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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Istanbul Music Scene

By no means do I pretend to be a connoisseur of or an apt guide to the music of Istanbul, but here are a few suggestions to those that want to try out different sounds from the city's music scene, as opposed to the mainstream Turkish pop and arabesque sounds that tourists will usually hear.

Istanbul Beats

Pair of plastic guitarsPossibly a statement too idealistic to make, but in music the talent and writing should be the main focus points. Looking at a beautiful face and body is always a bonus, but the packaging shouldn't overtake the album. Good visuals enhance a concept and help it sell, but it shouldn't be the driving force of an album.

Shiny pictures are nice, but the songs should shine more.

The pop industry has suffered from what some commentators call this "production of plastic" for the last two years. Apart from a few outstanding albums notably from female singers Hande Yener and Göksel and male singer Kenan Doğulu, everything else just seems to sound the same. The lyrics are meaningless; the melodies devoid of any originality. Some would argue that this is the natural result of music production companies who are constantly trying to sell faces not talent. Most fans and critics want to see music on the shelves of their local music store, not meat.

No Plastic

No plasticUnderground music and independent artists are gaining wider audiences, as a reaction to the seemingly shallow nature of mainstream pop. However, reactions vary from the subtle to the extreme.

Ignoring the giant music companies that are mass producing synthetic stars, one band decided to release their song on the Net and became so popular that it led to the release of an album, while a four man rock band Mor ve Ötesi that formed in 1995, also seem to have something new to say with each succeeding album. The group's planned release of a limited LP version of their 2004 release Dünya Yalan Söylüyor (The World is Telling Lies), and a re-mastered montage of Andrei Khrjanovsky's 1968 animation Glass Harmonica as the video to their song "Uyan" (Wake Up) from that album, is considered to be a good example of their individual style.

A possible stronger reaction has come from the rising popularity of homegrown hip hop in Turkey, possibly best epitomised in Sagopa Kajmer's "S.K.T.R.N.G.D.N." (F.C.K.F.F), where in no uncertain terms there is a call for the "bitches of pop to fuck off". Many of the words in Kajmer's rant allude to the lyrics in Tarkan's songs, possibly as he is seen as a figurehead of Turkish pop. It can be argued however that it isn't Tarkan, but the infiltration en masse of his xerox copies in the industry that are the problem.

From the Songs of the Sultans to the Streets

Along with the degeneration of pop music, the failing popularity of Turkish classical music has also been debated by Turkish music critics.

It is arguable whether a genre that boasts an archive of songs that stretches back five centuries will disappear, yet this traditional genre is getting help from alternative streams of music. Just as pop plastic has found opposition in hip hop and rock steel, conversely it seems that on the agenda of these popular fringe groups is the aim of keeping this Ottoman heritage alive, if only to adhere themselves to mainstream success without employing pop tactics.

Most Turkish youths today can easily sing from memory these songs of the Sultans and makams that were written throughout the ages, successfully handed down from generation to generation.

Not many countries can say the same about their young demographic groups, except in countries where folk songs are still of interest, such as Italy where regional songs are popular amongst the Italian youth. However, the music of Turkey archives its musical folk heritage separately from the musicology of Ottoman classical music, with the youth of Turkey embracing both genres with each succeeding generation. So, it can be said to be unique.

Tapping into this source, rock groups have successfully covered such classical pieces, including Kargo and their compilation of covers in a 2005 album Yıldızların Altında (Under the Stars) and the old classic song "Çile Bülbülüm" (Sing My Nightingale) re-chiselled in hard rock by group Duman. Teoman and Şebnem Ferah whose new albums usually signal the resurgence of interest in mainstream Turkish rock, also employ cover versions of old Turkish songs.

Respected popular artist Candan Erçetin's 2005 release Aman Doktor not only breathed new life into her selection of old classics, but has introduced a Greek flavour into the concept of her album, reminding listeners of the marriage between Greek and Turkish music during the Ottoman Empire. Seen as the ambassador of Turkish pop, Tarkan had classical music training and recorded a duet with Ottoman music diva Müzeyyen Senar in 1998. The singer also commented after making a guest appearance at a classical music concert that he would like to release an album of old classics, when he has had his fill of playing away from home. He usually sings a few classical pieces at his concerts and employed this genre to endear himself to the Turkish public after his live TV gaffe to a reporter in 1994. Mp3 rips of some of these live appearances have been distributed around Tarkan communities.

With such a large database for Turkish music artists across all genres to dip into, it is hard to see how Turkish classical music is in danger of fading away.

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