2016: Mehmet Ali Simayli

Mehmet Ali Simayli
Mehmet Ali Simayli

Mehmet was a 17-year-old musician from İstanbul, Turkey when he was offered the Arif Mardin Summer Fellowship at Berklee in 2016. His musical voyage began at a young age as he was influenced by his father to play piano and guitar. Along with the piano and guitar, he was also interested in rhythm instruments and percussions. At age seven his mother and father took him to a workshop with a famous percussionist, named Oktay Temiz, where he discovered other instruments, such as the bendir and the darbuka. It was here that Mehmet realized his passion for music was rooted in his soul. Shortly afterwards, he discovered his interest in rhythm and drums. “Finding myself in front of the drum set was a real turning point,” says Mehmet. “I spent a lot of time on the drums and it eventually became my number one, favorite instrument amongst all others.”

The interview with Mehmet Ali Simayli

1. 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.

2. 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 that 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.

3. 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.

4. Do you think the grant brought you more recognition?

Being a musician in Istanbul is challenging. There are lots of great musicians in Istanbul. From the ones who are recognized around the world to the ones who play at the 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.