Changing And Branching Modern ‘Aşık’ Culture

We cannot talk about Rock Bards until the end of the 1980s when the possibility of writing rock music in Turkish was up for debate in the young music circles. Rock was emerging once again with a small area of influence among the small bourgeoisie and middle-class youth in the big cities. However, it had lost its political notion in its entirety and tens of groups that have disassociated themselves with national tendencies in the right space that signifies this underground culture. Therefore, these circles turned their gaze upon the variety in rock in the West during this decline in Anatolian-rock during this decade. Because their main goal was to adapt to the new rhythm of the cold and tense life in the city instead of focusing on the folk sources. The creators and members of bands that achieved to make Turkish rock such as MFÖ, Bulutsuzluk Özlemi and Mozaik, distilled from the political-intellectual climate of the 1960s and 70s. The next generation musicians and bands who consisted of the 80s youth started to make rock with Turkish lyrics at the end of this decade. That is why the Rock Bard image started tos tir in the 1990s. “Aesthetics of Noise” had to be accompanied by solid poetry, syntax, richness in vocabulary and a protesting approach to storytelling.

While there was an increase in variety of rock and its subgenres like soft rock, hard-rock, metal and even punk-rock; the bard type musicians similar to Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen were almost nonexistent. The emotional-mental split caused by the demolition of the bipolar system in the 1990s and the resulting existentialist crises influenced not only the rock scene but also the intellectual circles greatly. This situation would find its representation after the millennium.

Despite all this, interesting new stirrings in rock could be observed. For example, some activity in the Anatolian-rock front could be felt once again. However, the followers of Anatolian-pop were not prolific in producing Rock Bards. These chose different tendencies when interest in ethnic sources, as well as folkloric ones, increased. The scope of the city was more prevalent in rock. However, the new popular culture environment of the 90s allowed pop-rock to be a more dominant tendency, just like Şebnem Ferah as we mentioned in the previous article.

Nevertheless, this situation does not imply that no poetic songs in Turkish were written. Nejat Yavaşoğulları’s work is an example to this. Fethi Taner’s couple of songs in the one and only album “İş Dönüşü İstanbul Kentinde” he released with his band Toplama Adamlar” in the beginning of the 90s are close to this poetic and ironic plane. On the other hand, there is a prevailing feeling of “montage” in most of the music written. The first example that needs to be mentioned when it comes to the 1990s is Murat Köseoğlu’s “ Yağmurlar Yağıyor Duygularıma“ (1995) album and his following work. Positivitiy, or the handicap, of Köseoğlu, who also has his own style of humor, represent the spirit of the 60s while using a nostalgic expression as much as a protesting attitude. Serdar Keskin, on the other hand, represents the soft-rock front, and signals that he is a contender for the Bard Singer identity in especially “Tombul İstakoz Destanı” from his album “Iraksamalar” which consisted mainly of his own songs. However, he failed to be a consistent name.

I believe that Gökalp Baykal is the first important name that needs to be mentioned with his adamancy on becoming a Rock Bard, always pursuing his own songs to make way in his career. He wrote many effective love songs that sometimes make the listener smile, most of the time making them feel sad while questioning the daily life through the individual. His songs aim to follow Bob Dylan’s example, yet they always question the musician’s own geography and relationships in his albums. He builds his songs in line with his unique approach to folk-rock. We need to mention that Teoman is the Rock Bard who contributed the most to popularizing the rock expansion the most with his pop-rock attitude at the end of the 1990s. He embodies the bard identity with his rebellious rock spirit, protesting attitude and the rigor in songwriting to the next generations even though he also abides by the pop standards of his time on occasion. Maybe the rock he creates isn’t exactly new. But he manages to reflect upon the chaotic atmosphere of the city life and shares this with the next generation. Ortaçgil’s influence is evident in his attitude, irony and lyrics, so much so that they would end up working on a project together in the years that follow.

Yavuz Çetin

Another name that needs to be emphasized here is Yavuz Çetin, the guitarist and singer of Blue Blues Band who gained fame in the 90s. He was a popular guitarist in the rock scene. However, he passed away tragically in the summer of 2001. He left behind two albums which consist entirely of his own songs. His first solo album “İlk” (1997) seemed to focus on his great mastery of guitar instead of his talent as a lyrics-writer. His album “Satılık” which was released after his death, shone a light on his identity as a rock bard. The song called “oyuncak” was especially representative of the album. He seems to have chosen to describe life as “oyun” (a game) and worked with this theme in all the songs. However, the magic of his guitar sometimes caused the songs to be pushed to the background. Him choosing to take his own life at 31 was the reason his identity as a rock bard hasn’t been as prominent as being a guitarist.

Media plays an important role in causing popular music to become standardized post-millenium. Despite the initial impression of expansion, we witness even the ethnic Roman, Kurdish and Laz music being included in the sphere of pop. This situation causes a limited effort on producing alternatives. This period brings about only a few, yet remarkably interesting rock bards, even though their extraordinariness is up for discussion. For example, one of Kesmeşeker’s core members, singer and songwriter Cenk Taner achieved an effective expression through a soft-rock melodic tone that focused on the cosmopolitan life in the city and relationships there in his first solo album that also sounded bluesy. He portrayed a modern ‘aşık’ who was shifting from the problem of existence to emptiness. The same emotional state prevailed in “Yoldan Çıkmış Şarkılar” (2013) album, which told about the chaos the individual experiences on the image of “journey” on occasion.

