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Sunday, May 16, 2004

Turkish Music and Artists


The might of the Ottoman Empire at its peak extended from Algeria in the west to the Indian Ocean in the east, from Austria in the north to Yemen in the south. This extraordinary cultural agglomeration can still be heard in today's Turkish music, a living force that surrounds every aspect of contemporary Turkish life.

The always dazzling, usually deafening and occasionally baffling assault upon the senses that the Turkish cultural capital Istanbul presents to the wary and unwary alike takes place to an ever-present musical backdrop. Battered transistor radios in cafés blast out the latest Tarkan hit, from the minarets come the piercing tones of muezzins summoning the faithful to prayer, dolmuş minivans hurtle past apparently fuelled by the driver's love of strident arabesque - it all prompts the question: what is Turkish music today?

Turkish music has a multitude of facets, all of which reflect the historical cultural diversity of the country. Here we attempt to shoehorn these diverse strains into a number into a number of categories, most of which overlap but some of which are as distinct as Bach and the Beatles. To over-simplify matters - there's classical art music (which includes the semi-classical fasıl), there's religious music, there's folk (which ranges from strictly traditional to protest songs which would have caused Woody Guthrie to have a heart attack), there are all shades of pop and arabesque and there's gypsy music, which incidentally finds it's way into any number of the above. Confused? You won't be.


1. Turkish Classical Music

Turkish classical music is the child of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453, renaming it Istanbul; musicians and composers from the furthest-flung reaches of the Empire were brought to perform for the Sultans and, consequently, today's classical repertoire extends backwards over five centuries. The Sultans themselves, as if their daily schedules weren't full enough, also proved to be dab hands at composition - the rule of poet, musician and composer Sultan Selim III (1789-1807) is considered by some to be the golden Age of Turkish classical music.

In the curious way that some cultures are best defined by those alien to them (German artist/musician Walter Spies and his impact upon the pre-WWII Bali springs inevitably to mind), it was Polish musician Albert Bobowsky who documented Turkish classical music for the first time. Taken prisoner during a war campaign, he converted to Islam in 1640, changed his given name to Ali Ufki Bey and eventually collected over 400 contemporary songs, transcribing them for future generations. Prior to his efforts, songs were handed down orally from generation to generation and his work makes up a significant portion of the repertoire in performance today. Similarly Romanians (Cantemir), Greeks (18th century Greek Christian composer and fur trader Zaharya), Jews (Tanburi Isak), Armenians (Hamparsum, Tatyos Efendi ®) and even women from the Sultans' harem (Dilhayat Hanım) all left instrumental works still heard today.

The proclamation of the Republic in 1923 by the founder Atatürk heralded a new era under his leadership. Turkey underwent such reforms that transformed her from an oriental empire to a western nation. In the early years, a group of talented young musicians was sent to European cultural centres for training. As they returned, they became the founders of modern Turkish classical music. Conventional approach considers five of these composers, commonly called the 'Turkish Five' as the first generation of the polyphonic school. Namely, Cemal Reşit Bey (1904-1985); Ulvi Cemal Erkin (1906-1972), Hasan Ferit Alnar (1906-1978), Ahmed Adnan Saygün (1907-1991) and Necil Kâzım Akses (1908-) are the members of this group. Their torch illuminated the way for successive generations.

Now, contemporary classical stars include the Pekinel sisters, who perform four-handed piano duets, pianist Idil Biret and violinist Suna Kan and the internationally renowned Fazıl Say. Say has also entered into the Turkish mainstream by harmonizing Turkish folk songs and pop songs into his work, returning to source as it were. He has collaborated with pop singer Sertab Erener on many occasions, too, more recently in a project about the late poet Nazım Hikmet.

Contemporary Turkish classical music is general just known as classical music. Turkish classical music is the term used for the Ottoman style of classical music and its modern versions.

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1.1 TCM Artists

The Turkish public view TCM artists as talented elite musicians and they are generally held in high esteem. The genre itself was viewed as a tool to raise cultural awareness, helping to bring the Ottoman palace culture and civilisation 'en masse' to Turkey's largely village population in the early 1900s, with the help of large Halkevi (Folkhouses) places. These were communal centres where people would gather to discuss painted art, poetry and literature and to dance and sing. Most would have their own TCM choirs. Old traditional artists such as Münir Nureddin Selçuk, Safiye Ayla, Hamiyet Yüceses and Müzeyyen Senar are noted for upholding this genre's popularity through Turkey's transition from Empire to Republic. Tarkan himself was trained in the classical method of singing, and in 1998 sang a duet with Senar on her album entitled A Lifetime's Worth With Müzeyyen Senar.

