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By Barış MumcuRead In 7 minutes – 152 views – 13/06/2021

The Journey of Westernisation of Turkish Music – The Anatolian Pop Perspective

Music is a rich oasis in this dark world and only lucky ones can appreciate

I salute all Turquazz readers and wish a great 2021, unlike the unexpected and tough previous year. From now on I will reach out to you through Turquazz and will tell you stories about the rich music culture of Anatolia and its reflections globally. I was lucky that music had a significant place in my family and I had the chance to experiment with various forms of it since my childhood. I can easily use the phrase ‘experiment’ because I always had a passion for the harmony of sounds. Music always played an important role in my life. I love various forms of music including jazz, blues, rock and electronic music but music of Anatolia always had a different effect on me as something burned into our genes and soul since childhood. Growing up in a small town of Northwest Turkey meant being exposed to various forms of local and folk music in social events, wedding ceremonies, birthday parties and so on. So, our journey in Turquazz will be a mixture of musical adventure of Anatolia and also mine. I hope you will enjoy it.

The Journey of Westernisation of Turkish Music - The Anatolian Pop Perspective

First Western Influences

Turkey’s interest in western music culture dates back to Ottoman era, when some of the Sultans had a huge interest in Western classical music during the late 19th century. This interest was carried on during the post Republican era by the huge efforts of Ataturk. Until the 1950s, tango, jazz, kanto and twist were quite famous, however the music boom happened in late the 50s with rock’n’roll almost simultaneous to the rest of the world. Turkish artists such as Erol Büyükburç made covers of Western songs as well as composing his own song ‘Little Lucy’. The records brought into the country by the navy during the 50s also contributed to the familiarization of Western music. The rock’n’roll, beat and twist wave continued for nearly a decade, but towards the early 60s Turkish lyrics replaced original ones. By the mid 60s, musicians and composers turned their faces back to the roots, folk songs became popular. It was quite difficult and expensive to bring instruments from abroad, so this was resulting in a poor stage performance or recording quality of music. Many musicians have built their own instruments.

Starting with the Golden Microphone Song Contest in 1965 which was held consecutively until 1968 and once again in 1972, folk songs, some well known especially in rural parts of the country, were rearranged with Western instruments and presented to the public by well educated city boys with long hair. No one would expect this would attract a lot of attention at the time. It was quite popular to write Turkish lyrics to popular songs of the West, especially Europe and almost every pop singer including the early ones performed these rearranged songs.

Anatolian Rockers – Illustration by Aptulika (From the book ‘Kentin Türküsü’, Cumhur Canbazoğlu, 2009)

After the mid 1960s, basically, rock music in Turkey was deeply influenced by the wave of popularity of such legendary bands like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Yes, and many others alike. Since psychedelic rock was dominant at that time, first major efforts by local musicians in the realm of rock’n’roll were focused on blending traditional Turkish folk elements with popular rock music from the West. Eventually, it gave rise to highly unique but equally controversial trends both in music and mentality of the nation. The society was not ready to accept the new generation of youngsters with long hair wearing jeans and leather jackets and perceived them as provocateurs and a threat to moral values.

On the other side, Turkish Classical (Art) music was also quite popular. Zeki Müren and Müzeyyen Senar were the pioneers during this period. Rakı – the famous Turkish alcoholic drink – also had a direct relation with music, where Meyhane (local restaurants with alcohol, similar to the taverns of Greece) was a significant part of the culture. It is possible to find good books recently published about this culture, but most are in Turkish. I hope translations will be available in near future. Personally, I’m not a Turkish Classical Music or Rakı expert but still enjoy every moment of both, especially with friends and a sincere chat, which is the main meze of Rakı.

Despite the political unrest along the decade, the 70s were quite rich in terms of music production, especially for Anatolian Pop, which would later be renamed as Anatolian Rock. Many artists and bands emerged, great songs and albums were released. Maybe due to the analog sounds and the difficulty caused by lacking technology, musicianship was labor intensive and talent was in the foreground. There are many stories from 1965 until 1980 which can be called the heydays of Anatolian Pop/Rock, which is also called ‘Turkish Psych’ by international press and record business. We will delve into the details of the period in the upcoming articles.

