare to leave 30 years behind, would you like to share a secret project that makes your heart pound faster?
Every new song makes my heart pound faster. They have quite accumulated and I will go on releasing fresh music. There will be covers and featurings in homage collections. We’re planning to organize special events for the 30th anniversary. I want to have a symphonic concert and a special project in a large venue. I’m planning for best of albums, compositions, remix and cover contests, etc. Let the rest stay as surprises.
It is important to try relentlessly, believe in your work, and be able to say something new.
As a person who has been involved with every phase of music from production to stage, do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?
It is important to try relentlessly, believe in your work, and be able to say something new. Of course it’s great to sing like Billie Eilish, shoot videos like Dua Lipa, compose music like Ed Sheeran; but the melodies and originalities that only you write are unique. When you think that your endeavor’s not heard or understood, it is necessary to be able to say that “I did my best.” Good work will surely shine one day. When the time and place is right, it ascends to the heights it deserves.
Do you care about people’s opinions on you?
I believe that I’m an insightful person. That’s why I take it as an opportunity to correct one more shortcoming, if there’s any truth in what has been said. I ask everyone’s opinion, weigh them and in the end I do my heart’s bidding. Right or wrong. Whatever it is. At some point, I stop hearing what I don’t want to hear. Then comes a time when I brood about it. I can’t stand being angry or cross with anyone. I absolutely have to hug, forgive, or apologize and fix it.
I’ve flown with the wind, never set restrictions, always reckoned with my conscience. Haven’t hurt anyone on purpose. I let my soul compose poems in this life.
Do you think you are true to yourself?
I’m at peace about this issue. I had a wonderful childhood and youth. I’ve flown with the wind, never set restrictions, always reckoned with my conscience. Haven’t hurt anyone on purpose. I let my soul compose poems in this life. I don’t like telling lies. I don’t even tell them to myself.
How involved are you with social media?
Social media has become a part of our business. It’s your own news source and media power. Back then it was acceptable for celebrities to keep private. Now everybody wants to know the artists they love better, find common interests and witness their lives. It was always the case but thanks to technology, it’s possible now. I’m just getting used to it too. In fact, all my days are so active and joyful that I rarely have time to wonder about other people’s lives. All notifications are always turned off on my phone on all the channels I can be reached. I log in when I want to and check the news all at once. Even though I don’t spend much time, social media has become a place where we hear from our loved ones. We learn about births, deaths, and weddings from there. In other words, it has turned into a necessity that connects us to life. We are looking at a screen all together – either phone, TV or computer. Even our watches have screens now. The upsides are innumerable, but social media etiquette and law still have not reached the desired level. As young people are born into technology, they should surely establish a network of respect soon.
How do different forms of art affect your production process?
Abstract thinking leads to the intertwining and hybridization of forms. Being involved with different art disciplines does well for an artist. If every inspiring piece of art comes to life as another work, it means that the wheels of art are in motion. A thousand different stories emerge from a painting into a song.
Not every composition can have a direct link with your life. What role do the emotional states of the outside world play in your music?
Having a heart-to-heart and being a confidant is good for composers. Furthermore, they are also good listeners who encourage people to talk. Any moment in life can turn into a verse. They are fueled by what’s going around. If empathetic enough, they can adopt a cause. So yes, they don’t experience everything directly.
How do you describe passion?
Beyond reach creates passion. Dreams keep it alive… If that excitement dies out, the world loses its joy. A person wants to believe in something. Desire towards that belief keeps the passion burning.
How important is your image to you? Are you one of those who’s occupied with their looks?
Appearance is one of the greatest obsessions of our generation. We like to see ourselves through filters. The state of aesthetic concerns can have negative effects on the new generation. Everybody thinks that they have to be beautiful. No kind of appearance can replace love and well-deserved respect. From day one of my career, I’ve put my heart and soul into my business. I always considered fashion and pop music as siblings. It wouldn’t be right for a person who’s dealing with popular music to fall into an outdated inertia. I care about preserving this perspective in my work. In our collaboration with Lee, we’ve chosen pieces of apparel that appeals to every period while reflecting my style and perspective.
How would you describe Kenan Doğulu’s style? What kind of silhouette does the name Kenan Doğulu evoke in minds?
I think there is definitely a guitar and/or microphone in my silhouette. I’ve worn a lot of hats since my first video. Usually a hat can be seen in my shadow. I’ve never managed to be a person with a tie and suit. I tried it from time to time and still have to wear business clothing every once in a while, but I prefer the most comfortable apparel 90% of the time. Sneakers and tracksuits are a part of my daily life. Jeans are among the timeless and indispensable pieces of my wardrobe. There are pieces in Lee’s collection that I love to wear both on stage and in my daily life. There’s an ever-changing, refreshed persona on stage. I love working with soaring Turkish designers and those who enjoy stardom. My silhouette fluctuates with their guidance from time to time.
How would you describe the physical and spiritual struggle of putting music in the center of your life, the start and evolution of this journey? How did this state that you learned to cope with over time changed your perspective on life?
I learned about the value of my body and mind at a young age. I learned how to slow down or enter a state of all work and no play according to the concert schedule, compromise in order to prioritize my brand, and take my business as my primary concern when I need to make concessions. When the songs become larger than your life, there comes a time when you realize that you are just an occupant in this body; that you are the producer and the guard of songs that will outlast you, and that you are tasked with creating and protecting them. I’m in that state. All the things I went through, the tests and struggles I surpassed… My work still provides me with fresh experiences every day. I’m not surprised by anything anymore but I certainly encounter stuff that deserves a “No way!” kind of exclamation. I’m surrounded by a circle of trust, composed of people who love me. This provides me with strength and helps me overcome the obstacles.
When do you live in the moment the most?
Like everyone else, I experience my best moments when I’m calm, peaceful, and happy. I feel kind of better when we escape to the lands where no one knows about me.