Some more recent TCM artists, who are acknowledged for bringing the genre out of it's traditional straight-laced image to popularise it, are listed below:

zeki murenzeki murenZeki Müren was a classical artist who enjoyed pop star status in Turkey. Nicknamed the "Sun of Turkish Music" and considered a national treasure, a reported ninety thousand flocked to his funeral when he died in 1996. A copyright once expressed on a Müren website by explains best what the public think of him - "All Rights reserved for the Turkish people." They had really taken him into their hearts and saw all his works as their property, which is now the case, as on his death he left his large estate to public charities. Read more about Müren here.

bulent ersoyWealthy diva Bülent Ersoy's popularity and colourful life is only exceeded by her powerful voice. A Turkish classicist and a transsexual and extremely outspoken - Ersoy was born a male but became a female. She was exiled from Turkey for 7 years during the military coup of the 1980s. Triumphantly returning to Turkey more famous than when she left, she succeeded to persuade the Turkish legislative to draft and pass a piece of legislation in a record time of four months to enable her and all other transsexuals who had undergone gender reassignment surgery to change their names and sex on their birth certificates. This meant she could get married, and did so to a man much younger than herself. (She is now twice divorced, both to younger men.) Winning many accolades for her voice, she has also given concerts at the Palladium in UK, Olympia in France and Madison Square Gardens in USA. She was given worldwide recognition for her voice, which was measured by the famous Merit Sound Institute in Japan that claimed that her voice was '100% perfect'.

emel sayinEmel Sayın is another lady from the Turkish classical music genre that has an operatic voice and is very popular. Her fans have crowned her the "Queen and Ambassador" of this genre of music. As with most artists in this area, she is also known for her excellent command of the Turkish language and her musical accent and tone of voice. She has a wide repertoire and has been musically productive since 1972. She has also starred in many films. Outside Turkey her fanbase is mostly from people who live in America. She has a small following there.

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1.2 The Fasıl

Fasıl music, sometimes described disparagingly as a nightclub version of Turkish classical music, is indeed closely related to the classical form, differing mainly in interpretation. Fasıl musicians, mainly of gypsy origin, are fond of improvisation, adding their own çiftetelli ornaments as they feel appropriate: the purists frown on this habit, just as they do in Western classical music. Clarinettists Mustafa Kandıralı and Barbaros Erköse are especially renowned for their expressive taksim improvisations - Ahmet Yatman (kanun zither) and Nurettin Çelik (vocal) are other leading lights. Percussion wizard Burhan Öcal and his Oriental Ensemble (he's collaborated in the past with the Kronos Quartet) also make a great impression. Istanbul's Cicek Pasaji is the place to go to find fasıl.

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2. Turkish Folk Music

As classical music came from the Ottoman palace, traditional folk music came from the village: lullabies, shepherds' songs, çiftetelli and wedding celebrations, funeral marches - every folk song tells a tale, sometimes documenting a series of incidents that happened long ago. It's a functional music, which changes from region to region. It also has a deeper connection with Turkish people as the origins of most folk songs date back to original Turkic roots, sharing similarities with other Turkic races. A good example is in the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, where a traditional Xinjiang folk song has very obvious Turkic influences and words. Perhaps the most recognisable ensembles are the davul drum and zurna clarinet duos that preside over spirited wedding celebrations. Traditional folk songs of the Aşıks also took on a spiritual form, as these were more like prayers and related to the mysticism in Sufism.

zulfu livaneliModern folk music as opposed to the traditional renditions also includes a more politicised form, comparable perhaps with the work of Chile's Victor Jara, or Brazil's Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil during their tropicalismo phase. The brothers Metin and Kemal Kahraman sing their Zaza (Persian) laments in an essential rendition of this style, while Zülfü Livaneli (pictured) and Group Yorum are leading players in this field: Livaneli (erstwhile collaborator with dissident writer Yaşar Kemal and widely acclaimed for putting Nazım Hikmet's poems to song) was one of the first Turkish musicians to collaborate with a Greek counterpart - in his case, with composer Mikis Theodorakis in a memorable performance in Ephesus. Livaneli has also collaborated with pop diva Sezen Aksu. Read more about Livaneli here.

In modern folk and contemporary classical music there is a strong Western jazz influence, with great interest in this type of music in Ankara and Istanbul. Since 1994, Istanbul has supported an annual international jazz festival. A Turkish musician who has successfully blended a style of ethno-jazz is Esin Afşar. Born in September 1942 in Bari, Italy, she has won awards all across Europe, with one of the highlights being in 1969 when accepting the invitation of princess Grace Kelly for the 10th TV festival, she gave a concert in Monte Carlo together with Gilbert Becaud, and Josephine Baker.

