The music of Turkey includes mainly Turkic elements as well as partial influences ranging from Central Asian folk music, Arabic music, Greek music, Ottoman music, Persian music and Balkan music, as well as references to more modern European and American popular music. Turkey is a country on the northeastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, and is a crossroad of cultures from across Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, the Caucasus and South and Central Asia
The roots of traditional music in Turkey span across centuries to a time when the Seljuk Turks migrated to Anatolia and Persia in the 11th century and contains elements of both Turkic and pre-Turkic influences. Much of its modern popular music can trace its roots to the emergence in the early 1930s drive for Westernization.
With the assimilation of immigrants from various regions the diversity of musical genres and musical instrumentation also expanded. Turkey has also seen documented folk music and recorded popular music produced in the ethnic styles of Greek, Armenian, Albanian, Polish, Azeri and Jewish communities, among others. Many Turkish cities and towns have vibrant local music scenes which, in turn, support a number of regional musical styles. Despite this however, western-style pop music lost popularity to arabesque in the late 1970s and 1980s, with even its greatest proponents, Ajda Pekkan and Sezen Aksu, falling in status. It became popular again by the beginning of the 1990s, as a result of an opening economy and society. With the support of Aksu, the resurging popularity of pop music gave rise to several international Turkish pop stars such as Tarkan and Sertab Erener. The late 1990s also saw an emergence of underground music producing alternative Turkish rock, electronica, hip-hop, rap and dance music in opposition to the mainstream corporate pop and arabesque genres, which many believe have become too commercial.
Ottoman court music has a large and varied system of modes or scales known as makams, and other rules of composition. A number of notation systems were used for transcribing classical music, the most dominant being the Hamparsum notation in use until the gradual introduction of western notation. Turkish classical music is taught in conservatories and social clubs, the most respected of which is Istanbul's Üsküdar Musiki Cemiyeti.
A specific sequence of classical Turkish musical forms become a fasıl, a suite an instrumental prelude (peṣrev), an instrumental postlude (saz semaisi), and in between, the main section of vocal compositions which begins with and is punctuated by instrumental improvisations taksim. A full fasıl concert would include four different instrumental forms and three vocal forms, including a light classical song, şarkı. A strictly classical fasıl remains is the same makam throughout, from the introductory taksim and usually ending in a dance tune or oyun havası. However shorter şarkı compositions, precursors to modern day songs, are a part of this tradition, many of them extremely old, dating back to the 14th century; many are newer, with late 19th century songwriter Haci Arif Bey being especially popular.
Other famous proponents of this genre include Sufi Dede Efendi, Prince Cantemir, Baba Hamparsum, Kemani Tatyos Efendi, Sultan Selim III and Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. The most popular modern Turkish classical singer is Münir Nurettin Selçuk, who was the first to establish a lead singer position. Other performers include Bülent Ersoy, Zeki Müren, Müzeyyen Senar and Zekai Tunca.
Traditional instruments in Turkish classical music today include tambur long-necked plucked lute, ney end-blown flute, kemençe bowed fiddle, oud plucked short-necked unfretted lute, kanun plucked zither, violin, and in Mevlevi music, küdüm drum and a harp.
From the makams of the royal courts to the melodies of the royal harems, a type of dance music emerged that was different from the oyun havası of fasıl music. In the Ottoman Empire, the harem was that part of a house set apart for the women of the family. It was a place in which non-family males were not allowed. Eunuchs guarded the sultan's harems, which were quite large, including several hundred women who were wives and concubines. There, female dancers and musicians entertained the women living in the harem. Belly dance was performed by women for women. This female dancer, known as a rakkase, hardly ever appeared in public.
This type of harem music was taken out of the sultan's private living quarters and to the public by male street entertainers and hired dancers of the Ottoman Empire, the male rakkas. These dancers performed publicly for wedding celebrations, feasts, festivals, and in the presence of the sultans.
