The wonderful Turkish music
Turkey, given its geographical position and its history, has always been a crossroads of cultures. Marvelous Istanbul, ancient Byzantium, was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire. In 1453, Mohammed II the Conqueror, who later became the de facto Turkish sultan, defeated the Byzantines, thus putting an end to the Middle Ages.
There is no doubt that Turkey, but even more Istanbul, were contaminated by many civilizations that populated it, for example, Hittites, Greeks, Arabs, Slavs, Persians. Surely the Persian culture played a fundamental role, it allowed the Turks to open up, during the modern age, to new forms of cultural, aesthetic and religious expression, compared to the predominantly Arab tradition.
And consequently music was also of fundamental importance.
From the türkü and the aşkilar to the Ottoman influence
Typical Turkish folk music is türkü, played on the saz, a long-necked, six-stringed, lute-like, sweet-sounding instrument. Turkish folk music originated in the steppes of Asia.
Türkü music can be instrumental or sung, it is often associated with poems, old lullabies handed down through the centuries both of sentimental and political topics. Until recently it was not written, but handed down by the “aşıklar”, that is the Turkish folk musicians. In fact, the word aşık in Turkish means lover (or in love); hence lovers were called the wandering minstrels of Turkey.
In fact, the Aşıklar playing the Saz, went around the cities, thus celebrating the beauty of nature through their songs. Aşkılar still play Ozan, a specific style of music, especially in musical evenings dedicated to tourists, although the natural environment of this type of music is however weddings – especially in villages – and festivals. Many musicians, over time, have also recorded and commercialized their music, among them for example Asik Veysel, a blind singer-poet who brought the Ozan genre to the fore and considered by many to be the highest interpreter of Turkish poetic conservation.
Later, Ozan, contaminated by Western folk, was transformed into özgün, the typical social protest music whose main representative is Zulfu Livaneli. Or Derya Takkali, son of the esteemed musician Bahtiyar, who also composed some texts for him. Takkali is a sort of aşık that continues this tradition of musical poetry, enriching it with more modern and current sounds.
The Türk Halk Müziği
But to get to know the Turkish musical tradition even better, a fundamental stop is a visit to the Türk Halk Müziği, in Istanbul, the museum of popular music, full of objects and instruments that belonged to all the various civilizations that have populated Anatolia over the centuries.
Therefore, in addition to the aforementioned Section, it is possible to find other instruments such as the Duval, the traditional drum, the Zuma, a wind instrument, considered an ancestor of the oboe due to its double-reed and conical reed shape; the Ney, a wooden flute originally from Persia; the Ud a short-necked lute, or the Kanun, a species of zither, very common in Arab countries.
Or the Blağama, the Dombara (sometimes confused with the Indian sitar) and much more. Walking through the famous Istiklal, the heart of the Beyoğlu district, and going down the small street that leads to Galata Tower, you can see the many music shops displaying all sorts of traditional Turkish instruments, or notice musicians playing in the streets, offering one unique and exciting show.
Under the Ottoman Empire, Turkey was enriched with new aspects. In the musical field, the Ottoman culture produced the şarkı, a musical composition (which in modern Turkish means song), whose typical melody is the makam.
Obviously, alongside traditional music, dance cannot be missing, another fundamental aspect that goes well with folklore tradition. Obviously the dance changed (and changed) both with the change of musical styles and also according to the region in which some styles were born. For example, the Zeybek is widespread along the Aegean coast. On the Mediterranean coast, towards the south, Kasik Oyunu is practiced, with the typical spoons.
Furthermore, Abdal Turkiç or Bozlak is widespread in central Anatolia, if you continue eastwards. In the capital, Ankara, Misket is danced, also very popular in central Anatolia. The Sema, an ancient sacred dance, which from the 1600s became important from a religious point of view.