Another Western influence here has been the creation of Anatolian Rock in the progressive music of Turkey.

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2.1 The Aşıks

The culture of Aşık (pronounced Ashuk and meaning "one who is in love") is also a folk music, performed by the Alevite Muslim community of some 20 million, born from a tradition of wandering minstrels who would take on the title of Aşık before their name. Many of these songs are poems about the spirit, God and love and have close ties with sufisim.

Arif Sağ is one of the leading performers, and frequently tours abroad. Bozlak is a stentorian version - the singer sings as loud as he can, in a foot-stomping, seemingly semi-spontaneous declamation of historical events, opinions and advice; the previously-mentioned Metin & Kemal Kahraman include some great performances by older members of their family on recent recordings. Some have noted intriguing parallels between flamenco and bozlak which, given the Sindhi content of flamenco gypsy music, seems worth investigating.

asik veyselIn Tarkan's 2003 musical release Dudu, the pop singer ventured into this area by making a cover version of Asik Veysel's popular and well-known folk song "Uzun İnce Yoldayım" (On a Long Narrow Road), which is about Life and Death. Aşık Veysel is one of the most renowned and often spoken of Aşıks, or minstrels, that lived in Anatolia during the past century. Tarkan collaborated with Arif Sağ for this song and also featured in a folk song for Sağ's daughter-in-law Pinar Sağ, called "Hoyda Yarim" (Dance My Love).

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3. Arabesque

Arabesque is a working class musical style, so-called because of its predominantly Arab-influenced melodies. Traditionally a largely male dominated genre, its image has been changed largely due to an injection of popular female singers. Most critics attribute to these female singers the influx of a "dance sound" into the genre, which is now sometimes termed as arabesque/fantasy.

orhan gencebayExamples of old male arabesque singers are Orhan Gencebay, Müslüm Gürses, Ferdi Tayfur, who have die-heard followers, usually in conflict with each other. Orhan Gencebay's record for album sales was unbeaten for many years.

Discovered by Istanbul Plak - the record label that discovered Tarkan - musicologists categorise Gencebay's music as in an arabesque style, but with progressive touches in the instrumentation. Gencebay himself would disagree with being placed in this genre and would prefer ethno-fusion as a title. He has opened up the range of the genre with fusions and crossovers.

orhan gencebayVarious singles released by Gencebay (starting from at least 1967) are very good examples of crossovers coloured with instruments 'natural' to Turkish cultures as the bağlama and electric bağlama (instruments originating from the Turkish culture) and electric guitars, harmonica, tenor saxophone and sitar. Within these experiments and his intellectual approach to Turkish music, he succeeded to blend original and occidental tunes into one sound. His progressive music was understood as being in the arabesque style amongst the working class in Turkey, however Gencebay's music even though populist was at its essence progressive. His music was prohibited and sometimes limited in Turkey (on state broadcasts and radios), as his lyrics were at times very political echoing the issues of that day. Anatolian rocker Erkin Koray covered his songs like "Hor Görme Garibi" (Don't Diss The Downtrodden), "Koca Dünya" (Great Big World). Gencebay sees his music more as a fusion between traditional and world elements, as he is adept enough to use scales from blues, rock, and funk. He has been performing for over three decades.

Leading star İbrahim Tatlıses (or "İbo" as he is nicknamed) has been around since the 60s used to be famous for just his music - but is now well-known for other successful enterprises, such as his casinos and Turkish pizza food houses. He is as popular in Arab countries as he is in Turkey for his songs.

emrahozcan denizThis genre also has had its fair share of child stars, and has been heavily criticised for introducing young children into fame, fortune and the high octane lifestyle. One such singer was Küçük Emrah (Little Emrah) who lost the 'little' from his title as he grew up. And as he grew, he readily shred his arabesque image, opting for a more modern pop look (see first pic). Such young arabesque singers, including more recently Özcan Deniz (see second pic), have been criticised by their peers for deserting this genre and becoming pop singers. Both have made inroads into TV, while Deniz has turned his talents to cinematic efforts also.

