1 May 2009


In late March we spent four days in Istanbul. Full of mosques, churches, baklava and CD’s, Istanbul is contemporary and equally ancient, Asiatic and equally European. The first impression while still approaching the city was that the Turks are furiously copying the Soviet architecture with huge blocks and uniformly constructed neighborhoods. We didn’t find out if it’s a matter of aesthetics or economy, but it seems that the reasons are mainly financial. One more common feature is the use of cheap building materials, thus making the signs of decay appearing far too soon. The second impression is that contemporary Turks and Greeks are one and the same sort of people. They are somehow separated by the languages and the religions, and mainly by the politics; the last ones give the overall hint. Seeing the difference and not the similarity between two languages sharing a big number of words, it’s a question of will; the same goes on for the two religions that have given birth to common branches in the course of time. People living together need some deeper mutual understanding. But in the 20th century, both sides have overpronounced the differences.

In an everyday level, the sweets in Istanbul are less sweet than their Greek counterparts, meat dishes are incredibly tasteful while the vegetarian ones are a bit indifferent, ceramics remain closer to the ancient traditions and traffic is an equally terrible problem. 18.000.000 people it’s a huge city, spreading in two different continents. Small café and fast food stands were very pleasant, while we can’t say the same for some fabulous places suggested by the guide books. Historic monuments and similar sights require of course a lot of time and we had only 4 days, so we just caught some glimpses. The same is true for music shops; by the way, the main CD market is located in a place named Istanbul Textile Center, Blok 6, in the beginning of Ataturk Boulevard in Unkapani. The main record companies and distributors are located there.

There is an astonishing wealth of music appearing in the Turkish discography nowadays. Many companies republish old material from gramophone and vinyl records, so the interested researcher can quickly get an overview of the evolution of music in Turkey through the 20th century and of its geographic and demographic distribution; tracing this last aspect is actually a recent, increasing tendency. The obsession with the Turkish language, one of the taboos of the previous decades, seems to be gradually lifting. The unacknowledged ethnic minorities –Kurds, Laz, Jews, Greeks etc– gradually are getting their own share in the cultural field. On the other hand, Turkey this way exhibits its multifaceted wealth, which strongly reminds the splendor of the great Ottoman empire.

Four samples presented here can give a first view. I start with Tülay German which very clearly demonstrates the cosmopolitan, international and still highly local flavor of the contemporary Turkey. The song Mecnunum leylamı gördüm is included in the archival collection '62 - '87 burçak tarlası (Kalan, 2001).
The second song is Artık yeşerecek bir dalım yok by Behiye Aksoy, extracted from the album Kapın her çalındıkça (Coşkun, 1996 reprint?). A song of striking beauty, it’s much closer to the Ottoman tradition than what Behiye’s modern styling lets us assume.The third one is in Kurdish language, entitled Qirayis. It’s contemporary and deliberately multicultural, but this adds up to its originality and beauty. It’s taken from Ahmet Aslan’s Va u Waxt (Kom, 2003) and some relationship with Germany is obvious already on the cover.The last one is the traditional zeybek Serenler, performed here by Arif Sağ’s trio and the Istanbul State Sympohny Orchestra. Included in the album Concerto for Bağlama (Güvercin, 1996?) it shows a strong influence of art rock groups like Emerson Lake and Palmer, obvious in the juxtaposition of a heartfelt personal style and the institutionalized, though clearly foreign sound of the symphony orchestra.
Two weeks later, still enjoying the baklava and the rakhat lukum (the “turkish delight”) we brought with us, we try to prolong the feeling of our trip. Visiting new places is always fascinating, and Istiklal street with its cafes and restaurants is definitely a cosmopolitan one. The past of the city is unfolding through the superimposed layers of antiquities, the markets are rich and the local colors strong, though everywhere there is a hint of decadence, of fainting ancient glory. The Turks, after a tumultuous century, are collecting today what is left over, reassembling the pieces of the puzzle. In music this is a very strong feeling; recordings of those hard times, actually laid aside for years, are now finding their way to well produced publications. It’s not so strange then that many re-editions are drawn from vinyl records; it seems that the master tapes have been lost or, most probably, erased.

Here there are two recordings in more classical styles. Kani Karaca (b. 1930) in a live recording dating from 1994 (5 religious pieces joined together, the fourth one attributed to Dede Efendi – a total of 24Mbyte) out of his only album published by Kalan (2001).

The second piece is a passionate performance by the great Zeki Müren (1930 - 1996), titled Yalnız benim ol, extract from the album Hatıralarım (Emre, 1982).



  1. Good intro about Turkey.. and great covering for all music types in Turkey.
    Good job.

  2. Find more Tülay German in my mp3blog and forum searches:

    HERE and

  3. The Kani Karaca has gotten a lot of playtime since I bought it some years ago in a little turkish shop that mostly sells some toys, paper and writing utensils here were I live. "Uyghur Spel och Papper" they used to take a copy for me of each of the Kalan publications every time someone in the family went back to Turkey. They were a great help! This record is great and I introduced it to my mother just some years before she passed at 81, and she claimed it was some of her best medicine! I agree!

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