The morning of first of May in 2010. I sense that there is something wrong with the soundscape when I wake up in a room by the road uphill to Taksim square.
I look out the window and see what’s wrong: no traffic. There isn’t a single car or bus on the road. No rolling tyres, no murmur, no beeping, no accelerating, nothing.
All roads to the square have been closed to traffic. This is the first time the workers’ unions are officially allowed to march and enter the Taksim square 30 years after the bloody massacre of 1977. Approximately 150 000 demonstrators and celebrators are expected.
I turn on the TV, there’s a live broadcast, a reporter among the marching crowds interviewing Cem Özer who was present also at the 1977 Labour day march. He stresses the importance of today’s march: for whom he represents it is sacred. At the end of this recording I direct the microphone out of the window. Now there is the crowd on its way marching uphill to the square.
To the streets then!
Before being able to enter the square there are a rigorous security checks with metal detectors from all access points. The presence of the riot police is strong but calm. At least for now. The lines are long and the marchers warm up by shouting call and response slogans. The atmosphere is enthusiastic and victorious:
When entering the square there is a van trying to make its way in the growing crowd. A man on the roof with a megaphone is telling the driver which way to go so and the people next by to give way. The sound of his voice is in sharp contrast with all the enthusiastic voices soon to be heard from the loudspeakers near the main stage.
Soon enough the sound levels at the square are baffling. The estimate of the number of people present is around 100 000. We see a helicopter fly above us but don’t hear it. A telling indicator of the roar of the huge set of loudspeakers dangling from cranes. (I am only able to record with the lowest recording level of my Edirol R-09, wearing earplugs at the same time.)
Not only audio though, acoustic sound sources were doing their best too. Here come the United Metal Workers with accompanying davul and zurna!
The national anthem Istiklal marsi was played from the loudspeakers just before the introduction of the Friends of Ruhi Su choir next in the programme:
After hours of speeches, singing, commemoration and politics the crowds slowly start to disperse. The police, with their tear gas, water cannons, tanks and all sorts of weaponery I don’t even recognize, gaze upon the festive masses.
We retreat to a restaurant to the back streets of Istiklal caddesi with friends and continue celebrating the Labour day singing songs of solidarity, communism, workers rights, equality, Che, Bella ciao, the lot. A company at a table next to ours joined in singing in Kurdish. One song particularly touching was the Ruhi Su song “Şişli Meydanı’nda üç kız” (Three girls at Sisli square) commemorating three girls killed in the 1977 massacre:
(… Beş yüz bin emekçi vardık)
Taksim Meydanı’na girdik
Öyle bir İstanbul gördük
Sorarlar bir gün, sorarlar
Sabahın bir sahibi var
Sorarlar bir gün sorarlar
Biter bu dertler, acılar
Sararlar bir gün, sararlar
Al gözlerim seyir eyle
Birin bırak, birin söyle
Bu yeryüzü ilk kez böyle
Bir İstanbul görüyordu