Modern oriental dance in Turkey is derived from this tradition of the Ottoman rakkas. Some mistakenly believe that Turkish oriental dancing is known as Çiftetelli due to the fact that this style of music has been incorporated into oriental dancing by Greeks, illustrated by the fact that the Greek belly dance is sometimes mistakenly called Tsifteteli. However, Çiftetelli is now a form of folk music, with names of songs that describe their local origins, whereas rakkas, as the name suggests, is possibly of a more mideastern origin. Dancers are also known for their adept use of finger cymbals as instruments, also known as zils.
Romani are known throughout Turkey for their musicianship. Their urban music brought echoes of classical Turkish music to the public via the meyhane or taverna. This type of fasıl music (a style, not to be confused with the fasıl form of classical Turkish music) with food and alcoholic beverages is often associated with the underclass of Turkish society, though it also can be found in more respectable establishments in modern times.
Roma have also influenced the fasıl itself. Played in music halls, the dance music (oyun havası) required at the end of each fasıl has been incorporated with Ottoman rakkas or belly dancing motifs. The rhythmic ostinato accompanying the instrumental improvisation (ritimli taksim) for the bellydance parallels that of the classical gazel, a vocal improvisation in free rhythm with rhythmic accompaniment. Popular musical instruments in this kind of fasıl are the clarinet, violin, kanun, and darbuka. Clarinetist Mustafa Kandıralı is a welknown fasil musician.
The Janissary bands or Mehter Takımı is considered to be the oldest type of military marching band in the world. Individual instrumentalists were mentioned in the Orhun inscriptions, which are believed to be the oldest written sources of Turkish history, dating from the 8th century. However, they were not definitively mentioned as bands until the 13th century. The rest of Europe borrowed the notion of military marching bands from Turkey from the 16th century onwards.
Musical relations between the Turks and the rest of Europe can be traced back many centuries, and the first type of musical Orientalism was the Turkish Style. European classical composers in the 18th century were fascinated by Turkish music, particularly the strong role given to the brass and percussion instruments in Janissary bands.
Joseph Haydn wrote his Military Symphony to include Turkish instruments, as well as some of his operas. Turkish instruments were included in Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony Number 9, and he composed a "Turkish March" for his Incidental Music to The Ruins of Athens, Op. 113. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote the "Ronda alla turca" in his Sonata in A major and also used Turkish themes in his operas, such as the Chorus of Janissaries from his Die Entführung aus dem Serail (1782). This Turkish influence introduced the cymbals, bass drum, and bells into the symphony orchestra, where they remain. Jazz musician Dave Brubeck wrote his "Blue Rondo á la Turk" as a tribute to Mozart and Turkish music.
While the European military bands of the 18th century introduced the percussion instruments of the Ottoman janissary bands, a reciprocal influence emerged in the 19th century in the form of the Europeanisation of the Ottoman army band. In 1827, Giuseppe Donizetti, the elder brother of the renowned Italian opera composer Gaetano Donizetti, was invited to become Master of Music to Sultan Mahmud II. A successor of Donizetti was the German musician Paul Lange, formerly music lecturer at the American College for Girls and at the German High School, who took over the position of Master of the Sultan's Music after the Young Turkish revolution in 1908 and kept it until his death in 1920. A son of Paul Lange was the Istanbul-born American conductor Hans Lange. The Ottoman composer Leyla Saz (1850–1936) provides an account of musical training in the Imperial Palace in her memoirs. As daughter of the Palace surgeon, she grew up in the Imperial harem where girls were also given music lessons in both Turkish and Western styles.
After the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of a Turkish republic, the transfer of the former Imperial Orchestra or Mızıka-ı Hümayun from Istanbul to the new capital of the state Ankara, and renaming it as the Orchestra of the Presidency of the Republic, Riyaset-i Cumhur Orkestrası, signalled a Westernization of Turkish music. The name would later be changed to the Presidential Symphony Orchestra or Cumhurbaşkanlığı Senfoni Orkestrası.
