Various Artists

The Rough Guide to the Music of Turkey

by Gypsy Flores

15 April 2003


As I sit writing this review, we are only moments before the U.S. carries out a pre-emptive strike on Iraq. I am finding it very difficult to follow my normal routine of work, school, writing, listening to music, growing roses, doing radio, dancing etc. I know that I am not alone in experiencing this sense of growing doom while the world holds its collective breath.

I hope it does not happen and I for one am glad that France, Germany, and Russia have tried to be voices of reason in the U.N. I applaud Turkey who has refused to allow U.S. troops to be deployed in their country.

cover art

Various Artists

The Rough Guide to the Music of Turkey

(World Music Network)
US: 4 Feb 2003
UK: 24 Feb 2003

I am pleased with those countries that have refused to buckle under and yield to the threats by the U.S. or refuse to be bought by the U.S. government waving money in their faces.

Turkey is one of those countries. Not that they don’t have its own history of domination, oppression, and cleansing of ethnic minorities. After all, the Ottoman Empire ruled the vast region of the Balkans for 500 years. (Just read the translations of most Bulgarian songs and you will hear how the people felt about Turkish rule).

Turkey, of course, spread its influence far and wide in those 500 years. In return, they also assimilated much of the cultures that they dominated or came in contact with. One can hear it in the music—the influences of Asia and the influences of Europe. (Of course, it was two-fold, European brass bands came out of the Turkish Janissary Bands and of course Europe spread the influence of brass bands to other parts of Asia. (Oh, there are fabulous brass bands in India—i.e., my favorite, the Shyam Brass Band.)

Anyway, I digress.

Certainly, Turkey’s own musical tradition is quite strong both the classical and folk. Traditional instruments such as the kemençe spiked fiddle, saz long-necked lute, daouli big bass drum, tzurna double-reed wind instrument (similar to an oboe but a whole lot louder), darbouka goblet drum, ney end-blown flute especially used in Sufi music, etc., still exist and are used in both military, traditional, religious, and classical music.

Apropos, that The Rough Guide to the Music of Turkey—Europe Meets Asia: Gypsy, Bellydance, & Beyond begins with Turkish mega-star Sezen Aksu. Sezen began her career at age 11 and she began to compose her own music around the age of 18. Sezen has been outspoken for the rights of the ethnic minorities of Turkey (particularly the Kurdish people). She also performed and recorded with Greece’s beloved “Haroulia” or Haris Alexiou. The two performers wanted to bridge the age-old political gap between their two countries with song and celebration.

Sezen’s music is somewhere between Turkish pop (a genre as prevalent in Turkey as in the U.S.) and traditional. She sings with a deep, highly emotional voice and uses elements of traditional Turkish style singing. Her instrumentation is also somewhere between pop and traditional. “Güngörmemisler” begins with a rather languorous clarinet but quickly moves into the heavy down, up, down, beat of a Turkish dance. (I’m thinking of such dances as Iste Hendik—the pop hit by the late Baris Manço choreographed into a very popular international folk dance by Bora Ozkôk.)

The Rough Guide to the Music of Turkey has a good deal more Turkish “pop” than I normally would listen to. My preference is for traditional music without a lot of modern dilution. I don’t want my musical tastes to become “constipated” as I grow older so I try to challenge myself by hearing new sounds on compilations such as this that I would not normally seek out on my own. Even Tarkan, the young Turkish superstar, offers some intriguing aspects to his music.

Also included on the CD is Turkish master clarinetist Barbaros Erköse and his ensemble. Erköse is from a family of musicians and began to perform on the clarinet with his family at the age of 12. Now, he is not only a veteran musician and performer who has recorded several albums with his ensemble; but he has also recorded with virtuoso Tunisian oud player Anouar Brahem.

Grup Yorum, blends their original music with a modern/traditional style. They are also outspoken political activists and have recorded numerous albums over their 20-year career.

Another musician included in this compilation of noteworthy attention is Laz musician, Birol Topaloglu. I had the privilege to see him perform last year in Santa Cruz with a young Turkish musician who joined Birol on bagpipe and also played hand drum. Birol is a fine vocalist as well as being multi-instrumental. He has revived the music of the Laz people (an ethnic minority in Turkey mostly centered around the Black Sea region) and has also revived their traditional instruments. At the concert, his young musical partner also taught the audience some Laz dances.

Of course, no Turkish compilation would be complete without the extraordinary Omar Faruk Tekbilek. Tekbilek now lives in New York. He has recorded many albums and combines his very traditional playing and his use of traditional instruments with the improvisational methods of jazz artists. He is a master at whatever he does whether it is playing tzurna, oud, darbouka, or ney or singing and of course composing.

I feel that listening to music from all over the world is very important. When one hears music from another country, it gives a face and a voice to the nameless masses of people that inhabit the rest of the world. We see that, yes, there are people there—in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Canada, the U.S.A., Russia, Turkey. They have hopes, dreams, and fears just like anyone else. We all deserve the right to live our lives and raise children in a world free of war. As John Lennon said, “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” Ah, wouldn’t it be wonderful if peace broke out all over the world.

And as one teenager turned to me at last Sunday’s candle light vigil and said, “We Americans are so wrong to believe that this is a morally justifiable war.” D’accord.


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