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4. Popular Female Singers

Female singers in Turkey have always been readily accepted since the birth of the Republic in 1923, with the cornerstones of pop music Sezen Aksu and Ajda Pekkan notable examples. However some female singers do not fit into one genre very easily, as their styles range over more than one. The five ladies below due to their populism with the masses, have had their songs shaped by the popular "sound" of the day, so that in turn they have sang songs ranging from Turkish classical to arabesque.

sibel canSibel Can, popular in Arabic countries too, started her career as a belly dancer, but quickly garnered success for her looks and voice. With album sales in the millions, she is very popular in Turkey. Singer Can kept the newspaper headlines busy when it was revealed that she was the victim of blackmail after someone found a tape of her engaging in an extra-marital affair. Her husband consequently divorced her during the scandal, but she took custody of her their two children. She remarried, and gave birth to her third child. She is sometimes nicknamed the "female Tarkan", for her voice and being able to rise above scandal and controversy.

seda sayanSeda Sayan is another loved female singer, well-known for being bold, brassy and outspoken and for going through men like a bowling ball hitting the pins. She has been in the Turkish version of Playboy - posing nude - when she first started her career. Arguably, she is more famous for her private life than for her singing talents, but she does have a powerful voice. She has become a fixture in the morning TV franchise in recent years, where her talk show format has been received with success.

hulya avsarHülya Avşar is another female singer who has enjoyed a lot of popularity in Turkey - firstly as a pin-up girl for soldiers (and her subsequent cinematic and personal on/off relationship with İbrahim Tatlıses - see above) and then for her taboo-busting movies (she won a Best Actress Award for her film Berlin in Berlin where she has an infamous masturbation scene). However, even though some music critics do not really consider her a singer, she is undeniably a popular icon in Turkey, who found success with her own talk show (which had featured such artists as Ricky Martin and Sakis Rouvas), a magazine and clothes chain. She was also Tarkan's favourite lady at one time and made a rare appearance on Turkish TV for Avşar's 2001 talk show, where they sang a duet together. At one time he also wanted to film a video for his raunchy 1994 song "Seviş Benimle" (Make Love To Me) with Avşar - but the project never got off the ground.

ebru gundesEbru Gündeş, since the release of her first album (in the Turkish classical genre) in 1993, has been very popular with the Turkish music market. Her third and fourth albums ventured into pop, while subsequent projects have tried to fuse arabesque-fantasy with upbeat pop sounds. In 2000, her popularity was heightened by the public sympathy gained when she publically fainted while promoting her newly released album for that year on TV. It was a serious blood-clot in the brain, and she had to have a major operation. After that album sold over a million copies, some cynics tried to hint that Gündeş's illness was actually a sales ploy to lift album sales. Gündeş recovered from her operation with no serious side-effects and goes from strength to strength.

gülben ergenGülben Ergen's popularity most musicologists attribute to her successful TV projects rather than her singing talents. Some argue, however, that after she found fame with talk shows and sit-coms her albums became more polished, notably with pop diva Sezen Aksu's help. What her first music projects may have lacked in quality, she has made up for in recent years by signing her name to more professional productions. Her private life has also been in the limelight; a victim of voyerism, a video cassette with her engaging in sex was released to the media. Unknown to her, she had been secretly filmed by her then partner as they made love, and she only found this out after the secret footage came to light. She came out of the scandal with her public image untarnished to marry Yilmaz Erdoğan, the man who along with his brother devised the dance troupe Sultans of The Dance.

KibariyeLess glamourous than the other female singers above, is the singer known as Kibariye. From the colourful Roma section of Turkish society, this lady makes up for in voice and character what some say she lacks in looks. Coming from an impoverished Romani upbringing, with her down to earth, direct way of talking she has won the affection of many music critics and fans alike. She has made the headlines by marrying a man twenty-one years her junior and only learned to read and write a few years ago, campaigning for illiterate adults in Turkey to do the same. Though most of her albums cover the arabesque genre, her voice has a large range and she has covered many different songs, endearing herself to a wider audience. She recently contributed to the soundtrack of Kutluğ Ataman's film İki Genç Kız (Two Young Girls), adapted from Perihan Mağden's novel of the same name.

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5. Pop

Pop music is actually the god-child of an extinct genre called Hafif-bati music (easy listening music), which were Turkish covers of international songs spearheaded amongst others by legendary composer and radio DJ of the fifties, Sezen Cumhur Önal. Male singer Erol Büyükburç was one of it biggest components, but crossed over to Anatolian rock due to little success with the format. The popularity of the trend was limited until it evolved in the seventies and then the nineties into the original Turkish pop sound that is emulated today in Greece, the Balkans and Middle Eastern countries.

Pop music is everywhere, whether it's the latest from Tarkan, the multi-talented diva Sezen Aksu - often described as the founder of modern Turkish pop - or mainstream converts from the more radical sounds of the Turkish club underground, like the Future Sound of Istanbul and Mercan Dede. Whilst not as westernised as Indian or Indonesian pop, for example, Turkish pop nonetheless includes global influences - technological developments from the west, western harmonies grafted onto folk songs, influences from Arabic music and, of course, the ubiquitous rise and rise of American-influenced rap and hip-hop, with artists such as Ceza and the infamous German resident Erci-E in a response against the pop genre and an attempt to take over the public's musical consciousness.

