Benefit concerts in Turkey, then and now
The Awareness Choir will take the stage tonight with singer Nilüfer to draw attention to the importance of early diagnosis in breast cancer. The 40 women in the choir have all been diagnosed with breast cancer.Nilüfer has been an inspiration, a role model, and a bona fide entertainer with her timeless singing voice, for nearly half a century now. Tonight, she’s set to entertain and inspire once again as she takes the stage in Ankara with the initially rather weird-sounding Awareness Choir.
The Rotary’s Awareness Choir is a group of singers brought together by Pınar Ayhan, a singer and TV host, in 2008. They became part of the group not because of their fine voices (although most of them can belt the proverbial high notes), but because of their shared struggle. The 40 women in the choir have all been diagnosed with breast cancer, at different stages of the disease that is commonly treatable with early diagnosis.
The name of the choir no longer sounds all that weird knowing that its performances are aimed at awareness for the life-saving benefits of early diagnosis. Headed by Ayhan and the conductor Cihan Can, the Awareness Choir has been performing throughout Turkey, participating for the last two years in major international events, the most recent being last year’s İstanbul International Choir Days.
Both Ayhan and Nilüfer have represented Turkey in the Eurovision Song Contest, in the contest’s heydays in Turkey, Ayhan in 2000 and Nilüfer back in 1978. Tonight’s concert marks the beginning of Cancer Awareness Week, with popular singer Nilüfer herself having beaten breast cancer last year.
Nilüfer has been a household name in Turkey since the early 1970s, a role model to many for her modest lifestyle, and noted for being the first public figure to adopt a child, as well as being Turkey’s goodwill ambassador to UNICEF for two decades. Her recent album of duets with singers and bands has topped the charts.
A goodwill ambassador
Benefit concerts have been a major source of funding in the West for a long time now. Although they came to be very fashionable after 1985’s Live Aid, that raised $245 million for famine relief in Ethiopia, the very first colossal benefit concert took place in 1971 in New York’s Madison Square Garden. The ex-Beatle George Harrison brought together such giant rock icons as Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and former band mate Ringo Starr for two concerts to raise money for the 10 million refugees from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) who had crossed the border into India.
Benefit concerts might be relatively new in Turkey, but being the goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, Nilüfer has been singing for disadvantaged children for a decade now, both here and in Europe. Turkish singers have performed to fundraise for their favorite charities and causes in the past, but these concerts were mostly thanks to the efforts of the charities and associations.
Mika-Der (Tiny Hearts Together), an NGO that provides support in education, psychology, sport, and musical theater to improve the living conditions of children in orphanages, have recruited such big names as Tarkan and Ferhat Göçer, raising the profile of the lesser-known NGO in the process. The Animal Rights Federation, HAYTAP, has collaborated with names like rapper Ceza and pop diva Sezen Aksu, to bring attention to animal rights.
With her numerous cats and dogs, Sezen Aksu has been a life-long animal lover. She has performed in benefit concerts for animals more than once, the most popular of which took place in Istanbul in 2007, where she took stage with other famous names like Ajda Pekkan, Candan Erçetin, Hande Yener, Yaşar and DJ Murat Uncuoğlu.
An impressive line-up for Rock for Van
Both Sezen Aksu and Ajda Pekkan, two crowd-gatherers, are known to lend their voices to good causes. Pekkan gave a big concert in 2011 for the Somali Relief Fund, famously ending her concert with “We are the World,” with a children’s choir. Back in 1996, Sezen Aksu recorded a single, Cumartesi Türküsü (The Saturday Song), with copies being distributed with the then-popular weekly magazine Aktüel.
The song was an attempt to bring attention to the Saturday Mothers, mothers of those who disappeared under arbitrary detentions, the so-called enforced disappearances, who have been holding vigils every Saturday at noon in the form of sit-ins at Istanbul’s Galatasaray Square, as well as in other cities.
Perhaps the biggest benefit concert in Turkey, in the vein of Live Aid or Hope for Haiti Now concerts, was held in 2011 for the relief of the earthquake in the eastern city of Van. The Van İçin Rock (Rock for Van) brought together a line-up of 40 names, raising over $200,000.
The same year, Turkish band Kardeş Türküler came together in New York with Grammy award-winning musician Arto Tunçboyacıyan and musicians Ara Dinkjian and Feryal Akkaya, again to benefit the victims of Van earthquake. So enjoy tonight’s concert in Ankara for a good cause.