Further inroads came with the founding of a new school for the training of Western style music instructors in 1924, renaming the Istanbul Oriental Music School as the Istanbul Conservatory in 1926, and sending talented young musicians abroad for further music education. These students include well-known Turkish composers such as Cemal Reşit Rey, Ulvi Cemal Erkin, Ahmet Adnan Saygun, Necil Kazım Akses and Hasan Ferit Alnar, who became known as the Turkish Five. The founding of the Ankara State Conservatory with the aid of the German composer and music theorist Paul Hindemith in 1936 showed that Turkey in terms of music wanted to be like the West.
However, on the order of the founder of the republic, Atatürk, following his philosophy to take from the West but to remain Turkish in essence, a wide-scale classification and archiving of samples of Turkish folk music from around Anatolia was launched in 1924 and continued until 1953 to collect around 10,000 folk songs. Hungarian composer Béla Bartók visited Ankara and the south-eastern Turkey in 1936 within the context of these works.
By 1976, Turkish classical music had undergone a renaissance and a state musical conservatory in Istanbul was founded to give classical musicians the same support as folk musicians. Modern day advocates of Western classical music in Turkey include Fazıl Say, İdil Biret, Suna Kan and the Pekinel sisters.
After the Turkish War of Independence ended in 1923, and the borders were drawn, there was a social and political revolution under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. This revolution opted to Westernize the way of living in Turkey. By 1929, all public and commercial communications were made in Latin alphabet, completely taking written Ottoman Turkish language out of circulation. A new constitution was written, one that was modeled after the French. This new constitution was designed to make the new Republic of Turkey into a secular, modern, nation-state. Every aspect of the revolution, from major policy changes to clothing reforms, was made in accordance with the Kemalist Ideology. All affairs were carried out followed by a chain of military command for the purpose of reaching the level of a Western civilization. Both religious and Turkish classical music was impacted by this top to bottom revolution. On November 1, 1934 Atatürk made a speech in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey. Alaturca music was banned on radios, public places as well as private properties. Here is the excerpt from the speech, concerning Turkish music, "Folks, we all know how sensitive we, the Turkish, are towards the matters of our cultural legacy…. I am aware what kind of progress that my people want to see within fine arts delivered by the new generation of artists, and musicians. If you ask me, what would be most efficient and quick to tackle first within the fine arts is Turkish Music. The music we are made to listen to these days is far from being a point of pride for Turkish people. We must all know this. We must take our great nation's idioms, stories, experiences and compose them, but only complying to the general rules of music. I wish that the Ministry of Cultural Affairs take this matter seriously, and work alongside the law-makers of our country." Right after this speech, on November 2, 1934, The Department of Publishing and Press banned Alaturca music, knowing what Mustafa Kemal meant when he said "… but only complying to the general rules of music…" was that the only acceptable type of music available to the public will be music following the principles of western tonal music. The Turkish composers, who were educated abroad in the beginning of the century and came back to Turkey, were assigned to teach classical Turkish musicians the western way of writing and playing music. The Presidential Symphony Orchestra, established back in 1924 started giving weekly free performances in school specifying in Music Education. New instruments like pianos, trumpets, and saxophones were bought for cultural centers in villages, not just in Istanbul, but in many places like Bursa, Çorum, Gümüşhane, and Samsun. Along with the radical ideology change, and the sudden application of these new ideas came an obvious tear in the fabric of the society. People who couldn't listen to Turkish music on Turkish Radio sought out the next best thing, and started listening to the Arabic Radio. There are records of Turkish people calling into Egyptian, Crimean, and Haifan radio stations requesting Turkish songs they were used to listening to, since The Middle East already consumed and re-created a lot of Turkish Music since the rise of the Ottoman Empire in the middle of the millennium. Turkish people started listening to other nations' version of Turkish songs. This cleared the way for the Arabesque music to become hugely popular in the 70s. Today, there are still prolific and popular Arabesque musicians in Turkey. According to Orhan Gencebay, one of the most highly regarded classical Turkish Musicians alive right now, the ban in the early years of the Republic is exactly why Arabesque Music became a cultural phenomenon.
Folk music or Türkü generally deals with subjects surrounding daily life in less grandiose terms than the love and emotion usually contained in its traditional counterpart, Ottoman court music.