Tibet Ağırtan, initially a core member of Mavi Sakal, had his moment as a influential bard with his musically rich and ironic songs. However, the increase in technological opportunities, especially after the millennium, song production amidst the chaos and the emotions born from the clash between instinct and intuition resulted in the emergence of an important Rock Bard; Ogün Sanlısoy. Even though he has been around since the end of the 80s, he was able to create poetic songs with his stern, allegorical and metaphor-laden lyrics. He wrote and sang his own songs. He achieved in expressing the tension between the internal and external worlds of the city-dweller through his free use of motifs that even included arabesque and covers. The poetic, critical and inquisitive attitude in his lyrics brought his identity as a Rock Bard to an all-time high especially in “Korkma” (1999) and “Ben” (2011) albums. This productivity continued even though it wasn’t as dense.

Popular music evolved and seeped into the digital world as we entered 2010 in parallel with the global developments. The production of CDs was pushed back and the model of producing superstars underwent a transformation. Bard Singer and Rock Bard figures had a relatively easier time in self-promotion during this period. However, this is also a risky process. New technological opportunities caused an accelerating increase in the number of home studios. For example, Hayko Cepkin who emerged during these years managed to create the musical-poetic originality in his Rock Bard identity through the first two albums he recorded at his own home. The attention his music and songs received were greatly thanks to the various oriental motives he used and his mysterious lyrics. He emphasized that he had things to say even though sometimes he chose to release cover albums. We can also note Ece Dorsay and Nev after the millennium even though they weren’t largely influential.

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I believe Bard Singers are more indicative of their era compared to Rock Bards. We need to especially note two female Bard Singers during these years: Jehan Barbur and Yasemin Mori. These two singers emphasized, however unconscious, the importance of Bard Singers in the past decade and its privileges and passed down this knowledge to the next generations. Bülent Ortaçgil’s influence is frequently seen in the earlier songs and music of Barbur. However, the attention Barbur pays on the technical and musical infrastructure, the lyrical style she creates with her expression and most importantly the allegory and irony she uses to make fun of “men” and society, making her popular in a short time. Barbur has taken a direct interest in the art of poetry herself, enabling her to have a mastery on the poetic aspect of her lyrics and strong verse structure. She builds her view of love on emotions and melodies rather than a theme. All of these characteristics of the musician gave birth to a talented Bard Singer. It is important to note that the talented nature of the musicians who accompany her facilitate the transformation of feelings into songs and interpretation. Lyricism, often dominant in Barbur’s songs, play an important role in emphasizing the image of loneliness.

The most important difference between Yasemin Mori and Barbur is the way the former touches upon symbols in her songs as well as adding a bit playfulness, a theatrical quality, to her music. Barbur tends to lean on the workings of her internal world, while Mori initially questions and reckons her love. Mori is very clearly influenced by rock while her later music incorporates elements of Latin jazz and beyond to create a rich musical variety. Her love songs touch upon fairytale and mythical elements. Barbur, on the other hand, has an entirely different style in her songs, dense with allegorical stories. Mori never stops making fun of the outside world with a stern attitude. We can easily say that these two names play an important role in the development of the Bard Singer model, despite them including a couple of cover songs and pieces they didn’t compose in their albums.

This stirring transformed into a kinetic movement in the past decade. Many new names emerged who have quite different voices, attitudes, styles, approaches to stories and songs as well as different musical and poetic characteristics.  It became fashionable to include a couple of cover songs in addition to their own compositions in their albums. A few ambitious musicians were able to attract the attention with their albums in the world of popular music. Among these, Can Kazaz was able to develop is own unique ironic style after being influenced by Ortaçgil. Mabel Matiz, on the other hand, developed a unique style yet tends to be repetitive on occasion. Aklan Akdağ’s album and songs tested his passion for poetry while always having an ironic attitude which he worked into his songs with his unique voice.

As the last decade came to completion, new prospective female Bard Singers like Barbur and Mori started to emerge. It would be unfair to call them “prospective” because especially three among them deserve to be paid attention with their unique talents for song production and interpretation. For example, Kalben got the attention of the audiences with her effective vocal range as well as her impressive experimentation on different styles and poetic lyrics. Her songs carry traces of a bluesy rebellious attitude that touch upon a variety of emotions from loneliness, fragility to pleading. I believe Seda Şener, who is barely twenty years old, is the most accurate example to the Bard Singer identity. She is a rare musician who express her own style of expression in her first and only album. Her poetic side is dominant just like Kalben and she tells melancholic stories. Gülinler are similar talents who received attention without putting out an album under their name. The fact that some musicians come from the band music experience must imply their talent in storytelling in the background.

The doors to the Bard Singer identity are slowly being opened as can be seen, even though this doesn’t translate into a tradition. At least, the number of bards who are questioning “fake individualism” increase. It is important to note the direct and indirect influence of Bülent Ortaçgil on many bards with his fifty years long career in music history. We hope that five articles compiled in these series draw an accurate portrait of Bard Singers-Rock Bards in Turkey. There might be some names we willingly or unwillingly omitted in our examples.