Second and third generation German-Turks have also helped change the face of Turkish pop, (inspired by the success of Tarkan), with artists such as Rafet El Roman utilising their own foreign influences to produced a more hybrid sound. Rappers such as Ceza have also helped make Turkish rap more mainstream by collaborating with popular artists like Candan Erçetin.

This fusion possibly seems to be inherent in the Turkish culture and come very easily to their stars, as they are children of the Ottoman Empire. Some stars manage to cross over into other markets - Tarkan became the first Turkish star to have a cross border European hit in his native tongue. In another mirroring of western habits, TV provides an endless stream of one-hit wonders whose careers flare-up and are extinguished seemingly in a matter of minutes.

Many music critics argue that with the surge of Pop Idol type competitions on Turkish TV bringing out more pop stars, such as Barış Kömürcüoğlu and Abidin, this will only aid in the pop industry's shallow image. Only time will tell whether such stars will outlast their own hype.

See also: Pop Power

Some of the true "movers and shakers" of the pop music industry are named below.

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5.1 Pop Artists

TarkanIf you go by album sales Tarkan is undoubtedly No#1 in Turkey. His album sales make up one third of all album sales in Turkey alone. Classically trained, Tarkan's family had moved to Turkey in 1986 from Germany where he was born. For more on Tarkan, see my Tarkan documentary [Flash player required], and see the other sections of this blog, the links to which can be found on the right side of your screen. Also try my other project Tarkan Translations which features an up-to-date discography.

sezen aksusezen aksuSezen Aksu (nicknamed minik serçe "little sparrow") is considered by her public to be Turkey's most celebrated female superstar. Many argue that if it wasn't for this diva, Turkish pop wouldn't have gained ground from its humble beginnings in the early 1950s-60s to the popular genre it is today. Aksu was also the catalyst for Turkey to become a member of the Eurovision, with one of her protegés and old backing vocalists winning the contest in 2003. She has been a "teacher and mentor" to many of the pop stars we know today, including Sertab (who won Eurovision 2003 - see below) and Tarkan, whom she helped to stardom by penning such hit songs as "Şıkıdım" (Shake) and "Şımarık" (Spoilt/Kiss Kiss). Tarkan often refers to her as "his Queen". She has brought attention to the plights of the common woman through her works, too. Click here to read more about her works.

ajda pekkanajda pekkanajda pekkan

Ajda Pekkan was Turkey's first real female superstar however - with a fanatical fanbase to rival Aksu's - she is seen as being the top in her business for 40 years. At the centre of the Turkish musical scene since 1965 - and a star of both stage and screen - Pekkan's repertoire extends beyond Turkish popular music to embrace styles such as French chanson. In the course of her career, Pekkan has received countless honours, and toured internationally. Outside of Turkey she had a very large following in Monte Carlo (especially in its royal family) and could count the diva Ertha Kitt as amongst her friends. She was also a discovery of record label Istanbul Plak like Tarkan. Click here to read more about her works.

nazan öncelNazan Öncel is difficult to categorise as she is very experimental in her music, and prefers to use a different sound in each album. However, she is popularly known for a more aggressive type of alternative/rock music laced with provocative and sexually charged lyrics, which has generated a fringe following for years. Most of her subject content is a far cry from the "escapism" of pop, and she has broached many difficult subjects in her songs, such as child abuse and homeless children. She has managed to enter the mainstream by writing successful songs for Tarkan, such as "Hüp", and collaborating on the 2003 song "Dudu". Her own 2004 album Yan Yana Fotğraflar Çektirelim was the final move towards mainstream pop, produced and released under Tarkan's own record label HITT, which she left to release her 2006 under a different label. Click here to read more about her works.

Cover of Göksel's album KörebeWith each album, female singer/song-writer Göksel makes the listener feel as though they have come to play in her own private garden. She is sultry and moody, and her lyrics and music are often thought-provoking and original. Supported by Aksu, she released her first album in 1997, but it was her Körebe (Blindman's Bluff) album in 2001, and more specifically the song "Depresyondayım" (I'm Depressed) from that release, which caught the public's imagination. Read more about her here.

izelizel-çelik-ercanİzel came to fame in the group Izel-Çelik-Ercan in the beginning of the 1990's, when Turkish pop began its huge expansion and development. Leaving the threesome to go solo, her subsequent albums have done very well, winning her numerous awards. Of the group, Ercan Saatçi released an album but decided that he prefered to produce rather than sing, while Çelik has also carved out a successful singing career. He is known for composing most of his own songs, but refusing to give them to anyone else to sing. He broke with this tradition when he gave his old singing partner İzel the song "Kızımız Olacaktı" (We Were Gonna Have A Daughter) in 1997.

