Turkish traditional music is–surprise!!–a fusion of genres from East and West. Turkish classical and folk music find inspiration not only in genres from Central Asia where the Turkic people originated, but also in the music of the many cultures the Ottomans dominated during their empire, from Persia to the Balkans, the Caucasus to North Africa. Turkish classical music has a special kinship with with Arabic music, most notably in its concept of “modes,” or “maqamat” (refer the West Asian/Middle Eastern overview I’ll send some time over the next few weeks for an introduction to the system of maqams). TurkishMusicPortal.com’s makam page emphasizes the complexity of what the Turks call “makams,” Each makam is a compilation of notes with a particular relationship to one another that, when used as the foundation of a composition, elicit a particular mood. Turkish classical music masters are able to wring every last bit of emotion out of a
composition’s chosen makam.

The basic rhythmic construct of Turkish classical music is “usul.” Much like the Indian rhythmic concept of tala, the Turkish usul is the rhythmic cycle that underlies a
composition. Students of Turkish classical music internalize the usul of songs by hitting their knees with their hands while they sing it using “vocables,” such as

düm, dü-üm,
tek, tekkyaa, and
teke, te-ek.

If you’re a musical master yourself, visit this “Turkish music resource sheet” to see if you
can make sense of the makams and usul. (Tetrachords? Pentachords? Usul ratios? “Whilst Western music commonly uses the 12 tone octave, basic Makam use 53….”)

Turkish traditional music uses many instruments
that are familiar throughout the Arab world, such as the oud, the doumbek (which Turks
call the darbukathere are some differences between the two) and the diaire/tef. Turkish music also features a stringed instrument known as the baglama and a “fipple flute” known as the ney or kavul, both of which are prevalent through Central Asia and Persia, and the davul which is a prime drum of choice in the Balkans. Check out TurkishMusicPortal.org’s instrument pages for a straightforward introduction to instruments used in Turkish folk and classical music.

Turkish musicians have so much practice weaving their from other parts of the world in their music that when global communication became all the rage in the middle of the 20th century one of the first things Turks did was internalize international melodies and rhythms into their music. From the 1960s to the ’90s the most dynamic musical genre in Turkey was “Arabesque,” a genre of Arabic-style music that Turkish musicians infused with scales and rhythms from global genres such as Balkan brass, blues, jazz and funk. Arabesque music has not always met with a warm reception in Turkey…to put it mildly. To get a sense of the complex forces at work here, read this analysis of Arabesque music and its nuanced place in Turkish culture.

In the late 1960s, Turks rocked out to Western psychedelic and progressive music, resulting in the formation of a local genre called Anatolian (or Andalou) Rock. We’ll touch on Anatolian Rock below when we introduce Baba Cem Karaca.

Today Turkey’s homegrown bands run the gamut of global musical genres and approach music from most every conceivable angle. Turkey’s music fans do keep their ears open to Turkish bands, but have also succumbed to the most international of international pop. For example, the track that spent the most weeks in 2009 on top of the “The Türkiye Top 20,” Billboard Magazine’s pop music chart for Turkey was by the not-very-Turkish Brittney Spears.

More information:
National Geographic on the music of Turkey | Let TurkishMusicPortal.org introduce you to the concepts of Turkish traditional music | Let Istanbulmusic.blogspot.com introduce you to both the scions of Turkish classical music and to over a hundred great modern Turkish bands

In class we’re going to listen to:
— Aynur: “Rewend”
Aynur Dogan is a controversial Kurdish singer from Turkey whose “offense,” in the eyes of some Turks, is that she is Turkish but sings songs in the Kurdish language. Born in 1975 in Cemisgezek, a small town in the southeastern Turkish mountains, Aynur and her family moved to Istanbul to avoid the struggles in their town between the Turkish Army and the Kurdish resistance. The Turkish government’s loosening restrictions on public use of the Kurdish language in 2004 gave Aynur the opportunity to not only perform but to rise to stardom. She has since been an outspoken advocate for the Kurdish people and their right to make art their own language.

In class we’ll sing a version of Aynur’s song “Rewend,” which we’ll call “Eman.” The song is a protest against the Turkish government and its international supporters’ plan to build the Ilisu Dam, which would decimate the Kurdish village of Heskif (Hasankeyf in Turkish).

More information:
Aynur booed for singing in Kurdish at the “Women of Water” concert | See Aynur’s video for “Rewend” | Aynur headlines San Francisco’s “Voices of Kurdistan” | See Aynur perform “Kéçe Kurdan” live. The chorus: “Yes we are Kurdish girls, we live we are lions, We are the pride of men.”

— Orhan Gencebay, “Kir-Gonlunun-Zincirini”
Orhan Gecenbay is one of the giants of the Turkish entertainment industry. In his monumental career Gencebay has been the lead actor in almost 40 movies, composed an estimated thousand songs and sold over 65 million records. Musically, Genecbay pioneered a multifaceted mix of Turkish and international sounds. Wikipedia describes the
genre like this: “During the 1970s [Gencebay] released many singles in a new genre that is a fusion of traditional Turkish Folk music, Turkish classical music, Western classical music, jazz, rock, country, progressive, psychedelic, Indian, Arabic, Spanish, and Greek music styles.” Rather than call this new genre “Turko-folko-clasico-jazzy- rocky-country prog-psych-Indi-Arab-Spania-Greek” music, musicologists termed it “Arabesque.” Gencebay didn’t like this categorization because it initially implied that he stole his songs from Arabic music he heard on the radio, but the term “Arabesque” has since grown to become synonymous with Turkish music about heartache, longing and even deep suffering. In that way, Arabesque is the Turkish equivalent of the blues.

More information:
Orhan’s bio on TurkishMusicClub.com | Orhan was a central figure in the 2005 documentary about Turkish music called “Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul” | Not only has Orhan always been one good-looking man, but he somehow gets better-looking with age | Hey Yabanci! | No wonder Orhan ia a film star

— Cem Karaca: “Bir Retmene At”
We also definitely want to take note of Cem Karaca, one of Turkey’s most extraordinary progressive rockers. Karaca, known to his fans as “Cem Baba” (Father Cem), was an Armenian-Azerbaijani Turk who came to embody the politically active and artistically ambitious Turkish generation of the late ’60s and early ’70s. Cem Baba began his career in an Elvis cover band known as “Jaguars” but by the ’70s had moved on, becoming part of the pioneering Anatolian Rock band Moğollar (The Mongols) before the band left Turkey to seek, and eventually find, fame in France. For the next decade Karaca performed both as a solo artist and with several popular bands, his powerfully political lyrics angering successive Turkish governments enough to inspire one to issue a warrant for his arrest in 1980. Karaca was in West Germany at the time and lived in exile there until 1987 when the Turkish government granted him amnesty and invited him back. He passed away in 2004 and remains a legend.

Of Karaca’s many performances available on YouTube, “Namus Belasi” one of Moğollar’s greatest hits, sticks out for both the great melody of the song and the undeniably awesome video. “Islak Islak is a favorite as well, if only for the joy of the hat and mustache alone.

In class throughout the season we’re going to sing Cem Karaca’s “Bo Sun Olsun,” Karaca’s bittersweet homage to the hope of youth.

More information:
This page about Cem Karacla on the Prog Rock archives site follows the development of the rocker’s career | Wow. | A comprehensive Cem Baba discography

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