Here are the pictures and stories of my journey through Athens and Istanbul…
An organization called Antifa Live invited me to play a benefit concert in Athens, Greece this past October. Antifa Live is dedicated to combatting fascism and, more recently, the Neo-Nazi movement that is on the rise in Greece via a right-wing extremist group called Golden Dawn who have focused their hate, violence and rage on immigrant workers (sound familiar?) When the organizer told me about them I thought he said “Golden Dong” due to his accent, and that’s how I’ll remember them from here on out. The last (and only) time I played Athens was exactly 10 years ago, and I didn’t even get to spend a full day there due to my hectic tour schedule, so I figured this would be a great opportunity to return and explore the city a bit…
Since I had never been to Turkey before, I decided I should take the short flight from Athens to Istanbul while I’m out there. First I needed to book a show there, because as a touring artist, well, I guess I don’t know how to travel anywhere without having a concert planned. My Turkish fans online referred me to Sagopa Kajmer who happens to be the most popular Turkish rapper. I was also told that he plays my music on his radio show, so that seemed like the best move. After a few emails, the Istanbul show and my flights were BOOKED…
Let’s bring this story back to Greece for a moment as that’s the first country I visited. After a 10 hour flight, I landed in Athens and was scooped up by the Antifa organizers who brought me directly to an apartment which would be my home for the next couple nights. I slept. Then I woke up and slept some more. Then I woke up around 6 A.M. the next day. I wobbled out of the apartment in a groggy daze and was immediately greeted by the parents of the organizer who let me stay in her apartment for the weekend. Her parents invited me into their apartment upstairs and seemed excited to practice their English while treating me to breakfast and coffee.
We discussed many things including Greece’s persistent financial crisis, protests, riots, activists, etc. I asked the father what he thought the end result would be. More than once, he and his wife repeated this Lao Tzu quote:
“Those who know, do not speak. Those who speak, do not know.”
I was then invited to his work-station at the very top floor where I discovered that he is an incredible stone cutter. His sculptures were marvelous. Once I was finished admiring all of his works of art, he handed me this Socrates piece as a gift:
This generous offering caught me totally off-guard. It wasn’t until much later that I found myself wondering whether I should have offered payment or something in return for it. Alas, I am now the very proud owner of a Socrates stone and it’s definitely the coolest thing I’ve ever carried home in a suitcase. I spent the rest of my day walking around the city of Athens, which has as much political graffiti as it does fanny packs and stray cats.
There were cops everywhere, armed to the teeth. It looked like they were a military outfit occupying hostile enemy territory. I would have taken a picture, but as I was all by myself in a foreign country I made the snap decision to…not.
It would have been nice to visit the Acropolis or the Greek islands, but instead I walked the streets aimlessly until it was time for me to go to the venue for soundcheck. Those fun touristy things will have to wait for another time. As for the “venue,” it was at the University of Athens which is where multiple students were killed during a military raid in 1973. That event ultimately emboldened the people’s revolution and put an end to the junta. In fact, to this day, the police aren’t even ALLOWED on the campus unless they are invited or given permission by the school’s president. Therefor, it essentially acts as a safe haven and a place of legal immunity for activists. This is why were able to throw this show with no special permits to over 3000 people:
This show was much larger than I had anticipated (no complaints here.) Despite almost blowing out my vocals due to monitor problems, the show was thoroughly enjoyable. By the end of it I was ready to collapse again. Since I had to catch an early flight to Turkey the next morning, we decided to head out. While walking toward the car we crossed a line of police officers who were waiting patiently for the show-goers to hit the streets.
My flight to Istanbul was easy enough. While the people in Greece had a fair grasp of the English language, I did encounter a language barrier in Turkey upon my arrival. The people who greeted me at the airport stated that Sago was waiting for me outside. And that’s about it. haha. They turned and I followed. Sagopa (aka Sago,) the Turkish emcee responsible for setting up the show for me, waited in the car instead of standing in the airport as he tends to get hounded by fans when he’s out in public. That was the general vibe I got anyway. He spoke good enough English for us to hold an actual conversation. We pretty much talked about hip-hop during our drive from the airport to the hotel. I noticed that he was holding a stack of my vinyl recordings, including the first piece of vinyl I ever released. THAT blew my mind. It was the “Bounce” single from ’99. Only 2K of them were ever pressed and one of them made it all the way to Istanbul more than a decade before I did.