Kenan DoğuluA good friend of Tarkan's, Kenan Doğulu released his debut album in August 1993. His sound and lyrics have developed considerably through the years gaining a distinct rock sound, culminating in the popular 2001 work Ex Aşkım. In 2002 Kenan Doğulu 5.5, the unplugged version of the 2001 album was released and it reached mass audiences gaining as much appreciation as Ex Aşkım had done. He is also a high profile amateur car racer and Formula 1 fan.

mustafa sandalMustafa Sandal has been successful in his pop career and has a die-hard following, but after his smash hit second album Golgede Ayni/Araba (All the Same in Shadow/Car) the following albums were not received very well at all and he was losing popularity. However, with the help of Greek songwriters and a beautiful Greek singer named Natalia and his own Turksh song "Isyankar" (Rebel) he seems to have made a comeback with his last two albums. He has also followed Sertab with his excursion into English language songs, with little success in Germany. Tarkan and Sandal fans seem to be polarized into competitive camps, an image which the two stars do not try to disperse.

serdar ortacClose friend of Ebru Gündeş (see above) Serdar Ortaç, like Sandal, has seen his popularity dip and rise in recent years. He was one of the highest paid composers in Turkey, with many celebrities on his customer list. At one time, having an Ortaç song on your track list ensured a "hit". He also, with little success, entered the foreign language market in 1997 by releasing some of his songs in Spanish. He continues to generate sales thanks to his die-hard followers, like Sandal and Tarkan.

rafet el romanRafet El Roman is one of the few singers that became successful in the early '90s after Tarkan hit the pop scene, when German born Turks (2nd and 3rd generation Turks living in Germany) began to relocate to Turkey to make money in the music industry. With hits like "Leyla" and "Seni Seviyorum" (I Love You) his first album made him very successful. Other albums were less successful however, but his 2004 Sürgün (Exile) saw a return to form. He has also appeared in films - most notably in Propaganda.

mirkelammirkelamMirkelam was a "manufactured" hit created by starmaker Ahmet San (Tarkan's old manager). He became famous overnight in the early 90's with the success of one song "Her Gece" (Every Night) followed by a very strong album. He was an Istanbul Plak artist like Tarkan. Tarkan has lent backing vocals to Mirkelam on the song "Her Gece". However, due to all his other disappointing album sales most critics began to believe he was a one hit wonder, until the release of more recent offerings, which has seen his popularity rise again - though unlike the highs of his breakthrough success in the 90s.

sertabsertabsertabSertab Erener, one of Aksu's protegé's, came to the music scene with much musical acclaim and popular success in 1992. Her first two albums sold in excess of a million sales. The song (and title of her second album released in 1994) "L'al" (Ruby Red) was included in the Soundtrack For A Century collection by Sony music. She also won the Eurovision for Turkey in 2003 with the help of her love interest, rocker Demir Demirkan, who had also produced her critically acclaimed third album Sertab Gibi (Like Sertab) in 1997. Shying away from a "superstar" lifestyle, Erener is also remembered for her duets with José Carreras, Ricky Martin and her single with Greek singer Mando. In 2004 she released her first English album called No Boundaries and a few English singles, which increased the number of her international fans. She made a special re-production of the album for Japan. Her two songs "One More Cup of Coffee" (A Bob Dylan cover) and "Here I Am" were used in international movie soundtracks. She also worked with such famous musicians as Desmond Child, Anggun, and Belgian band Voice Male.

levent yukselLevent Yüksel is another Aksu protegé and Sertab's ex-husband and (still) very good friend. A strong bass player too, he began singing backing vocals for Aksu at concerts and on albums to gain experience. As with Sertab, Yüksel achieved most success with Aksu collaborated albums. Today, he has moved away from the Western sounds of his first album and has moved to a more Turkish pop beat-Arabic fusion in recent albums. Yüksel leads a very low key lifestyle, and is still looking for the huge success of his first two albums.

yildiz tilbeYildiz Tilbe is a pop star with arabesque roots, and is very popular - but mainly for her song lyrics and music. Before the digital age and piracy hit music sales, her albums were always reaching figures of close to or over a million units. She is known as one of the top composers in Turkey. She penned the lyrics for Tarkan's "Kis Günesi" (Winter Sun) from his A-acayipsin album. However, she has suffered in her private life due to a failed marriage, depression, illness and drug abuse. These problems did cause a spiraling trend in album sales in the late 1990s, but her popularity has seen a recovery with the success of recent albums.

candan erçetinCandan Erçetin's music is a mix of Western melodies and traditional folk, which in turn is a mixture of Turkic folk songs and Eastern European folk. She has a strong fan community. Her songs are sometimes imbued with the glamour of pop, can sometimes sound as melodious as jazz and often times are sung with the eroticism of the cabaret singer. She has a reputation for unique musical projects, such as releasing an album with only French songs for the Turkish market and also releasing mini EPs after every album, usually with dance tracks and remixes for the club scene. Erçetin has a turbulent music relationship with singer/song-writer Mete Özgencil whose signature is on many of her albums.

