By Mara Noto
proofread by William Stupp
In the collective imagination, Rotterdam is usually associated with Feyenoord, Gabber music or the tons of cocaine that pass through its port, the largest in Europe. But who thinks about the true essence of this strange city? Between a square building, a round one and another oblique, one can meet metropolitan fauna from half the world: you eat at a Surinamese person’s restaurant, greet a Turk, sit next to a Spaniard or a Greek on the metro. And, though it’s been recently polished, you’re likely to miss another monument not far from Centraal Station. But don’t feel bad: the unassuming, anonymous blue door belies the significance of what lies behind it.
The door leads to Matrix and its history is (almost) as the rest of the city’s buildings. It was born in 1966, as a concert hall dedicated to the young followers of the Catholic Church. In the 50 years since then, the space has already lived several lives.
First it became lay, then, from the 90’s, shaken by the euphoria of the moment, visitors danced salsa, while on other days the hypnotic power of African rhythms held sway. The Matrix building now hosts the Wereld Music Centrum Matrix. The current artistic director is Yasar Saka, born in the Turkish hinterland but an adopted Rotterdammer. Since 2016 Matrix, under Yasar’s direction, has regularly organized popular and classical music concerts, wandering spiritually through the lands of Anatolia, passing through India and then Andalucia.
Yaşar has staked everything on the high-quality equipment and tools for video production. “We do something that no other place in Rotterdam does. We don’t always manage to pay the artists fairly, but we at least try to compensate them with an excellent video production,” he says. A music producer by profession, in his spare time he devotes himself entirely to the Matrix and his former students at the Rotterdam Conservatory, for whom he always reserves a special place in the programming.
“I work with two cameras. I try to take care of the detail, for me it is essential to present a clean scene: cables, earphones and anything else must not be visible, the focus must be on the artists, their instruments and their voices,” he tells 31mag.
Matrix has created a concept of its own thanks to word of mouth and networking. “Just write him a message on Facebook, send him a recording of one of your pieces and if you convince him he will organize the evening for you. No one has this approach anymore, it is beautiful without a shadow of a doubt,” says Massimiliano, student of the conservatory and member of the group Amazonon, a band that blends Brazilian music, with ancient Armenian and Arabic songs. “In addition to offering a stage for us conservatory students, this is where the meeting of various cultures really takes place. To Rotterdam, among other things, I owe the discovery of the music I play today.”
But if on the one hand there are many loyal supporters of Matrix, the same cannot be said of the RRKC —the consultative body for art and culture of the municipality of Rotterdam. Unconvinced of its cultural value, the body excluded Matrix from its four-year funding plan covering 2021-2024.
The reason behind this snubbing? According to documents from the RRKC, Matrix exhibits a lack of “cultural diversity and profit prospects”. But Yasar did not lose heart: anger and disappointment at the lack of recognition prompted him to launch a petition to persuade the municipality of Rotterdam to join his cause. And, perhaps, to change the RRKC’s mind.
As often happens, smaller and non-profit cultural realities, oriented by their passion for bringing music to a city which sometimes seems too gray, are blocked by bureaucracy. What if the money doesn’t come? Yasar does not break down: he will go on in any case. Despite the RRKC’s opinion, Matrix clearly embodies an “excess of multiculturalism”.