Most songs recount stories of real life events and Turkish folklore, or have developed through song contests between troubadour poets. Corresponding to their origins, folk songs are usually played at weddings, funerals and special festivals.
Regional folk music generally accompanies folk dances, which vary significantly across regions. For example, at marriage ceremonies in the Aegean guests will dance the Zeybek, while in other Rumeli regions the upbeat dance music Çiftetelli is usually played, and in the southeastern regions of Turkey the Halay is the customary form of local wedding music and dance. Greeks from Thrace and Cyprus that have adopted çiftetelli music sometimes use it synonymously to mean oriental dance, which indicates a misunderstanding of its roots. Çiftetelli is a folk dance, differing from a solo performance dance of a hired entertainer.
The regional mood also affects the subject of the folk songs, e.g. folk songs from the Black Sea are lively in general and express the customs of the region. Songs about betrayal have an air of defiance about them instead of sadness, whereas the further south travelled in Turkey the more the melodies resemble a lament.
As this genre is viewed as a music of the people, musicians in socialist movements began to adapt folk music with contemporary sounds and arrangements in the form of protest music.
In the 70s and 80s, modern bards following the aşık tradition such as Aşik Veysel and Mahsuni Şerif moved away from spiritual invocations to socio-politically active lyrics.
Other contemporary progenitors took their lead such as Zülfü Livaneli, known for his mid-80s innovation of combining poet Nazım Hikmet's radical poems with folk music and rural melodies, and is well regarded by left-wing supporters in politics.
In more recent times, saz orchestras, accompanied with many other traditional instruments and a merger with arabesque melodies have kept modern folk songs popular in Turkey.
Folk instruments range from string groups as bağlama, bow instruments such as the kemençe (a type of stave fiddle), and percussion and wind, including the zurna, ney and davul. Regional variations place importance on different instruments, e.g. the darbuka in Rumeli and the kemençe around the Eastern Black Sea region. The folklore of Turkey is extremely diverse. Nevertheless, Turkish folk music is dominantly marked by a single musical instrument called saz or bağlama, a type of long-necked lute. Traditionally, saz is played solely by traveling musicians known as ozan or religious Alevi troubadours called aşık.
Due to the cultural crossbreeding prevalent during the Ottoman Empire, the bağlama has influenced various cultures in the Eastern Mediterranean, e.g. the Greek baglamas. In Turkish bağlamak means 'to tie' as a reference to the tied, movable frets of the instrument. Like many other plucked lutes, it can be played with a plectrum (i.e., pick), with a fingerpicking style, or strummed with the backs of fingernails. The zurna and davul duo is also popular in rural areas, and played at weddings and other local celebrations.
A large body of folk songs are derived from minstrels or bard-poets called ozan in Turkish. They have been developing Turkish folk literature since the beginning of 11th century. The musical instrument used by these bard-poets is the saz or bağlama. They are often taught by other senior mistrels, learning expert idioms and procedure and methods about the performance of the art. These lessons often take place at minstrel meetings and coffeehouses frequented by them. Those bard-poets who become experts or alaylı then take apprentices for themselves and continue the tradition.
A minstrel's creative output usually takes two major forms. One, in musical rhyming contests with other bards, where the quarrel ends with the defeat of the minstrel who cannot find an appropriate quatrain to the rhyme and two, story telling. These folk stories are extracted from real life, fokelore, dreams and legends. One of the most well-known followings are those bards that put the title aşık in front of their names.
Arabic music had been banned in Turkey in 1948, but starting in the 1970s immigration from predominantly southeastern rural areas to big cities and particularly to Istanbul gave rise to a new cultural synthesis. This changed the musical makeup of Istanbul. The old tavernas and music halls of fasıl music were to shut down in place of a new type of music. These new urban residents brought their own taste of music, which due to their locality was largely middle eastern. Musicologists derogatively termed this genre as arabesque due to the high pitched wailing that is synonymous with Arabic singing.
Its mainstream popularity rose so much in the 1980s that it even threatened the existence of Turkish pop, with rising stars such as Müslüm Gürses and İbrahim Tatlıses. The genre has underbeat forms that include Ottoman forms of belly-dancing music known as fantazi from singers like Gülben Ergen and with performers like Orhan Gencebay who added Anglo-American rock and roll to arabesque music.
