Launched in 2007 in memory of Arif Mardin (1932-2006), world-renowned producer/arranger and vice chairman of The American Turkish Society for many years, The Arif Mardin Fellowship is conducted in partnership with Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, where Mardin's successful music career began as the first recipient of the Quincy Jones Scholarship. The Arif Mardin Fellowship allows one student of Turkish descent or nationality to attend the 5-week Summer Performance Program at the Berklee College of Music. 

Mehmet Ali Şimaylı is one of our talented Arif Mardin fellows that attended this Program. He shared his experience and memories with ATS. 

Mehmet, you were an Arif Mardin Fellow in summer 2016 at Berklee College of Music. How did you hear about this program?

First of all, studying at Berklee was a big dream for me. So I started searching for opportunities to go there. I heard about the Arif Mardin Fellowship and the program from my friends who experienced it in the past years. The 5-week Summer Performance Program was a great chance to take the first step. At that time the application deadline had past, but this way I had a year to prepare my application more thoroughly. 

Can you tell us about your studies and your time in Boston?

I had an incredible time in Boston last summer. With the help of the legendary academic team of Berklee I had classes which completely broadened my musical vision and instrumental skills. Also, I was part of the Balkan/Middle Eastern ensemble with my Oud. Together with my musician friends, we gave a concert at the Berklee Performance Center by merging our cultural and musical knowledge. During the summer I became friends with musicians from all over the world who even came to Istanbul to visit me and the other Istanbul-based musicians. 

How did the program and the scholarship impact your life and work?

The 5-week Summer Performance Program and the honor of being awarded the Arif Mardin Fellowship by The American Turkish Society made me a more conscious musician and person. It gave me a motivational boost and it affected my musical works a lot. 

Do you think the grant brought you more recognition?

Being a musician in Istanbul is challenging. There are lots of great musicians in ?stanbul. From the ones who are recognized around the world to the ones who play at underground stages, I am learning things by playing with them. However, everyone has to have a distinctive feature for being recognized by the community. The Arif Mardin Fellowship gave me the necessary recognition that I need to follow my dream of becoming a full-fledged professional musician. 

What projects are you working on right now?

Besides the group projects with which I perform at local places and festivals, I am currently a student in a jazz certificate program which is a great place for me to study jazz, play with ensembles and practice drum set and piano, adhered to the tradition. I am also composing my own music where I try to merge the elements of jazz with the elements of my cultural heritage by making microtonal music, using unique instruments like fretless guitar, local stringed and percussion instruments. I hope I will be publishing them next year. 

What’s next for you?

Forecasting my future is a hard thing but I am trying to do the best I can about my musical career. As the next step, I want to study jazz composition and performance in a good music school. I am always searching for new musical ideas and topics. I believe that life will show me the right way to become a professional musician if I don't give up.

 

Check out Mehmet Ali’s mashup-cover video of two Turkish traditional folk songs here.

 

Interview by Funda Akın