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Music of Turkey

The modern Turkish state was created in 1922, and was immediately followed by a campaign to create a pan-Turkish cultural identity. This efforts has been only partiially successful, and regional varieties of music and other expression remain. Turkish classical music was the country's best-known musical export at the time, but was considered too Arab by Kemal Atatürk's government. He banned Arabic language musical films and promoted halk music, a generic term for multiple varieties of Anatolian folk music.

The policy was short-lived. By 1976, sanat (a form of classical art music) had undergone a renaissance and the State Conservatoire in Istanbul was founded to give classical musicians the same support as folk musicians. The 1980s saw President Turgut Özal liberalize media regulations, and pop, rock, hip hop and arabesk music made inroads into mainstream Turkish music. Kurdish language music was also allowed for the first time, and religious Sufi music, especially Mevlevi ayin (whirling dervishes).

Table of contents
1 Pop music
2 Gypsies
3 Mevlevi
4 Folk music
5 Classical music
6 Genres
7 Artists
8 References

Pop music

Arabesk music dominates the Turkish pop cene. It is largely Arabic in origin, which led to condemnation from some Turkish nationalists. Arabesk stems from Raks Sarki (more often known as belly-dancing music) and was popularized beginning in the 1940s by Kaydar Tatliyay and other performers, leading to a 1948 ban on Arabic language music. The effort was largely unsuccessful, as most Turks listened to Radio Cairo and Arabic music continued to be popular. In the middle of the 1960s, Turkish urban and folk styles were incorporated into Arabesk by musicians like Ahmet Sezgin, Abdullah Yüce and Hafiz Burhan Sesiyilmaz. This was followed by performers like Orhan Gencebay who added Anglo-American rock and roll to Arabesk music.

Cem Karaca is the most well-known performer of Anadolu rock music, which was banned for most of its existence. Karaca set the stage for politically-charged performers like Mogollar, Peni Yürkü, Bulutsuzluk Özlemi, Zen and Zülfü Livaneli. Livaneli was known for the mid-80s innovation of özgün, a guitar-based genre that combined mellow vocals with Arabesk music and rural melodies. The lyrics were generally not revolutionary, though the Kurdish Ahmet Kaya performed the poems of Nazim Hikmet, a leftwing activist banned by the government.

The biggest Turkish pop star of the 20th century was probably Sezen Aksu, known for overseeing the Turkish contribution to the Eurovision Song Contest and was known both for her light pop music and her controversial stances on feminism, Serbia and the Cumartesi Anneleri.

In 1995, the Turkish-German community produced a major hip hop crew named Cartel which caused controversy in Turkey and Germany for its revolutionary lyrics. Other Turkish-German rappers include Aziza-A, DJ Volkan, KMR and DJ Mahmut.


Gypsies are known through Turkey for their musicianship. Their music is called fasil and is often associated with the underclass of Turkish society, though it also can be found in more respectable establishments. Many of the most popular Gypsy performers come from Tarlabasi and play the klarnet and darbuka. Mustafa Kandirali is the most famous fasil musician.


The Mevlevi (whirling) dervishes are well-known outside of Turkey, in spite of frequent state oppression during the 20th century. Their music consists of long, complex compositions called ayin, which is both preceeded and followed by songs using lyrics by the founder and poet Jelaleddin Rumi. Internationally well-known musicians include Necdet Yasar and Kudsi Erg&uum;ner.

Folk music

Most of Turkish folk music is based around the saz, a type of long-necked lute. Saz orchestras, sometimes with imported guitars, bass guitars and drums, are the basis for a type of folk music called TRT. The most influential performer of TRT and other urban popular folk music was mid-1980s superstar Belkis Akkale. Akkale's format include the saz orchestra with soulful vocals singing a type of folk song called a türkü.

The zurna and davul duo (shawm and drum) is popular in rural areas, and play at weddings and other celebrations, while elektrosaz and darbuka duos, often with electric keyboards, are also popular. Other varieties of folk dance music include cifte telli, karsilama, zeybek and halay.

About a third of the Turkish population are Alevis, whose folk music (performed by travelling bards called asik) is well-known. These songs, which hail from the central northeastern area, are about mystical revelations, invocations to Alevi saints and Mohemmed's brother-in-laaw, Ali, whom they hold in high esteem as Shia Muslimss. Many of these songswere written in the 16th century by Pir Sultan Abdal, a martyr who rebelled against the Ottoman Empire. Ruhi Su, an outspoken leftwing massace, led a roots revival of asik music in the early 1970s. Many of the biggest stars of the 1990s, including Muhlis Akarsu, were killed in a fire started in 1993 by Sunni extremists. Some asiks included socio-politically active lyrics, especially Mahsuni Serif, Asik Veysel and Ali Izzet, who were well-regarded by the Turkish left. Western Anatolia is home to bozlak, a type of declamatory, partially improvised music, especially known for Neset Artas. Around the city of Kars, asik music has a more spiritual bent, and also features ritualized insult contests.

Classical music

Most Turkish music share the makam, a system of modes or scales and other rules of composition, as well improvisatory pieces called taksim. Taksim are part of a suite of music consisting of a prelude, postlude and a primary section which begins with and is punctuated by taksim. Songs are a part of this tradition, many of them extremely old, dating back to the 14th century; many are newer, however, with late 19th century songwriter Haci Arif Bey being especially popular.

Turkish classical music is taught in conservatoires, the most respected of which is Istanbul's Üsküdar Musiki Cemiyeti. The most popular Turkish classical singer is Münir Nurettin Selçuk, who was the first to establish a lead singer position. Other performers include Bülent Ersoy, Zeki Müren, Zekai Tunca, Mustafa Keser and Metin Milli.

Turkish influence on Western classical music

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. Franz Joseph Haydn wrote his Military Symphony to include Turkish instruments, as well as some of his operas. Turkish instruments were also included in Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony Number 9. Mozart wrote the "Ronda alla turca" in his Sonata in A major and also used Turkish themes in his operas. Although this Turkish influence was a fad, it introduced the cymbals, bass drum, and bells into the symphony orchestra, where they remain.



See also: Turkey