It is not really accurate to group Arabesk with folk music. It owes little to folk music, and would be more accurately described as form of popular music based on the makam scales found in Ottoman and Turkish classical music. Though Arabesk was accused of having been derived from Arabic music, the scales (makam) used identify it as music, that, though influenced by both Arabic and Western music, is much more Turkish in origin.
"Mosque music," a term for music associated with mainstream religion in Turkey, includes azan (call-to-prayer), Kur'an-ı Kerim (Koran recitation), Mevlit (Ascension Poem), and ilahi (hymns usually sung in a group, often outside a mosque). On musical grounds, mosque music in large urban areas often resembles classical Turkish music in its learned use of makam and poetry, e.g., a Mevlit sung at Sultan Ahmet mosque in Istanbul. Dervish/Sufi music is rarely associated with a mosque. Kâni Karaca was a leading performer of mosque music in recent times.
It is suggested that about a fifth of the Turkish population are Alevis, whose folk music is performed by a type of travelling bard or ozan called aşık, who travels with the saz or baglama, an iconic image of Turkish folk music. These songs, which hail from the central northeastern area, are about mystical revelations, invocations to Alevi saints and Muhammad's son-in-law, Ali, whom they hold in high esteem. In Turkish aşık literally means 'in love'. Whoever follows this tradition has the Aşık assignation put before their names, because it is suggested that music becomes an essential facet of their being, for example as in Aşık Veysel.
Middle Anatolia is home to the bozlak, a type of declamatory, partially improvised music by the bards. Neşet Ertaş has so far been the most prominent contemporary voice of Middle Anatolian music, singing songs of a large spectrum, including works of premodern Turkoman aşıks like Karacaoğlan and Dadaloğlu and the modern aşıks like his father, the late Muharrem Ertaş. Around the city of Sivas, aşık music has a more spiritual bent, afeaturing ritualized song contests, although modern bards have brought it into the political arena.
Followers of the Mevlevi Order or whirling dervishes are a religious sufi sect unique to Turkey but well known outside of its boundaries.
Dervishes of the Mevlevi sect simply dance a sema by turning continuously to music that consists of long, complex compositions called ayin. These pieces are both preceded and followed by songs using lyrics by the founder and poet Mevlana Jelaleddin Rumi. With the musical instrument known as the ney at the forefront of this music, internationally well-known musicians include Necdet Yasar, Niyazi Sayin, Kudsi Ergüner and Ömer Faruk Tekbilek.
Minorities and indigenous peoples have added and enhanced Turkish folk styles, while they have adopted Turkish folk traditions and instruments. Folk songs are identifiable and distinguished by regions.
Rumelia (or Trakya) refers to the region of Turkey which is part of Southeast Europe (the provinces of Edirne, Kırklareli, Tekirdağ, the northern part of Çanakkale Province and the western part of Istanbul Province). Folk songs from this region share similarities with Balkan, Albanian and Greek folk musics, especially from the ethnic minorities and natives of Thrace. Cypriot folk music also shares folk tunes with this region, e.g. the Çiftetelli dance. These type of folk songs also share close similarities with Ottoman court music, suggesting that the distinction between court and folk music was not always so clear. However, folk songs from Istanbul may have been closely influenced by its locality, which would include Ottoman rakkas and court music.
Cities like İzmir share similar motifs, such as the zeybek dance.
Central Asian Turkic peoples from the Caspian Sea and areas have had a huge influence in the purest forms of Turkish folk music, most notably from the Azeris and Turkmen.
Pontic Greeks on the eastern shore of the Black Sea or Karadeniz regions have their own distinct Greek style of folk music, motifs from which were used with great success by Helena Paparizou. The diaspora of Greek speaking Pontic people from that region introduced Pontic music to Greece after 1924 population exchange between Turkey and Greece. The region's dance style uses unique techniques like odd shoulder tremors and knee bends. Folk dances include the gerasari, trgona, kots, omal, serra, kotsari and tik.
