Attitude, Wording, Melody: How and Why Are Bard Singers Budding Up?
The pop music market only started budding up in the 1970s in Turkey. This was a sign of the sectoral dynamism to come. It can be observed that it grew exponentially and even that its products evolved to become similar in a very short period. The number of singers, lyric writers and composers, who stand against the consumption of the era and have something to say with their songs through their use of syntax, word format and the intellectual-emotional depth was very limited compared to the rest of the world in this period. However, we also witness the emergence of surprisingly diligent and unique singers as well. The building blocks of a new urban taste in music were being paved. Pop occupied a space in this area of popular music. Therefore, there were merely any singer-songwriters who were mediocre and ordinary, let alone a Bard Singer who was unique, relatively educated and inquisitive; one that paid attention to irony as well as having mastery over melody, language and phrasing.
There were more Bard Singers compared to Rock Bards in the music landscape that started with the 1970s and lasted twenty years. However, their numbers did not exceed ten fingers. There was an even smaller number of musicians who could be identified as Bard Singers right from the start. Moreover, there was even a smaller pool of bard singers who utilized a wide variety of tools from diction to syntax, irony, humor and allegory in order to combine tune, melody and their lyrics. Ultimately all of these musicians got integrated into the Turkish pop genre in different ways. Even though their music sometimes matured, their power to have an attitude and the mode of articulation could be questioned. This was because they could not stay away from what was popular and the mainstream preferences of the sector.
It is necessary to mention Bülent Ortaçgil as the only exceptional Bard Singer in this sense. Ortaçgil was one of the few singers who noticed the divergence in such a musical experience. It can be called an early occurrence because his music was discovered only by a small intellectual group of people in these twenty years until the 1990s and later. It would be accurate to claim he was the forefather of this movement in Turkey. It is especially clear in his first album “Benimle Oynar mısın”, released in 1974, that he was the earliest and surprising example to this model we mentioned above. His songs embody an allegorical and ironic power as well as hinting how love songs can attain melodic maturity while still being playful. These songs question his inner psyche while actually criticizing and poking fun at the world surrounding him in original song formats through feelings of loneliness, feeling like an outsider and human interlocking that influenced pop after the 1990s fundamentally. An interesting point is that Ortaçgil, despite the fact that he was among a relatively more amateur mode of producing music in the 1980s, developed and evolved in this Bard Singer identity continuously after the 1990s. His outlook on songs never actually changed. It is as if he has always been singing a single song, meaning the problems he addressed were consistent. He influenced countless singer-songwriters especially after the pop music expansion of the later 1990s.
There was another artist who approached the Bard Singer identity yet couldn’t keep continuity in his productivity: Bora Ayanoğlu. This is because even though he was initially a theater actor, his talent for writing compositions and lyrics outdid his work as a singer. The songs he wrote became very popular at one point. However, his 3 albums released between 1978-82, aside from a couple of songs he did not write the lyrics for, showcased a unique approach to poetry, his internal questionings, feelings of disconnection and being an outsider. He was one of the few musicians who came close to the Bard Singer identity of the era. However, his productivity in the area was not long-lived. From today’s perspective, he was an artist whose name should be mentioned when discussing the traditions mentioned previously.
Another musician who wrote and sang his own songs in the 1970s was İlhan İrem; however, his initial songs did not point to an affinity to the Bard Singer identity. He had a special faculty in the accelerating world of pop music in those years. He centered his music and approach to songwriting on rock at the end of this decade; he took a leap as his music evolved. He developed a unique pop and rock aura since his medium was his own songs. He started to take his own words more seriously. He created an intellectual climate that accommodated his effective poetry. His attitude towards rock was cosmic and melancholic on occasion. He questioned the idea of the individual and himself within a helix, always emphasizing wisdom as he added variety to his musical sources. He wrote songs that questioned the idea of “self” except for a few examples.
An unbreakable bond between the music and the lyrics written for such singers. Most of them were inclined to rely on narratives while some had an affinity to images and metaphors. In addition to the feelings of loneliness, despair, anxiety caused by the flow of life and the variety of emotions attributed to love were decisive for Bard Singers as they emerged. The unity of melody and lyric grated these songs a different kind of sincerity while pointing to a natural attitude of opposition and stance. However, discourses of the popular culture of the era could sway these Bard Singers in different directions. This music drew people in as long as it directly or indirectly touched upon life. Some examples embody a sharp irony and critique for this very reason. However, all these characteristics did not take ahold of the Bard Singer models we mentioned above until the 1990s.
The situation in the 1980s progressed in a way that a great divergence happened following the coup of 12 September 1980 and the number of Bard Singers was still low. On the other hand, a rise in the numbers of musicians who wrote their own songs was observed. However, a shift from protest to pain, loneliness, introverted individualism and a narrative approach took place in the songs with a sharp attitude. For example, Kayahan spent great effort to integrate his songs with the pop spirit of the era with his very important identity as a singer-songwriter. He only gained popularity with delay when stars such as Nilüfer sang his songs. Kayahan evolved into a Bard Singer who greatly swayed to pop with his music as the consumerist culture was taking form. Of course, a socialist revolt wasn’t expected of him, but he rather lived through repetition instead of taking an attitude. He didn’t have an elitist behavior.
İlhan Şeşen was possibly the closest a singer-songwriter got to the “modern aşık” type in the 1980s. In addition to writing the majority of the songs for Grup Gündoğarken, his solo albums featured a delicate understanding of humor, disconnections experienced in daily life in the city and unique love songs. The real problem here was that he didn’t follow an exclusive path yet produced many songs. His countless solo works in addition to his band albums are most clear testimonials to this. However, he was the closest to the Bard Singer identity in his era despite that.
There have been many singer-songwriters who approach the Bard Singer identity while not quite fitting in this category either in the pop scene of the 1970-90s. The problem is that these singers emphasized their own work during some periods while producing songs with esteemed composers for their own albums or commissioning other musicians to write lyrics and music.
Sezen Aksu, Mazhar Alanson, Özdemir Erdoğan and Vedat Sakman are among these musicians. These musicians became powerful figures in the pop scene with their singing talent as well as many songs they have written. For example, Sezen Aksu even published a two-volume book series called “eksik şiir” (Incomplete Poem) featuring all the lyrics she has written. She has always positioned herself adjacent to the Bard identity. Mazhar Alanson, on the other hand, released two solo albums which featured his work except for a couple of poems, in addition to an album that featured movie soundtracks he has written. It could be said that Alanson is the closest musician to the Bard Singer identity of his time with his approach to songs, the nuances in his expression, his mastery over language and poking fun at daily life events and relationships. Özdemir Erdoğan could be called a master Bard Singer if he was satisfied with his work like “Besteler- Güfteler” and “Düşünceli Şarkılar”, which reflected his own music genre. Yet, he did not choose to do so. He always emphasized his talent in interpreting instead. Vedat Sakman excelled as a songwriter but he did not pursue his own songs and achieved a continuity.
The bard-singer tradition did not come to fruition until the 1990s as can be understood from the examples above. It is an alarming situation when compared to the rest of the world. Intellectual aspects, similar to being poetical, problems of city-dwelling individuals, social tension and especially the fast paced change in urbanization slowly opened the door to the collective birth of Bard Singers. This is because the real cosmopolitan urban life started to take shape with acceleration during the 1990s. Consumerist culture started to establish its own place and negative meaning during this time. Pop culture gradually became the main artery of city life while the number of singers who turned to their songs to show their reaction towards this. All traditional and pre-modern music transformed into pop and this atmosphere gave birth to the rise of Bard Singers and Rock Bards. We will focus on this in the next two articles.