The unrest was at its peak and the musically rich period did not end well. The coup d’etat by the Turkish Army came on 12th September 1980 and the whole musical community of the 70s were suppressed along with the cultural life in Turkey.

Anatolian Rock Map Illustration by Cem Dinlenmiş

The Hiatus and the Rise

It would be reasonable to divide the musical history of Turkey into decades, where each represents the boom of a different genre. Rock’n’roll and twist era from the late 50s to mid 60s, Anatolian Pop / Rock and Turkish Pop music until the 80s, arabesque on one side and the rise of Turkish hard rock and heavy metal scene on the other during the 80s, new generation of pop music and birth of rap in the 90s while the big rockers were visiting Istanbul for concerts and festivals, Turkish rock in the 2000s and indie, synth pop, alternative and electronic music in the last decade.

After the heydays of the Anatolian Pop/Rock movement between 1965 and 1980, the whole cultural and artistic atmosphere has changed in Turkey. Some musicians went abroad, some were quiet and had to find different jobs to survive. It took more than a decade to see the ripples back on the surface. But a hard rock, heavy metal scene has emerged during the 80s, which will be the topic of another article. During the 90s, a few bands emerged that called themselves Anatolian Rockers, but with a more popular approach which was quite popular at the time. This was expected, as the instruments, recording techniques and most importantly, musicians have changed.

Anatolian Rock Dinner

It was always a tough dream to go beyond the borders for Turkish bands, mainly due to language barriers or biased view of the Western music authorities and audience. Very few bands or musicians had succeeded abroad but these were not long-term incidents, such as Moğollar who achieved the “Grand Prix du Disque” of the Charles Cros Academy for their instrumental album “Danses et Rythmes de la Turquie” in 1971. Barış Manço had little fame in Belgium with his work with the local band Les Mistigris. Selda Bağcan performed in many concerts and festivals abroad but she had restrictions after the 80s and could not get her passport for a long time. After the millennia, Tarkan had success with his upbeat style but this was occasional as well. On the other hand, most Turkish audiences living abroad were attending these concerts.

Western music industry was also repeating itself. Curious music enthusiasts were after something different and had the chance to access music of the world easily via internet and streaming services. This finally helped Turkish music to be received with much acclaim. Especially in the last decade, the music of the late 60s and 70s was rediscovered. American or European musicians used samples in their songs and this brought an urge to music enthusiasts to discover more and a popularity to music of the era. Not only the non-Turkish audience, but also young generation Turks discovered the musical wealth of their own country. Boom Pam collaborated with Selda Bağcan and Mustafa Özkent teamed up with a Belgian band and performed in Le Guess Who. BaBa ZuLa carried its unique Istanbul Psychedelia tunes abroad and Altın Gun band performed Turkish folk songs in many festivals all around the world. Gaye Su Akyol was introduced on BBC-6 Radio by Iggy Pop and won an award in London. Jazz saxophonist İlhan Erşahin’s fame spanned across the US and Europe. This was recently followed by legendary Mogollar recording their old songs in a unique method in the Netherlands specifically for foreign music market. New generation musicians have well discovered and conceived the potential of local culture, sounds, instruments and become successful to blend these into their modern musical structure, by observing the mistakes and success of their predecessors.

There are many other musicians and bands that succeeded internationally I may have forgotten to mention. Of course, all efforts are valuable and unique. Many others will follow the footpaths of these musicians that pave the way for the latter. There are still too many songs to discover from the past and many new musical experiments to be done under the influence of Anatolia and its rich culture. Young generation musicians are brave and open to experimenting. Musicians are struggling during these hard times and music lovers like us trapped behind doors are eager to attend the concerts again, but I hope the return will be magnificent.

In this first article, I tried to touch on the half century journey of Anatolian music to some degree. There are many stories to tell about each period and hopefully we will cover in the upcoming days.