In order to enter the hotel we had to walk through a metal detector. That was a first for me. Ironically enough, it made me feel…oh, I don’t know…not safe? Regardless, it was a gorgeous hotel and my room had an incredible view of the sea. I slept for the next 4 hours and then met back up with the gentlemen who were waiting for me in the lobby. We headed to the venue to prepare for the show.
This venue was the polar opposite of the one I performed at the night before. It was an indoor theater. A seated theater. A posh, indoor, seated theater in a non-English speaking country that was visiting for the first time. And I was the only scheduled performer. Here’s a picture of the “soundcheck” which mainly consisted of a light guy asking me what colors I like:
Fast forward to showtime. It wasn’t a packed room, but the fans who were there were ravenous. Before starting the show, I stepped to the front of the stage and admitted that the theater environment felt a bit awkward but it was time for us to make the most of it. From that point on the people went absolutely bonkers. They sang along to the songs, demanded requests, got into scuffles, and kind of made me feel right at home. In fact, the guy who made his way front and center was wearing a homemade Eyedea t-shirt, which was awesome to see. It definitely put me at ease even though this guy was easily the craziest bastard of the bunch. He tried to bully my SFR cape away from me but I wouldn’t let him. We’re friends now though:
To further illustrate the awkwardness of this event, here’s a short video clip that a fan uploaded to YouTube showing how I had my own obsessive-compulsive security guard who tried readjusting the mic stand every time I touched it:
Although I’m making light of the security team, things did get a bit hairy after the show when I entered the crowd to give hugs and say my goodbyes to everyone as I usually do. People were tugging, pulling, pushing, and being overly-aggressive in their affection and demand of pictures. It’s one of the few moments in my life where I felt like I couldn’t really control my immediate surroundings. Once I made the motion that I wanted to leave, my personal Secret Service ushered me to the backstage area and then we all left from the back of the building.
The next day, I was invited to Sago’s house for a dinner that his wife, her mother & grandmother prepared for me so I could have a taste of the best traditional cuisine Turkey had to offer. It was like my own personal Thanksgiving:
Not only is she a great cook, but Sago’s wife, Kolera, is also a popular Turkish rapper! So crazy. In fact, this was the day that her new album dropped, and here she was catering to me, a visitor, which was incredibly kind of her. The evening turned into something I can only compare to what it’s like being a kid during a birthday party and everyone is watching intently on your reaction to every gift that you open. In this instance, each gift I opened was a bite of food and got to a point where they were practically force feeding me. “Eat, eat, eat! You like that? What’s your favorite? Now try this. EAT, FAT BOY!” Now listen…I know I’m a large man, but the amount of food they were putting in front of me had to be a joke. I had to basically beg for them to understand that even though I loved all the food, I simply couldn’t eat any more. Haha. “Yes, yes, but it’s LIGHT food.”-Sago
After sipping some piping hot Tukish tea, and being given a tour through their basement (which doubled as one of the most amazing recording studios I’ve ever been in,) I was brought back to my hotel so I could prepare for my last day in Istanbul. This would be my one and only official tourist-heavy experience for the entire trip abroad. And it went a little something like this:
After being treated to another delectable dinner (“eat, eat, EAT!”) I was dropped off at the hotel where I said goodbye to Sagopa, Kolera and the rest of my new friends. I had to wake up at 5 A.M. the next morning in order to catch my flight home — a trip that consisted of 3 separate international flights and took 24 hours in all. Stuff like that usually bugs me, especially with a bad back and knees, but when you travel on a rejuvenated spirit with so much to think about and reflect on it’s not a problem at all. This was an action-packed week for me and I’m eternally grateful for how hospitable my gracious hosts were in Greece and Turkey. THANK YOU!
I am beyond appreciative that my music has reached such far corners of this earth, enabling me to experience cultures and travel places I probably would never have otherwise. Obviously not everyone has the same luxury, but if you don’t have a passport already I highly advise that you get one. Start exploring outside of your comfort zone(s.) It can be a hit to the pocket, but there are ways to make it happen. I’ve admittedly skipped over thousands of details here, and there are probably a million things that I missed, but experiences like these are more enriching than I could ever explain.
Travel heavy. Pack light.