Mercan Dede: “If You Want to Make God Laugh, Make a Plan”

29.08.2021, by Giacomo Luperini

A quick chat with Mercan Dede, AKA Arkın Ilıcalı. The eclectic Turkish-Canadian musician is about to release the third chapter of his two-volume collection entitled “Ludovico Einaudi: Mercan Dede Reimagined”.

Hi Arkin, how’s it going?

Considering how this world is going through turmoil and chaos,  even though in the last two years , like many of my musician friends I could not perform,  I am still grateful to be healthy and continue to create music and visual art and keep the inspiration fire alive.

The third chapter of your new project “Ludovico Einaudi: Mercan Dede Reimagined” will be released soon. Can you tell us a bit about the beginnings of your relationship with Ludovico? How long have you two known each other, and how did your collaboration start?

I started listening to Ludovico twenty years ago and with each album I mesmerized with his compositions and very unique sound. Around mid 2000 I started to work with Titti Santini’s Ponderosa and very quickly they became not only a booking agent but close friends and today I consider them my amazing family.

I met Ludovico around sixteen years ago and immediately connected. He was exactly like his music, a very kind, generous, dimensional and joyful person. Incredibly fun to hang out and exchange ideas and thoughts since he is a very open minded person and gifted artist.  Then this led us to start playing together in Italy and later in Europe and of course in turkey where i am originally from and with his words a place where ” food is as good as Italian food “.

How do you think we can create a dialogue between two genres as different as classical and electronic music? Has any other artist inspired you like this?

Divisions create more divisions, I look at art and culture and music not based on terms such as genres, styles, classic or contemporary. Many music we call Classical today, was not classical in their time. I look at music at its core , which is “the sound” and I am extremely interested in the “sound” more than anything. That’s why I was also was intrigued by Ludovico because he has a distinctive , very unique sound. In his music he already had electronic elements such as reverse sounds, texture layers , he fills the silence with these incredible mysterious worlds of sounds, they are very minimal but yet powerful. When you start playing with Ludovico you also realize he is not only a great player but also a listener, he listens to the sounds almost with the meditative state and responds to it in an extremely sensitive way, this makes sharing a stage with him greatly inspiring. 

Like electronic music , Ludovico’s music is also open to many different styles. He worked with great world music artists such as Ballaké Sissoko. When he played with us in Istanbul with great Turkish musicians like Goksel Baktagir everyone was amazed by his ability to adapt to eastern music modes and structure so fluently .

In electronic music we also have many different influences from African tribal music to funk, disco, deep house , ambient, trance, jazz. So the connection between his music and electronic music was already there and we just had to play together and find the right balance and understanding. In every show this started to develop naturally, he is a great conductor as well, that’s why I call him “Maestro”.

These types of collaborations always excited me, for example Philip Glass collaboration with Paul Simon, Brian Eno’s collaboration with David Bowie was very unique and visionary.


In this project you once again created a dialogue between elements which are often perceived as opposing, such as classical and electronic music, East and West, visual art and music. Juxtaposition and the breaking of schemes seem to be recurring themes in your aesthetic. Could you try and explain this stylistic choice to us?

In my life my focus is about unifying what often people call opposite points. I think this is something to do with the fact that I don’t see things as opposite points to start with. East and west are very relative, who decides where east starts and where west ends, considering our earth is round, it is a globe? So it is more about prospective. I was born in Turkey and have been living in Canada for the last 30 years, so I have both the eastern and western elements in my life. I play traditional reed flute and also synths and turntables as a DJ but I don’t see one of them as more traditional than others. For me they are all instruments, and by definition, what you do with instruments gives them the meaning.

When I paint for an exhibition I see colors also as a sound, when I paint an ocean I hear the waves, when I record waves of the sea I feel deep blue , turquoise colors. So sometimes you paint with color and other times you paint with sounds. I think this is one of the magic of Ludovico’s music: when people listens it, they don’t listen with the musical notes, they listen with the emotion of incredible autumn leaves, they listen incredible stars, they listen sadness and joy at the same time, they listen challenging relationship , they listen love stories and heart aches, so in a way every concert he paints a world of emotions, that’s why so many people all around the world are connected to his art, because he makes them not only hear but deeply feel.

Tradition and spirituality are always interpreted and ingrained in your art from a deeply personal perspective. Can you tell us what “spirituality” means to you? How do you experience it?

Spirituality is for me simply connecting to your own spirit and feeling the awareness comes from your own being. So it is a very individual, personal and  sacred process. It does not come from outside to inside, it is a “inside job”, it comes from your own being and expressed by you to the outside world. That’s what separates religion from  spirituality, one of them tells you the answers and ask you to follow them, the other one ( spirituality ) tell you, ” all the questions and answers are  inside of you”, so you have to start to journey from yourself ( ego ) to your true self ( soul,)  and whatever you experience you reflect that through by art , music, painting, poems, story telling, cooking, loving, simply everything you do.

What’s your relationship with Montreal and Istanbul? How do you think this affected your work?

Istanbul is one of the most inspirational cities, it is ancient, it is multi-layered, it is chaotic , it is magical, it is a city of angels and demons walking hand by hand. So while you walk around the city, even one neighborhood you are inspired enough to create a full album, new exhibition, or write a novel. But you have to digest that inspiration so it becomes part of you, for that you need calm, you need freedom, you need nature and Montreal is perfect for that. Probably the most European North American city. It is definitely one of the most open minded and culturally inspiring places where you can truly be yourself and create. This is why for me Turkey is to inspire and Montreal is to produce , create. I am so fortunate to live in two most incredible cities!

Before we say goodbye, can you tell us a bit about your upcoming projects?

In Sufizm we say, ” if you want to make God laugh, make a plan “. Especially in this crazy world . I am hoping to release all 12 songs of this incredible ” Ludovico Einaudi , Mercan Dede Reimagined Project”  first. It will be completed in 2022, then  as an extrmely amazing idea of Titti ( he is the executive producer of this project ) we would like to make Limited Edition Records  included with Limited Edition Prints of the project.

While this is happening  I continue to have visual art exhibitions, release more music  and hopefully start touring again in mid 2022. But more than anything, I am planning to continue to do my homework in the school of humanity and every day learn how to be a simple, caring, kind, honest human being and that takes time .

Our Earth is in a Ecological , Social, Political, Environmental, Health Crisis, this is an existential crisis  for humanity and as an art community we have to use the magic of art to create a new awareness, so with many friends and independent communities we are working on multiple projects on that front, This is the only home we have and we have to protect it before it is too late. I do believe as long as our heart beats, there is always hope.


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