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Berlin songwriter Elif: ''I love you' isn't as strong in German'

She grew up bilingually, but prefers to write songs in German - even though it's a tricky language, Berlin singer-songwriter Elif tells DW. The casting show finalist learned one important thing on TV: How to sing loudly.

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Melting Pop: Meet Elif

DW: Your parents emigrated from Turkey to Germany. How much do you know about their story?

Elif: In my song, "Baba," I sing about how my dad was doing here in Germany. When I was born in Berlin, my parents had already been here for six or seven years. I lived in two words: At home we spoke Turkish and outside we spoke German, so I was able to learn both languages. At some point, I started speaking more German than Turkish with my siblings.

My dad had a hard time here, though I wasn't really aware of that as a child. He was the only one who worked and took on the whole responsibility for the family. He is a welder and when I look at his hands today I see the hands of a laborer. He is thankful for everything, but it was very challenging.

What was your mom's experience like during the early years in Germany?

Even as a child, I spoke with my mom often about our everyday life. But it's only been as I've gotten older that I've been able to ask her about fundamental things. Like what it was like to have three children at the age of 25. She's told me that everything happened very quickly back then. Of course she's very glad to have us, but she had to give up a lot of things with three children. Today, I can get advice from her and understand her a bit better. I sometimes wish I'd been able to do that as a child - but I also needed to just be a kid.

Did you grow up with music?

I have a few relatives who can draw very well and I recently learned that some of them can also sing really well. When I was most recently in Turkey, we were sitting together and my aunts sang as if there was no tomorrow - in Turkish, of course, and it was great.

Elif during filming for PopXport's Melting Pop series, Copyright: Jens von Larcher

Elif during filming for PopXport's Melting Pop series

But it's new that one of us is earning money as an artist. My parents didn't understand at first how that can work. I didn't either, by the way. First, I had to inform myself what the options were. But today my parents understand everything. They understood when my music videos were shown on TV for the first time and they say, "Ok, it works."

How do your songs come about?

I'm currently working on my second album and my songs come about in very different ways. Sometimes I sit at home in the evening and read a poetry book by Joachim Ringelnatz. And all of a sudden, a line just pops into my head and coincidentally I have a melody to it that I've always liked. Sometimes I meet up with songwriters like Fayzen or Jasmin Shaqiri. With them, I go back to the drawing board and our sessions will result in a new song. Actually, I prefer the second variation. I like working together with other people because they are like a mirror. When you're alone then you tend to doubt your ideas.

Have you ever thought about singing in Turkish?

I've often been asked whether I'd like to sing in English or Turkish. I have to say, I'm not as good in those languages, when it comes to grammar or phrasing. That's probably because I was born here and went to school here. What I like about German texts is that I understand immediately what the artist is saying to me.

Nevertheless, German is a difficult language, I think. It's so difficult to say something happy in German, especially when you're singing. When you sing, "I love you," then it's just not as strong in German. You have to rephrase it when you write a German love song. That's a real challenge.

At the age of 16, you took second place on the German TV casting show "Popstars." What did that experience mean to you?

That was seven years ago now. I just recently looked at pictures from that time and I have to say, I really saw a different person. It was somehow a good experience since it helped me find out what I want. Through the show, I also learned to sing more loudly. And that's one reason it paid off.

My career success is something I attribute to the fact that I'm an artist who wants to create something. And that makes a big difference. There are so many casting show participants that go out and then get songs that are written by other people.

Elif, Copyright: Universal Music/Hannes Caspar

Elif: 'There is enough for everyone - especially in Germany'

What impact does your background have on you?

It mainly interests other people that my parents are from Turkey and I was born here. That doesn't interest me that much because I'm just me. And it doesn't matter if I one day live in France or Los Angeles, I'll always be me and I'll always have my roots. And that's not something I had an influence on. It is how it is and I can always try to be a good person, make a contribution and be a part of Germany.

What do you mean with "make a contribution"?

I mean contribute in the sense of touching a few people with my songs - like songs have touched me and continue to do so. Music stays within you and reminds you of particular moments. And maybe I can achieve that with my music, too.

Has there been a social issue lately in Germany that has had an impact on you?

What shocks me is that the far-right movement is growing larger, at least according to the media. And a lot is going on right now. Last year, so many refugees came here because they need protection. I cannot say much about that. But what I can do is help - by donating clothing and easing people's fears. By telling them that everything will be ok and no one wants to take anything away from them. There is enough for everyone - especially in Germany.

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