Many times I get questions about Turkish music. According to my husband, Turkish music is easily identified when the Turkish people around a dinner table start singing (many times belching) and pouring out their emotional pain with their eyebrows crossed. It is really not the emotional pain that they are in at that moment, but the reflection of the emotional pain they had had in the past. Actually they are really happy while singing together since they are sharing their emotions. It is just like American Natives dancing around a fire. And, I am one of those Turkish people who sometimes start the singing….. and sometimes even some belching.
But, there is more to the Turkish music. It is very eclectic. I was so taken by seeing a poor village woman right in the middle of Beyoglu street in Istanbul, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, trying to play a guitar and singing an Anatolian Folk song. At another corner of the Beyoglu street, one could listen to a fantastic jazz group. A few more blocks down the street, there could be a person playing Turkish classical music with his ud.
I decided to pull together a summary of what Turkish music is about.
Here is my Turkish Music Lesson: 101-abridged.
The music of Turkey ranges from Central Asian folk music to fine Turkish Jazz with influences from Arabic, Byzantine, Greek, Ottoman, Gypsies, Persian, Armenian, Azeri, Laz, Jewish, and Balkan music. That is a lot of influences! Somehow, the entire population of Turkey knows a few songs from heart from each category.
Turkish music can be classified into:
Turkish Classical Music: A musical culture that emerged in the 16th century amongst the upper urban class in the environments of the palaces and the mansions of the Ottoman Empire. The songs are mostly about love and emotion in grandiose scale.
Turkish Folk Music: As opposed to the Turkish Classical Music, Turkish Folk Music emerged from the depths of Anatolia. The songs are based on natural and social events touched by love and emotions.
Regional Folklore Music: In addition to the Turkish folk songs with no specific regional influence, there are very distinct regions of Turkey provided very region-specific folk music. This style is referred as the “Turkish Folklore Music” generally accompanied with Turkish folklore dances. For example Zeybek style is common in the Aegean region, Ciftetelli in the Thrace region, Horon in the Black Sea, and Halay in the Southeastern region.
Turkish Pop Music: Turkish pop music started long after the establishment of the Turkish Republic. It started in the 1950’s and became very popular after 1970s. Turkish pop music became popular in the 70s and 80s with Ajda Pekkan and Sezen Aksu.
Ottoman Harem Music – Belly Dancing/Oriental Dancing Music: Ottoman belly dancing started as the dance only for harem women. The female dancer, rakkase, hardly appeared in performances for men. During that time, the male dancers, rakkas, performed publicly. Now, it is all different.
Turkish Arabesque: Mostly derived from Arabic and Byzantine music, it is a form of popular music based on the scales found in Turkish classical music. It is also influenced by the Balkan, Middle Eastern, and Ottoman Oriental music.
Military Music: The oldest type of military marching band in the world is Mehter Takimi (The Janissary Band). The music reflects the Turkish Folkloric music with heroic themes. The mehter musicians were cited in Orkhon inscriptions from the 8th century, but not widely mentioned until the 13th century.
Mevlevi Music: The Mevlevi Sufi Order was founded by Rumi in the Anatolian city of Konya. This is also called the Whirling Dervish Music due to the dancing style of the dervishes.
There are many other forms of Turkish music including Kanto, Turkish Hip Hop, Anatolian Rock, Islamic Anasheed, and forms of heavy metal, underground black metal and death metal, pop-rock, rock and jazz.
If you visit Turkey, in order to capture all of these varieties, I recommend one or more of the following:
- Attend a couple of Turkish music and dance shows.
- Walk on Beyoglu street in Istanbul after 6 pm.
- Befriend some Turkish people and go to a meyhane or walk by a meyhane (restaurants specialized in serving mezes, traditional dishes, and alcoholic drinks) after 10 pm to watch the “eyebrows”.
- Attend an elegant concert at one of the ancient amphitheaters.
- Visit jazz clubs or music halls.
- Turn on the Turkish TV channels on the weekend to watch some of the music shows.
- Attend a Turkish Ball on a New Year’s Eve somewhere in the world and watch people start to sing, again, after 10 pm.
If you want to see almost all the Turkish musical instruments:
Just go to the end of the Beyoglu street, at Galip Dede Street close to the Galata Tower, and you will find very fine music stores. You can gawk at their windows just like I did many, many times.