An outdoor cultural festival nestled among ancient rocks? Only in Cappadocia, a region in central Turkey full of ethereal natural sites, most notably the “fairy chimneys”: tall, cone-shaped rock formations clustered in Monks Valley. One writer attends the first ever Cappadox Festival, a three-day celebration of music, gastronomy, and the arts.
Cappadocia is a geological marvel, a land of mushroom-topped mountains and phallic rock formations rising from the Central Anatolian plains, their anthill-like structures housing cave dwellings, frescoed churches and underground cities. If this region’s unusual topography is often described in cosmic terms – alien, lunar, otherworldly – it’s because Turkey’s Cappadocia could so easily be reimagined as the location for a sci-fi novel.
In May, this dreamy landscape was the setting for the first ever Cappadox Festival. Organised by Pozitif Live, the events company which has been instrumental in shaping Turkey’s music and party scene over the past 20 years, the three-day festival was a celebration of music, food, arts and culture, inspired by the unique geography and history of the region.
Holding a festival in Cappadocia was a long-term dream of the late Mehmet Uluğ, one of the founders of Pozitif. His brother and fellow Pozitif board member, Ahmet, described how, in realising Mehmet’s dream, the natural surroundings and history of the region not only inspired the event, but were instrumental in shaping the festival programme.
“We took into account the cultural heritage of Cappadocia, the monumental scenery, the architecture of the rocks, the history of thousands of years and its present atmosphere, its cuisine containing traces of many civilizations, and the exquisite richness of its nature,” says Ahmet. “While we were planning the festival, we did not try to adapt a plan we had in our minds to Cappadocia. We made use of what Cappadocia offered to us.”
Uçhisar Castle, one of the highest points in Cappadocia, was the site for the main stage. It was against this backdrop of illuminated rock that Turkish composer, electronic producer and ney player Mercan Dede performed for the first time as part of an ensemble with Canadian violinist Hugh Marsh and French jazz musician Mino Cinelu. Together they created a multi-layered and bewitching fusion of Sufi music, contemporary jazz and electronic beats that perfectly encapsulated what Cappadox festival represents: a union between Turkish heritage and a modern, international outlook.
Perhaps inspired by the grandeur of the natural surroundings, there was a cinematic strand running through many of the concerts over the weekend, with performances from Icelandic band Múm, Dutch lute player Jozef van Wissem, Turkish jazz saxophonist İlhan Erşahin and Nigerian-American soul musician Iyeoka, among others.
French jazz percussionist and multi-instrumentalist Mino Cinelu played an intimate show in the atmospheric Bezirhane, a 2,000-year-old former monastery in the Argos in Cappadocia hotel. It was an ideal venue for his experimental percussive soundscapes. Teasing the audience (and the management of the Argos hotel) he wandered frequently from the stage to use signs, stands, even the chapel walls as instruments in his experimentations.
Cappadox also offered the chance to connect with the landscape in more intimate and subtle ways. Each day started with an optional programme of silent walks, sunrise yoga and pranayama meditation. These provided an opportunity to embrace the stillness and unique energy of the region, the familiar yogic instruction to root down and rise up taking on new meaning in the awe-inspiring surroundings.
Later in the morning there were opportunities for guided nature walks through the Meskindir Valley. Winding their way through the valley the group learned about the history and nature of the region. Feeling at first like a normal tour group, the walk took on a more magical note as the sound of a wind quartet was heard drifting from a nearby glade.
The gastronomy programme, curated by Maksut Aşkar, aimed to unearth the culinary traditions of Cappadocia through tastings of local wine and cheese, picnics of regional specialities and specially designed tasting menus. The festival was also host to a contemporary art exhibition, Cappadocia Struck, housed in a cave-like ‘mansion’ complex. The artwork, informed by the geography of the area, included sound installations, photography and a particularly charming shadow-puppet animation by Christoph Schafer. Cappadox is the first event of its kind in Turkey and the organisers have said that they see it in the same category as festivals like Burning Man, Wilderness and Latitude. What it shares with these is an emphasis on the natural landscape and a varied arts programme that extends beyond traditional concert performances.
But, unlike these events, Cappadox’s pick-and-mix-style programme, where attendees buy tickets for the events they wish to attend and are transported by minibuses to and from many of the venues, means that it feels more akin to a well-to-do arts festival, than a hippie celebration of free self-expression. Visitors can choose to see one concert or all of them, to indulge their passion for food or for the great outdoors, to stay for three days, or to decide that two is enough. In this way Cappadox can be many things to many people.
It’s early days for Cappadox but it’s clear that the festival will continue to evolve and no doubt to attract a more international audience. Speaking about Pozitif’s aims for the inaugural Cappadox Ahmet says, “Our main aim is to offer a festival which will make people say ‘I was there on the first year’ and be happy about that.”
At the end of his set on Sunday night Mino Cinelu humbly thanked the organisers for inviting him to be part of the first ever Cappadox and promised that he’d return next year. It was clear that he, like everyone present, felt proud to have been involved in the start of something extraordinary.
How to Book:
Keep your eye on the Cappadox Festival website for next year’s event.