Özgencil, having released music himself, has also colloborated with Tarkan on the Karma album), for the songs "Verme" (Don't Give), "Uzak" (Far Away) and "O'na Sor" (Ask Her).

metin arolatA 26th descendent of Mevlana Jelaleddin Rumi, Metin Arolat comes from an artistic background.

Even though he is a well-known director of Tarkan's pop videos, for such songs as "Kuzu Kuzu" (Like A Lamb) and "Sorma Kalbim" (Don't Ask My Heart), Arolat sings too. Pictured on the left is his 1998 second album Yine Bir Başıma (Alone Again). A collaboration of many artists including Serdar Ortaç, Tarkan and one of Nazan Öncel's first outings in escapist pop, it has been seen as an attempt to re-balance the wide spectrum of different sounds in Turkish music that had begun to clash in lesser pop albums. Many arguably saw it's musical daring as a precursor to Tarkan's Karma album, the "middle way" between Tarkan's pop heavy Ölürüm Sana sound to his ethno-elctronica outing in Karma.

Unfortunately, a little misunderstood for being beyond its time, it was a failure in relation to sales. Due to the album's flop he suffered depression and is rumoured to have even attempted suicide. However, Arolat came back into the music scene with a 2005 release Kabul Et (Accept It).

Links to other Pop artists:

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6. Anatolian Rock & Progressive Rock

Rock music can be divided into two subcategories.

Popular or modern progressive rock: The Turkish rock 'n' roll scene began as early as 1956, which evolved through the 60s and 70s into the modern Turkish rock genre found today.

Anatolian rock: Diversified out from progressive rock, although it is strictly speaking a fusion of two or more genres, due to its popularity and increasing development it has become a style of its own.

6.1 Rock Artists

erkin koraycem karacaBarış Manço, Erkin Koray (far left) and Cem Karaca (left) merged folk songs with rock grooves and were the founders of the Anatolian rock genre.

baris mançobaris mançoManço was the world-travelling "free love" hippie who is still remembered and loved by people of all ages in Turkey, even though he passed away in 1999. He was loved nationally for his rock music as a solo artist and with his group Kurtalan Ekspress (see Bands).

He was also successful with his TV programme "7 to 77", where he travelled the world introducing new cultures to Turkey and his hardworking efforts every Children's Day endeared him to the younger generation.

Manço composed about 200 songs, most of which were translated into a variety of languages including Greek, Bulgarian, Romanian, Arabic and Persian. He started his music career in Belgium, where he went to study. He is possibly the most covered Turkish artist in Greece. His LPs are searched over by collectors from all over and get high prices. He also has a following in Japan.

sebnem ferahŞebnem Ferah is one of the few successful female modern rock artists in Turkey, with a similar style to Bjork, who has managed to translate her popularity into mainstream success. She is attributed for bringing recognition to the "underground" music of Istanbul with the top sales of her debut album Kadın (Woman) in 1996, with the collaboration of Demir Demirkan. Her music is very experimental in regards to her genre, but has shown a preference for acoustic rock sounds in recent years. Read more about her here.

Links to other rockers:

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7. Bands

Pop bands, known commonly as "girl" or "boy" bands have not been very popular in Turkey. There have been a few examples, such as Cici Kızlar (Cute Girls), Çıtır Kızlar (once known as the Turkish Spice Girls) and Birkaç İyi Adam (A Few Good Men). They had limited success, and were "one-hit wonders".

However, pop/R&B girl band Hepsi have been successful. The four girls have accumulated a large fan base made up of mostly young people. The girls released their debut album in 2005.

One band who formed in 1969 and still has a cult following is Modern Folk Üçlüsü (A Modern Folk Threesome) who brought Turkish folk and classical songs into the popular sound of the day.

However, in progressive and rock music, arguably it has been the rock band format that not only helped formulate the rock genre in Turkey, but also kept it alive. Examples of such bands are the Moğollar and Barış Manço's Kurtalan Ekspress.

mazhar fuat ozkanFormed in 1970, rockers M.F.Ö, made up from the first three initials of the names of each band member Mazhar, Fuat and Özkan, is another group which has also enjoyed sustained mainstream success throughout the years both as solo artists and songwriters, and as a band. Sometimes they have received criticism for leaving progessive rock and entering into popular music, but they are considered as one of the few successful bands in Turkey. The ageing rockers still perform together.

