The Entertainment Venue Where West And East Meet: “Gazino”

The word gazino is derived from the French ‘casino” and pronounced as gâ-zê-nô

by native Turkish speakers. From the 1930s to the 1980s, gazino has been the heart of the entertainment life of the people of Anatolia. Gazinos, where you can watch shows accompanied by food and drink, differ from other entertainment venues with a variety of different styles, and program structures that bring the Eastern and Western cultures together, although those who have not experience this type of entertainment might have trouble understanding their distinction from other venues. However, they can be distinguished by their unique synthesis of the East and the West. We will examine how the concept of gazinos was born in this article, and  observe how the East and the West can both complement and contrast each other at the same time.

Anatolian lands, the crossroad of Eastern and Western cultures, have naturally been influenced by these cultures in different ways according to the needs and developments of the period. Starting with the 18th century, especially from the beginning of the 19th century, the Western lifestyle (alafranga) began to gain popularity and was imitated in the Ottoman Empire. Turkish culture’s affinity to the East  due to its historical, religious and geographical common past, as well as its adoption of Western culture as the “ideal”, dates back to the “Tanzimat” Reform Era of the Ottoman Empire. During this period, the paths of Ottoman entertainment, based on oral culture, crossed with the written culture of the West, which had a great sociocultural effect.  The beginning of the publication of newspapers, in a way, also clarified and accelerated the consumption culture in the Ottoman society, and thus the process of transformation based on popular culture. The established/traditional cultural production-consumption system left its place to the new supply actors (such as advertisements in newspapers).

A new type of wealthy people was created by the mass economy, which included  intellectuals educated in the West, bureaucrats who graduated from new types of schools and non-Muslims equipped with new privileges, causing a need to  create new spaces and environments or to transform the old neighborhoods. This caused a transformation in the world of entertainment as well as changing the Ottoman urban configuration which was based on, ethnic, religious, verbal, and traditional neighborhoods. Ottoman society, whose daily life revolved around the household-based and traditional entertainment worlds of Turkish baths, taverns, coffeehouses, has met with new entertainment venues and environments such as Western-style cafes, pastry shops, theatre buildings, hotels, restaurants, casinos, bars, pubs, summer houses, gardens with pools, arbors and gambling clubs. In a way, the entertainment world has become half Western (alafranga) and half Turkish (alaturka). The original model of gazino comes from two sources: It is an ‘alafranga’ venue established by the Europeans in the Beyoğlu region, or an ‘alaturca’ show derived from coffeehouses, which makes gazino an entertainment venue where alaturca music is played in an alafranga environment. The “mixed” characteristic  of these gazinos, which were perceived as the “alafranga style tavern”, started in the first quarter of the 20th century. 

After the foundation of the Republic, this “mixed”characteristics underwent a change. Daily life and entertainment culture that were shaped by the contemporary city life were both  an ideological product of the Republic and and the goal of modernism. Westernisation has been tried to be institutionalized as a state policy, which means the appearance of a transformation from top to bottom”. One of the greatest achievements of the Republican period was activities that brought men and women together, and entertainment for this purpose was organised under the name of “Republic Balls”. While gazinos provided a place where men and women could have fun together, they also set an example for both transformation of places by society and the transformation of society by spaces. Even though Turkish Classical Music broadcasts were banned between 1934 and 1936 (because the genre was seen as an Ottoman heritage during the Republican period) the public continued to listen to this music in gazinos. Due to this ban, people also started to listen to the music programs of high-frequency Arab radios instead of listening to the Western Classical Music and Turkish Folk Music created with contemporary Western music techniques, which were played on the national radios at the time. These trends in music were also reflected in the gazino repertoires. Gazinos were generally in the hands of the Ottoman Aristocracy until 1950 and during this period Western words such as a la carte, fix menu, the matinee was placed in the gazino terminology. The spacial arrangement was structured in the Western format which aimed to feature big shows. Many Islamic elements in the Ottoman traditional life were met with Western performances, and took place in şano (the Italian word for stage), becoming a collective show that included comedians, canto players, dancers, meddahs (encomiasts) and shadow plays. By the early 1940s, with the introduction of belly dancing and the Turkish Folk Music genre, the prototype of today’s standard gazino show had started to take shape. 

In the 1950s, the most important change in Turkish music was the change in the concert order by the dominance of the gazino-headliner system. The gazino headliners, who also took part in the cinema films of the period, created an attractive fantasy of gazino in the eyes of the people. The prominent form of entertainment was music although food and beverages were provided. The repertoire diversity in gazino programs increased the most in the 60s and 70s. Arrangement music emerged in the 1960s and reached large audiences until the 1970s. Gazinos lived their golden era especially from the 1970s to the beginning of the 1990s New lifestyles such as the squatter culture started to take shape with the great immigration from villages to the cities at this time as the past debates got heated once again. The rise of pop and Arabesk music in the popular music scene in the same period reflects the dilemma of the urban culture’s desire for modernization as well as its inability to break away from tradition. Gazino was the place that eventually resolved this Alaturka-Alafranga polarization that dominated the cultural climate, and even brought together the diversified styles within these two main trends. After the 80s, gazinos disappeared with the spread of television, but it is possible to see its traces in entertainment venues and shows today.

According to Lefebvre, space is not something that happens by itself, it is something produced, at the same time, every mode of production creates its own space and those creates a new system of social relations. Throughout its existence, it is the place that has been fed by the synthesis of the East and West in society and created spaces where these contrasts can be expressed and at the same time shaped the social habits.

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