Southeastern regions carry influences from Turkmen music, Zaza motifs and Armenian music. These usually include epic laments.
Kurdish music (Kurdish: مۆسیقای کوردی Mûzîka Kurdî) refers to music performed in Kurdish language.
Traditionally, there are three types of Kurdish Classical performers - storytellers (Kurdish: چیرۆکبێژ, çîrokbêj), minstrels (Kurdish: سترانبێژ, stranbêj) and bards (Kurdish: dengbêj). There was no specific music related to the Kurdish princely courts, and instead, music performed in night gatherings (Kurdish: شهڤبهێرک, şevbihêrk) is considered classical. Several musical forms are found in this genre. Many songs are epic in nature, such as the popular Lawiks which are heroic ballads recounting the tales of Kurdish heroes such as Saladin. Heyrans are love ballads usually expressing the melancholy of separation and unfulfilled love. Lawje is a form of religious music and Payizoks are songs performed specifically in autumn. Love songs, dance music, wedding and other celebratory songs (Kurdish: دیلۆک / نارینک, dîlok/narînk and bend), erotic poetry and work songs are also popular.
Another style of singing that originated as practice to recite hymns in both Zoroastrian and Islamic Sufi faiths is Siya Cheman. This style is practiced mostly in the mountainous subregion of Hewraman in the Hewrami dialect. However, some modern artists, have adopted the style and blended it with other Kurdish music. Siya Cheman can also be classified as çîrokbêj because it is often used to for storytelling.
Musical instruments include the tembûr (Kurdish: تهمبوور، ساز, tembûr, bağlama), biziq (Kurdish: بزق), qernête (Kurdish: دودوک, Duduk) and bilûr (Kurdish: کاڤال, Kaval) in northern and western Kurdistan, şimşal (long flute), cûzele, kemençe and def (frame drum) in the south and east. Zirne (wooden shawm) and dahol (drum) are found in all parts of Kurdistan.
The most frequently used song form has two verses with ten syllable lines. Kurdish songs (Kurdish: ستران / گۆڕانی, stran or goranî) are characterized by their simple melodies, with a range of only four or five notes.
The first anthology of Kurdish music was published in 1986 in the form of 8 cassettes by Yekta Uzunoglu in Bonn.
Between 1982 and 1991 the performance or recording of songs in the Kurdish language was banned in Turkey, affecting singers such as Şivan Perwer or Mahsun Kırmızıgül. However a black market has long existed in Turkey, and pirate radio stations and underground recordings have always been available.
Some of the foremost figures in Kurdish classical music of the past century from Anatolia include Mihemed 'Arif Cizrawî (1912–1986), Hesen Cizrawî, Şeroyê Biro, 'Evdalê Zeynikê, Si'îd Axayê Cizîrî and the female singers Miryem Xanê and Ayşe Şan.
Şivan Perwer is a composer, vocalist and tembûr player. He concentrates mainly on political and nationalistic music – of which he is considered the founder in Kurdish music – as well as classical and folk music.
Another important Kurdish musician from Turkey is Nizamettin Arıç (Feqiyê Teyra). He began with singing in Turkish, and made his directorial debut and also stars in Klamek ji bo Beko (A Song for Beko), one of the first films in Kurdish. Arıç rejected musical stardom at the cost of debasing his language and culture. As a result of singing in Kurdish, he was imprisoned, and then obliged to flee to Syria and eventually to Germany.
Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.
Date: June 2019.
Photo Credits: (1) Surname-i Vehbi: 18th century festival in Ottoman Istanbul, (2) Mara Aranda, (3) BaBa ZuLa, (4) Murat Coşkun, (5) Canan Uzerli, (6) Mehmet Polat, (7) Olcay Bayır, (8) Çiğdem Aslan, (9) Altin Gün, (10) Gaye Su Akyol, (11) Sakina Teyna, (12) Ayça Miraç, (13) Jeff Johnson & Phil Keaggy: Cappadocia, (14) Ferhat Tunç, (15) Adir Jan, (16) Aynur (unknown/website).