Some contemporary rock groups are Kargo, Mör ve Otesi (Purple and beyond) Duman (Smoke) and Kurban (Sacrifice). Another recent band which has enjoyed mainstream success is Athena, a group which mixes punk and ska with rock.

Heavy metal bands also exist, one of the most successful being Pentagram (a.k.a Mezarkabul), who counts Demir Demirkan as an ex-guitar player/member. Manga and Mizan are other bands that have entered into the mainstream with its mix of rock and metal.

The creation of the band as a general format however, has deeper roots in Turkish music's military history, as noted below.

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8. Military Music

Known as the first military band in the world, Turkish military music of the Janissary Band (Mehter Takimi) influenced 18th and 19th century European music, with its percussive character, aksak rhythms and mystical tones. Inspired by the Janissary bands, both Mozart and Beethoven wrote Alla turca movements; Lully and Handel composed operas. Western music became known in the 19th century because many foreign musicians visited Istanbul and performed concerts. Giusseppe Donizetti was one of them. He founded a band in 1831 after Sultan Mahmut II abolished the Guild of Janissaries in 1826.

The foundation of percussion music and the invention of percussion bands in the West lies in Ottoman military music. As this kind of "campaign music" appealed to European rulers and generals, so gradually bands were established in the Turkish style, at first from Turkish musicians who amazed the population everywhere they went. In this way the Turkish band had found its way by 1699 (1720 according to another source) into the military music of Poland through the Prince Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, Augustus the Strong. In 1725 it had reached Russia, and Austria in 1741 and, at roughly the same time it was introduced into Prussia by their only artillery regiment. The bass drum was also first introduced into European music in the 18th century. It came from the Turkish military music being produced at the time.

The popularity of the Turkish band was such, that in about 1800, even piano-fortes were equipped with a so-called "Janissary feature" which sought to reproduce the Ottoman bells and cymbals, and, by heating a clapper on the sound board, the sound of the bass drum was imitated.

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9. Religious Music

Walk down any street in Turkey and you will hear sooner or later the muezzin's call to prayer from high above your head, to which legislation decrees that only those possessed of reasonable music skills should perform the call. Religious music falls into two categories: mosque music which, you will not be surprised to find, is found in places of worship, and Sufi music. Mosque music is performed without instrumental accompaniment. Passages from the Koran are often chanted, both in the mosque and at private gatherings. Mosque music can be considered a sub-genre of classical music, but has it's own repertoire, a more limited use of mode and rhythm, and is of course acapella.

dervishesSufi music tends to be a mix of instrumental performances and settings of the Koran and mystical poetry, the most famous of which is the music and dances of the Sufi order of the Mevlevi.

The 13th century Sufi mystic Mevlana Jelaleddin Rumi's son founded the Mevlevi sect after his death. Better known in the West as whirling dervishes, the Mevlevi sect are an aristocratic, intellectual fraternity who were, until the end of the Ottoman Empire, long-time patrons of art music: Kudsi Ergüner, descended from a line of Mevlevi musical masters, is probably the leading Sufi ney flute player of today along with his brother Süleyman Ergüner. Resident in Paris, Kudsi is seen in the company of Martin Scorcese (The Last Temptation of Christ), British film director Peter Brook (The Mahabharata) and Peter Gabriel; he also has his own intriguing Sufi-jazz project Ottomania.

Following the way of Sufi or tasavvuf mysticism, dervish performances can be found at the Galata Lodge in Istanbul. When Madonna paid a trip to Istanbul in October 1993, as part of her Girlie Show Worldwide Tour by the invitation of Tarkan's old manager Ahmet San, she entered the secret world of the whirling dervish and loved it so much that she placed the devotional dance in her critically acclaimed 1995 music video to "Bedtime Story" directed by Mark Romanek. The dancers are twirling in a type of cyber ashram. She is also a fan of Mevlana's poetry.

See also: Heavenly Bodies (The Whirling Dervishes of Rumi)

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10. Credits and General Links


  • Ali Yildirim (Main writing, editing)
  • Martin Gordon (Introduction and general descriptions of the genres, Time Out Magazine, 2001)
  • Ozan Durmus (Orhan Gencebay information)
  • Wikipedia (Ajda Pekkan, Sertab Erener, Baris Manço, Turkish Music (Style))

General Links


11. Further Reading

Further Reading: [added Dec 2004 - Oct 2006]

Creative Commons License

© CC License 2004-24. Unless otherwise stated all poetry, prose and art are the original work of the blog owner.