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Meet Singer-Songwriter Defne Şahin

JAZZ: EXBERLINER caught up with Singer-Songwriter Defne Şahin at an uptown cafe ahead of her last performance on Sunday April 5 at the Drom in the East Village, before returning to Berlin.

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Photo: Letizia Mariotti 

Born and raised in Berlin to Turkish parents, Defne Şahin developed an early interest in music and traveled the world to explore her capabilities as a vocalist. Her restless musical journey brought her form Turkey to Spain and Brazil and in 2012 to New York where she spent more then two years at the Manhattan School of Music.

A classically trained artist, equally comfortable singing Bossa Nova, Pop and Turkish folk music, she first shifted to jazz at the age of 16, after a High school exchange in Philadelphia. There is a sense of unpredictability in Jazz that seduced her and never ceased to inspire her. She is now recording Unravel, her second album, that features mainly her own compositions and lyrics, but also interpretations of Jazz Standards and songs by Argentinian composer and pianist Guillermo Klein.

EXBERLINER caught up with her at an uptown cafe ahead of her last performance on Sunday April 5 at the Drom in the East Village, before returning to Berlin.

What will you miss the most about New York?

There is here a huge Jazz scene in New York. In the West Village there is a jazz club almost on every corner. We don’t have that in Berlin and I’ll miss it a lot. Also New Yorkers have a certain sense of openness. You know when people say: “Yes! Let’s do this! It sounds crazy but let’s do it!”

Has New York changed you as a musician?

I think so yes. It changed me as a person and as an artist. I met so many high-level musicians from all over the world. I had so many challenging opportunities. I learned how to compose really fast, get my ideas out and develop them from there. Sometimes I had to deliver a piece in a few hours. In Germany it would have taken me weeks before being satisfied with a composition.

Is it your Jazz personality?

It definitely has to do with my jazz personality. I improvise a lot. I am very spontaneous in music so when I compose something I format and shape it as I go.

I also had to work with musicians outside of school who asked me to perform, sometimes for an hour, music that was completely new material to me. I did it because it’s exciting to work on someone else’s music. It’s exiting, but also very challenging to learn something new.

What is it that inspires you and your music?

Traveling and being around nice people. I came to New York because many people I admire are living here and I wanted to experience that scene. I came to the Manhattan School of Music to study with Theo Bleckmann, a great German composer/vocalist.

Do you sing in German?

Sometimes. Not so much when I sing jazz, mostly classical songs. It’s tricky for me. I am a native Turkish and German speaker. Although I express myself better in German, singing in German doesn’t come naturally.

How do you feel about going back to Berlin?

New York opened my possibilities and I am excited to take this experience back to Berlin. It will help me move faster and collaborate with more people. I am really excited to see how Berlin has grown in the last three years.

Do you have plans back home?

Yes. A come back concert at A-Trane on May 24 and a concert at the Jewish Museum on July 12. I am also happy to bring home my second album. I am recording it right now with musicians from here.