We recently unveiled the lyric video for Turkish singer/songwriter Emine Sari’s “Who Are You.”  We were quite impressed with her unique blend of pop, jazz and swing.  And her jazzy pop rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep” was easily one of the most original covers we’d ever heard.  Naturally, we were curious about this fascinating artist and wanted to know more.  And so Michael McCarthy immediately set about interviewing her…

I understand you were born in a small city in Turkey. Did you also grow up there? Did you move to other countries when you were growing up?

Yes, I moved from Turkey to Azerbaijan first and later to Russia and Japan. I studied outside my own country also.

Do you live in Turkey today? If so, are you still in a small city or have you moved to big city?

I travel a lot, but my own place is Turkey, Istanbul.

I understand that you speak six different languages. I’m still trying to master French myself and I’ve been at it for over 15 years and still can’t understand it when people start talking fast. Do you find it easy to learn new languages or is it difficult? I would think you must have a natural gift for learning languages to be able to speak that many.

Yeah, that’s true that some people seem to have trouble learning any new language, but there are others, however, who can pick up languages so easily that we say they have a special gift, a so-called “ear for languages.” I believe that with enough hard work, motivation and practice, those who may not think they’re good at foreign language may end up being really good. You need to trust that your brain will learn. As long as you are motivated enough and enjoy what you are doing, you will succeed. Just don’t expect to be fluent in any language over night. It takes time, but it is all worth it.

Music and singing have made a huge difference in my language learning progress! Learning the lyrics of a song helps you expand your vocabulary and teach you some slang/typical phrases. Singing can actually help you reduce your foreign-sounding accent! I think music is a great way to learn a language – it doesn’t feel like work at all.

What are the six languages that you speak?

Turkish, Russian, English, Arabic, Japanese and keep studing German ( I would like to learn French and Spanish so much!)

Have you written songs in all of the languages that you know? I love to listen to music in foreign languages myself, even if I can’t understand the lyrics.

Yes, sure. I started to learn foreign languages for my desire to sing and write foreign songs…

I think, that when you’re writing in a language you don’t ordinarily speak, you’re more likely to find creative ways of aligning the words. It is just so much easier for me to make something make sense in English or Russian, for example. The very few times that I’ve tried to write lyrics in Turkish, they sound so weird for me. We have less words per item to describe something.

I already released a song in four languages, with music video in Japanese, Turkish, English and Russian! I just want to show people that there no borders for music, it is not important which languages you speak!

You can watch video here:

This video was presented to the Governor of Bursa as a gift from me.

I also wrote Arabic version of this song, you can check it out on SoundCloud:

I read that you’re the European Cultural Ambassador for Turkey. What does that involve doing? I know we have cultural ambassadors, too, but I’ve never really known what that involves.

For me to be a Cultural Ambassador means – “share” my culture with music. First I was invited to be Ambassador in Japan while interviewing on the radio JOQR in Tokyo. They asked me about possible introducing Japanese Enka songs to Turkish people while performing my shows or concerts in Turkey. Also they requested more Turkish songs and asked me to perform some on my concert tour in Japan. So when my debut CD was released in 2008, it was in 3 languages including Japanese, Turkish and English.

I think I read that you’re an actress in one of your e-mails. Are you also an actress? If so, what sort of acting have you done? Television shows? Movies? Theatre? All of them?

Yes, I studied acting and went to acting school and was in a few plays in theatre. Acting is another passion of mine.

I understand you moved to Japan because of your health at one point. Was that where you were cured of your leukemia? Did you have an experimental treatment in Japan? I’m just asking because it’s so rare that someone who has leukemia with only three months left to live goes into remission. Are the hospitals in Japan superior to those in Turkey (if you don’t mind me asking) – is that why you went to Japan for treatment?

I was diagnosed with blood cancer (leukemia) 15 years before and given 3 months to live by doctors. My decision to travel to Japan was not hard, I didn’t think there was an alternative. Yes, it was a kind of experimental treatment but it was safe and effective for me! I am now healthy and cancer free!

The standard of health care I have experienced since coming back to live in Turkey is reasonably high. The hospitals are clean modern and staff is helpful. For me the care and efficiency is better than what I have received in other countries.

You were on Japanese Idol, the Japanese version of American Idol. Had you already taught yourself Japanese at that point or were you still in the process of learning? I imagine it must have been pretty scary, competing in a foreign country, in a foreign language. Did you ever get stage fright?

I was in the process of learning Japanese, I spent any free time reading, watching TV, and writing. I’ve got pronunciation down and I’ve learned a few dozen word but it was still slow going.

I practiced very much before competition but 10 minutes before my performance I became very nervous, and started shaking. As I walked out on the stage, audience (5000 people) clapped, which just made me even more nervous. I began to sing, and it was great, got through the song with great ease…

Playing live is part of the job description in the music industry, and being too scared to take to the stage could mean your career is over before it ever really begins. I had a long way getting over stage fright! It doesn’t mean that I never feel those “butterflies” before a performance but now I have the power to control those feelings when they do come up. The trick is to try something – and keep trying until you find what works. My advice is to find ways to practice being in a performance situation. Lots of practice performances before the real one is the way I have found to make the real performance easier.

