Turkey’s concert organizers complain about government indifference during pandemic

Concert organizers who have brought stars like Michael Jackson, Metallica, Roger Waters and Shakira to Turkey and promoted the country in the process, say they have not been respected or supported during the pandemic.

K. Murat Yıldız / Duvar English 

In a Soviet-like state-controlled society with only one black and white TV channel and a few state radio stations, Turks, especially teenagers, tried to follow the global music scene closely in the 80s and 90s. They would gather in their neighborhoods and exchange cassettes at a time when no one could imagine MP3s.

The lucky ones had tape recorders to record songs from European radio stations and could go to school bragging about having the latest Madonna song. Let alone seeing Madonna live, listening to her on tape was something you had to work hard for.

Having a Walkman was a privilege

One of the first things a teenage music lover would ask their German-Turkish relative to bring to Turkey for their summer vacation was a Bravo music magazine and some original cassettes of their favorite singer or band. Moreover, having a Walkman at that time was as cool as driving a Ferrari.

1993 Michael Jackson concert

After the election of Prime Minister Turgut Özal in 1983 and the start of Turkey’s economic integration with the West, access to foreign music became easier. In 1987 the first Bravo-like Turkish foreign music magazine ‘Blue Jean’ was published. State TV and radio stations started broadcasting ‘Billboard Lists.’ Yet, it still took years before a major concert took place in the country and it was of the "King of Pop," Michael Jackson.

MJ’s concert in 1993 materialized only because of government support, but it was a milestone nonetheless. Since that day, Turkey has hosted many stars, and most of the people who enabled that were the kids of the past exchanging cassettes and Bravo magazines in their childhood like Bülent Burgaç, one of Turkey’s most prominent event and concert organizers.

'We promote our country'

“When I see the president hosting thousands of people in closed environments, I feel very bad. More than anything, it makes us feel unimportant. We see that we are not a priority for the state despite our contributions to the economy and the positive image of Turkey,” Burgaç told Duvar English, pointing to the ban on concerts and events in the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are not only selling tickets for concerts. We promote our country and culture to visitors and world-famous artists," he said. “Not only now, but even before the pandemic we never got much support from the authorities and state.”

Burgaç who has been involved in bringing stars like Avril Lavigne, Massive Attack, Tori Amos, Megadeth, Whitesnake, Def Leppard, Alanis Morissette, Roger Waters, Madonna, and Faithless to Turkey noted that “there have been artists and people we have worked with who had a negative image of Turkey, but fell in love after they visited the country.”

Coup attempt already damaged the sector

“We already suffered a major blow after the coup attempt in 2016. For example, I had a sold-out Sia concert which we had to cancel,” he added.

“When we do a major concert in Istanbul, thousands of people from taxi drivers and restaurants to hotel receptionists, take home the bread. Yet, since the outbreak of the virus, no one has reached out to us for support,” Burgaç complained.

“I had to cancel about a dozen major planned events due to the pandemic this last year. This year I canceled all my events. On the year of the coup attempt, I had to cancel 14 major events. I was planning some events this summer, but unfortunately, I had to cancel them too,” he concluded.

No concerts in 2021

Siyabend Süvari, who organized events for stars such as Jennifer Lopez, Eric Clapton, Madonna, and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, told Duvar English that they have postponed all of their events to 2022.

“We foresaw major concerts and festivals not taking place this year so we postponed them. Vaccinations are going slower than we expected in Turkey and Europe. Therefore, we made the call in December,” he said.

“When we have a major event, 1,000 to 1,500 people make money from it directly. If an international conference is organized, this increases up to 5,000 people. When we talk about an event with 2,000 people, it impacts hundreds of thousands of people. But the government kept hotels open while banning fairs. I can’t understand the logic behind that.”

Things should be different

Pointing at the indifference of the state, Süvari concluded saying, “I have a sound producer colleague who is selling fruits and vegetables at the farmers market now. Another one is working in construction. They are not ashamed of it, but this should not be the case."