March 18, 2010


Kirceki station is cold and sunny at 9am. We find a place to leave our bags, in a raggedy flat above a shop that sells theatre props and 45’s, and walk out into the city, across the main road into the part of Beyoglu the tourists don’t reach. There, an old man bows under the weight of a basket of logs, struggling among clinker-built buildings with their wood slats rotting. Allah-U-Akbar is intoned from ten mosques at once, the first time we’ve heard it on our journey. Shops and cafes are unmarked- we sit in a teashop drinking long-stewed tea while men slap cards onto tables and yell victory. The TV shows a Bolton vs. Aston Villa match, and an old geezer with a rubber face paces, casting glances at us.

Guts full of tannin, we walk on in search of a shop that’ll develop Billy’s photos, plunging through a bazaar devoted to machinery. How do these bazaars work, with forty shops all selling taps clustered in the same street? Isn’t the market flooded? But tap customers jostle traders all day long.

I leave Billy to do pictures and run late to meet Spar outside Burger King (timeless landmark, good for toilets and finding people). Spar is an Istanbul MC I’ve made Myspace contact with, and in flesh he’s massive and friendly with very little English, dressed like an East Coast rapper from the golden age. We drink Turkish coffee (thick, strong, full of cardamom) and board the ferry for Kadikoy to meet his crew. It’s a beautiful day- seagulls skim the broad blue Bosphorus as a crowd of schoolboys gathers to watch me and Spar cipher in two languages. The love of hiphop- we don’t speak the same mother tongue but we can talk in flows for hours.

From the ferry Istanbul is a mad clutter of history, wreathed in traffic fumes and branded with the unmistakable face of Ataturk, the Father Of Modern Turkey. He’s stencilled on banners everywhere in definite Che Guevara style, a future-bound face with a flourish of signature below. ‘Without him’, the banners seem to say, ‘Allah only knows what might have happened.’

The ferry docks, and Spar takes me to a flat/studio where the air is blue with fag smoke and a dozen MC’s jostle for space. Their flows are dope, completely un-English, totally un-American, something of the sway of darabouka rhythms in them with a fierce emphasis that hits between beats. We crowd in on a track together and spend the afternoon writing 8 bars each and laying them down. The best rapper of all has cancer and has just come from a chemo treatment, hairless and heavy-eyed.

By the time we have to head for our 23.50 train to Adana, my eyes are streaming Flu, my lungs are coarse with Marlboros, Billy has got lost finding us and eventually found, and a song has been birthed and recorded.

We buy cheese sandwiches in the station, and prepare our spirits for a night on a chair.

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