You ended up being one of the finalists on Japanese Idol. Were you surprised that you made it that far, being someone from a foreign country? You were the first foreign person to ever make it to the finals of Japanese Idol, correct?

“Best Of Singer 2008” contest is correct:) Yes, I was the only foreigner who performed in the finals and I sang in the traditional Japanese enka style. After first and second rounds of the competition being one of the finalists were sounds like “dreams come true”.

Do the people who watch Japanese Idol get to vote for who stays like here in the United States where people call and vote for their favorite singer?

No, there was top music-industry professionals (Guest Judges) of six senior record executives and music industry veterans formerly with some of the largest record companies.

I read that you performed enka, the traditional Japanese style. Were all of the songs that you did on the show enka or just some of them?

All of the songs that I did on the show were enka! You can listen to my mix of Japanese songs including Enka here:

You recorded your first album, In Fire, in Japan, correct? Did you sing in Japanese on the album? Did it have any enka songs?

Yes. After the competition I went to a concert tour in Japan with the famous Japanese band “MATSUMOTO BAND” and later I recorded my first CD “IN FIRE” in 3 languages – English, Japanese and Turkish. All my own songs.

Were you ever offered a record deal to sing in Japanese after you were on Japanese Idol?

My album were produced by T.E.E. Music Japan (1 CD contract) after album released I returned to my own country.

You have a song in Russian called “Why,” which your Soundcloud player indicates is about St. Petersburg. Am I right to assume that you’ve been to Russia then?

Yes, I was in St.Petersburg also I have a lot of friends in there. I am in love with this beautiful city! I also love to sing that song, so emotional for me. Please listen here:

What are all of the countries that you’ve been to so far in your life? What are your favorite cities? I’ve only been to Canada, England and France outside of the United States but so far Paris is definitely my favorite city.

I have visited many cities at all but I love St.Petersburg, Tokyo and Istanbul a lot! I am in love with Okinawa Islands in Japan, really paradise for me:) I have traveled a lot and have lived in a lot of places: Japan, Russia, Kafkas, Egypt, Germany, Italy…

The city I most want to visit (I know that’s not the question) is New York 🙂

How did you get the idea to do a jazz cover version of “Creep” by Radiohead?

I fell in love with Radiohead’s “Creep” the first time I heard it!

I understand your “Creep” cover has become very popular. Do you know how many times it’s been downloaded and listened to on Soundcloud?

I released “CREEP” just 1 month before, for now it’s been listened 32,000 times on SoundCloud and 75,000 views on YouTube. Please watch the lyric video here:

Have you heard from Radiohead, or do you know if they’ve heard it?

I have no idea:)

You won best song in the cover category for September 2013 from the Akademia Music Awards out of Beverly Hills, CA. Did you know you were nominated before you won the award? If so, who nominated you?

I got an email that by judging panel, my music has been officially nominated for the September 2013 Akademia Music Award.

What is your favorite Radiohead album?

I love them all. Except for Pablo Honey, I guess. But OK Computer is the one I probably go back to the most.

Whose idea was it to open the lyric video for “Who Are You” with your social networking sites and Tweets?

My idea:)

How widely used are social networking sites in general in Turkey? Do most people own home computers now?

Many Turkish people own computers, and most couldn’t imagine being without one. Also younger people (age 16-34) now account of for the largest growth sector for tablet computers as well.

What are the most popular social networking sites in Turkey? I know Facebook and Twitter are huge globally, but I know there are other sites that are quite popular in different countries. For example, Livejournal is now owned by a Russian company and is very popular still in Russia. Are there any sites that are popular in Turkey that we probably haven’t heard of here in the United States?

Twitter, is seems to be the most popular microblogging service in Turkey. Facebook, a very popular social networking Web site also YouTube. We don’t have other sites like Vkontakte or Livejournal in Russia or Mixi in Japan.

If someone has never heard any of your music before, what song would you recommend they listen to first?

For me, it is “Who Are You” now, maybe the reason is that I just released it and the single is finally officially on iTunes 🙂

Also the first professional music video I ever did for “I CAN FLY” single.

 Is there anything else you would like to say to people reading this in hopes of convincing them to check out your music?

I hope people can feel something from my music or relate to my songs. I write about real situations so it’s always nice to hear people experiencing the same thing. I also love when people say that they are inspired after hearing some of my songs, it’s a great feeling.

Connect with Emine:

Official Website: http://www.eminemusic.com

Twitter: http://twitter.com/EmineMusic

Facebook: http://facebook.com/EmineSariOfficial

YouTube: http://youtube.com/user/sariemine

Soundcloud: http://soundcloud.com/eminesari

MTV Artists: http://www.mtv.com/artists/emine-sari/


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  1. […] may recall our interview with Turkish singer/songwriter Emine Sari from last year.  Well, she’s once again popped up on our radar, this time with a set of highly addictive […]

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