And how not to mention the famous whirling dance of the dervishes, accompanied by the notes of Ney they repeat the hesychasm (religious invocation) “ilaha illa llha ”(there is no other God but Allah).
This dance is among the most famous in the world and most tourists visiting Turkey cannot help but go and watch this extraordinary show.
Post-war Turkish music
Although Turkey is a land linked and attentive to preserving its traditions, it is perhaps also the nation that is more open-minded (thanks also to Atatürk) and that also welcomes what comes from the West.
Thus, after World War II Turkey begins to import new musical genres, especially jazz and pop. The first Turkish jazz players are born listening to the great Amstrong, and try to reproduce the same rhythms using the traditional instruments of the Anatolian culture. After the 1920s, Turkish youth began to appreciate pop music singers such as Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald.
Some Turkish music artists, such as Erol Buyukburc and Ilham Gencer (in the picture), tried to reproduce the most famous American songs of the time, veiling them with typically traditional rhythms and enthralling melodies. Hence the desire of many Turkish singers and musicians to create a purely Turkish music pop genre and experience the new American, English and French musical trends.
Turkish music pop
According to critics, Turkish pop was born with Ilham Gencer, in the 1960s.
But the turning point of Turkish music took place in the 70s, as Turkish pop managed to overcome national borders and leave its mark in the Western world, thanks to artists such as the fascinating Ajda Pekkan (in the picture), very famous in Turkey, so much so as to be was nominated state singer by the government of Ankara, the national pop-rock group MFO (Mazhar-Fuat-Özkan).
The queen of Turkish pop is Sezen Aksu, who dominated the charts of the 70s. Turkey also produces a lot of important music in these years, contaminating Middle Eastern sounds with British folk, jazz, funk, rock, beat and even psychedelic music, with artists such as Cem Karaca, leader of national progressive rock, the very loved Baris Manço, or Erkin Koray, the Mavi Isiklar, or the Kardaslar and many more.
All these artists start inspired by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Genesis, skilfully mixing them with traditional Middle Eastern rhythms. But with the economic crisis, many inland inhabitants go to Istanbul and to the coast, bringing with them the love for old Middle Eastern and traditional Turkish music.
And this is how Western musical culture is again replaced by Eastern culture. A folk movement is born, linked to social and political protest, to give a voice to the poor and marginalized. The forerunner of the genus was Orhan Gencebay (in the picture).
Among the women we remember the folk singer Selda. But these artists belong to the 1980s, when pro-Arab folk music will be the most listened to in Turkey.
Contemporary Turkish music, from Tarkan to Hadise
After the parenthesis of the 1980s, Turkey returns to look with interest at the latest musical trends from Western Europe and America, including Latin America.
From the 90s onwards, thanks also to new technologies, the Internet, intercultural exchanges, but above all thanks to the new generations, we are witnessing a rebirth of Turkish music which, while keeping its musical tradition alive, is interested in, and accepts also other musical genres, not only modern pop, but also for example hip hop, hard rock, undeground music, rap, lyric or Latin American music, appreciating artists of various genres, such as Pavarotti, Bocelli, Madonna , Michael Jackson, Shakira, Jennifer Lopez and so on.
Although I don’t know Turkish music very well, because it is a very large sector and it takes time to get to know it, I have learned to appreciate some singers of my generation, as well as some older pop songs.
And I was struck by the fact that many young Turkish music artists have been able to combine their musical cultural tradition well with new Western genres and sounds and also know how to establish themselves in the world record market.
Among them, for example: Teoman, Gökhan Őzen, Atiye Deniz, Can Bonomo, Murat Boz, to name a few. But above all artists such as Tarkan and Hadise, among the most loved in Turkey and known in half the world, because thanks to their eclectic, unconventional and nonconformist personalities, they have been able to revolutionize the rigid schemes of Turkish culture , but to stir up the somewhat dormant consciences of the national mentality.
Therefore, even in the musical field, Turkey confirms itself as a cultural crossroads between the East.