The voice of Istanbul

Istanbul International A Cappella Choir unites a city

gruppo teatro ufficial 1024x430 The voice of Istanbul
What do you get when a Brazilian diplomat, a Syrian musician, an American kindy teacher, a Russian uni student, a Swede, an Australian, an Iranian, a Turkish mother, plus many more, walk into a room? The answer… Istanbul International A Cappella Choir – IIACC.

There is a social project supported by the Circolo Roma Association and under the guidance of an Italian that is using music as a tool for social integration, uniting the local and international communities in Istanbul.


FOTO POSTER 300x193 The voice of Istanbul

Before we settle into the semantics of music, let’s take a quick math quiz.

What does 25 divided by 12, then times by four equal? The answer… ONE.

Confused? Let’s go over our study notes.

25 people from 12 different nationalities singing in a four-part harmony; yes, the answer is one. Definitely one.

Every Saturday afternoon they meet, become one and produce a sound that is at times bordering on the divine and at other moments a more light hearted fast bop.

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Martina Pavone

Choirmaster Martina Pavone, a 28-year-old Italian who is bite size in height, but a mouthful of energy, originally came to Istanbul with a different project that specialised in vocal improvisation for social integration.

It was during this time that she realised there was a pocket of Istanbul culture and society that was still left unexplored.

“The expats needed some cultural projects so they could integrate with other expats and also with Turkish people. So, I used singing and the voice power like a tool, like an instrument, to make this happen.” Martina Pavone

This tool managed to build a ‘Noah’s Ark’ of a community, plucking a person from almost every country. Or perhaps we can see it as a mini United Nations, a room of global representatives trying to create harmony.

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I meet Maisa, 31, who is a voice from Syria with university degrees in both economics and music. The importance of IIACC is apparent especially at such a fragile time in her life.

She tells me, “I lost my mother in Syria, left my family because of the war and am now alone in a foreign country. I joined IIACC and I felt a family atmosphere immediately.”

“It’s a support and a place to smile, sing and feel like life still exists. I give them one voice; in return they give me all the harmony I need to live again. After all, isn’t it one for all and all for one.” Maisa

‘One for all and all for one’, a motto that comes from the nineteenth century novel ‘The Three Musketeers’. And now two centuries later, a Syrian woman has given it a new context.

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Beto, a 34 year old Brazilian, is on his first diplomatic posting. Although he initially wished and wanted to come to Istanbul, he still found it quite a challenge.

He describes his first year as “very difficult”, saying, “When I got to Istanbul, though I loved the city at first sight, the language barrier kind of isolated me from having friends out of the work environment.”

Once again IIACC was able to apply a band-aid to these wounds.

“The choir helped me in finding new friends through a hobby that I love, and this helped me feel more at ease in Istanbul.” Beto

Each character I chat with shows me that the IIACC social project is more than just a mash of voices.

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We have heard about some expats in the group. Now let’s listen to what it is like for a local to integrate into the system.

Şukufe, a 42 year old import/export specialist from Istanbul, touches on the social benefits of joining IIACC saying, “To know different people from different cultures is always something that makes you more rich. It provides us with different viewpoints.”

“In my daily common life I was usually occupied with the same things and with the same people. But now I’m more social and really enjoying my life. We don’t have any personal prejudice in our choir.” Şukufe

Şukufe also tells me the IIACC expats are an inspiration for her, “I also see the courage of the people from different nationalities living in a totally different country. This is making me think that I can do better than I’m always doing.”

A courageous and astounding experiment of IIACC, and one that has since become a trademark and iconic moment for the group, was to try and acknowledge Istanbul’s secular quality.

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Film Festival performance

During an hour workshop they successfully morphed four cultures, and thus religions, into the one song. The result is quite an emotional journey of sound from the lips of people who have fled a revolution in Iran, a war in Syria, and also those who have chosen to further their life experiences from across Europe and across oceans.

The experimental song was first performed by IIACC at the closing night of the Sustainable Film Festival at Pera Museum on Nov 9.

During the event, Martina also highlighted another IIACC trademark with improvisation circle singing. The team involved the audience while they created and sung an on the spot and unrehearsed repertoire of sounds and music orchestrated by the choirmaster Martina.

Sustainable Film Festival director Tuna Ozcuhadar was extremely pleased telling the group backstage that the performance perfectly matched the festival ideology.

Between concerts, every Saturday the mathematical equation, the ‘Noah’s Ark’, the United Nations, or quite simply the IIACC team, come together and rehearse.

Although they may be many people with many faces, they can also be seen as the one true image of Istanbul, a cosmo-ethnic city that spills forth cultures and experiences into the one bucket from which we share our lives.

Written by Sheldon Heyes

Representing the world in Istanbul with IIACC – Australia, Italy, Turkey, Russia, America, Brazil, Syria, Iran, France, Sweden, Germany and Kyrgyzstan.

This Christmas IIACC is showcasing its voices of the world to Istanbul.

FLYER SFONDO GRIGIO 144x300 The voice of IstanbulDec 17. – FREE EVENT! 8pm. Circolo Roma presents IIACC Christmas Concert at Casa d’Italia Theatre, Meşrutiyet Cad. 75, Beyoğlu.

Dec 18. – FREE EVENT! 8pm. Christmas Carols at Saint Antuan church Istiklal Caddesi. Donations raised will go to a charity supporting those in need.

Dec 20. – FREE EVENT! From 5pm. Pop up Christmas Carols. Come and find IIACC at a random part of Istiklal Street, Taksim.

IIACC is also performing Christmas Carols at a private event in December to raise money for charity. 

Social media 

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Twitter - IIACC_ist

Instagram - IIACC

IIACC photographs are provided by photographer Rino Anzaldi

You may also enjoy reading ‘Active in Istanbul‘. A sneak peek into the life of Istanbul’s most active and engaged expat – Martina Pavone.

About Sheldon Heyes
Lifestyle writer for Turkey - I will prepare you for Istanbul. I will show you my city. Stemming from an Australian media background I have been in Istanbul since 2012. With a foreign heart and a writer's pen I have since embraced, danced, swallowed and mumbled the Turkish culture, music, food and language. Currently - Read by thousands of passengers zooming across the globe at 38,000 feet with Turkish Airlines inflight magazine 'Skylife'. Freelance contributor at The Guide Istanbul Magazine. Online guest posts with Freelance journalist published online at And... thanks to popstar and musician Mehmet Erdem, having a bit of cultural fun and flair appearing in the Turkish video clip - 'Aşkımız Bitecek'. Past contributions - Istanbul Timeout and Home Art Istanbul magazine.


  1. I am a Greek girl, and was a part of this choir when I lived in Istanbul, and the experience was definitely ‘a’, if not ‘the’ highlight of my stay!! I would encourage every curious Istanbulite to turn up at a rehearsal and give it go! Very precious!!!

  2. I was already looking forward to the Christmas concert, but after learning some background knowledge of the “stars” I am even more excited about it. Break a leg!

  3. Saltanat Kydyrali December 4, 2014 at 23:49


  4. Sheldon it is perfect…could not be analyzed and worded better than this….you are great

  5. You did an amazing article. .
    U r just great
    I really love your words
    Thank u

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