Melih Duygulu


( by Melih Duygulu )


Concepts - Definitions:

The concept of globalizaiton has gained much attention from today’s social scientists, who interpret and define it in various ways. Generally, globalization is defined as “the compression of the world and the increasing perception of it as a single area,” as well as “the spread of both the west’s infrastructural as well as superstructural influrance throughout the world. ”

Despite the all-encompassing nature and importance of the subject and the associated discussion of the processes of change in a theoretical context in the west, here it is considered a new concept. Two factors play an influential role in the definition and explanation of globalization. The first is, in a worldwide context, the “the increase buying and selling, exchange of goods and mobility worldwide” and the second is “the rapid change and diversification emerging within the mental/cultural process.” Consequently, globalization theories tend to follow one of two different approaches. The first of these contains the view that analyzes globalization as a process with a distinct beginning and end. This view also includes the approach which sees it as the result of the spread of western modernity . The second approach contains the idea that globalization is a heterogeneous, intercultural process. A different and more interesting approach than these is that of “glocalization.” This definition examines the relationship between local cultural processes with the dimensions of time and space.

With the cultural, social and economic orders arising from the globalization of change — the one unchanging fact of life — we find ourselves in an ever faster-paced world. Based on the truth that cultural orders are directly related to political and economic orders, this is an inevitable result of the meetin of today’s globalization trends with in a cultural context. The direct affect on national and local cultures of the practices which determine the structural changes of the world’s economic and political systems are part of this natural result.

The fact that music, as a cultural event, is an art in close relationship with the various strata of society and at the same time a branch of science, results in its association with social, political and economic realms. In this context, the relationship betwee nthe world, shrinking with the help of todays technological developments, and music, is important from two points of view:

1) Music is an industry. Both music itself (whatever the genre), as well as its associated products (cassettes, CDs, appliances, instruments) have become goods which are produced, bought and sold.
2) Cultural diffusion. Many cultures are taking part in this markit with the goal of introduction — and consequently — spreading their culture.

We know that cultural events and processes sometimes complement economic and ideological approaches. As an element of culture, music can be a vehicle for politico-ideolotical inference as well as one of the economic market’s most powerful products. Another notable point is that local sound cultures suddenly find themselves within this process. Local cultures and their musics, which are inevitably a part of globalization, are quickly adapting to an inevitable process of change with concepts such as “modernization” and “universalization.” The speed of cultural change among peoples who find themselves in areas where globalization is more active — along with the culture’s natural change — is progressing more and more rapidly.

In addition to what cultural change inevitably brings, what it also takes away is provoking thought among peoples. Especially peoples who are beginning to implement new social transformation projects, valuing one group of cultural elements more, are bringing an ideological context to the subject; so that in the cultural change area of Turkey’s project of societal transformation, the area of music in particular has been charged with a very important function. Both from an ideological as well as a technical viewpoint, what kind of interactions music (folk music) enters within such a process of transformation and change, and in relation to global events, emerges as a subject in need of discussion. Especially in the case of Turkey, the type of music dubbed “Turkish Folk Music” — though from the standpoint of its local elements it exists as an independent whole — can be considered one of the branch of art that has most obviously been affected by globalization, and consequently social change.

In this paper then, taking account of all of this theoretical background, and in the context of globalization and social change, I will attempt to treat the technical features, searches for identity, the importance of style and change in Turkish folk music from a historical standpoint. Actually, though they appear to be independent of each other, technique, style and identity are closely related concepts. The infrastructure that will determine this relationship will be explained, sometimes in terms of the social sciences terms, and sometimes in terms of the music itself..

Identity in Turkish Folk Music

To portray a musical identity requires not only a technical analysis of the music, but also an examination of its social positions, the layers of society in which it lives and is perpetuated. First of all, it will be helpful to state just what is understood at the mention of “Turkish Folk Music,” (TFM) because “Turkish Folk Music” is a musical term that is often used without much thought about about it. Whether in urban or village society and/or individuals, and whether governing or governed groups, “Turkish folk music” is understood as musical expressions of village culture. The concept, which emerged years before it came to be equated with today’s term “türkü” (folk song), immediately following the design of the Turkish nation state project (1920s). This was a period in which the most important projects toward modernization of Turkey were underway. One of the most obvious problems to appear during the age of globalization is that of the search by people, groups or societies of an official — national and historical — cultural identity, a “new identity.” Identity, defined as “a being’s recognition of itself,” is something that appears as a result of mankind’s consciousness as a national/societal entity. In contrast to this, people living in traditional small societies certainly have/had their own identities; but have/had no issues of identity . Nation States, which appeared as an extension of modernization, are engaged in an effort to imbue their own nation, composed of traditional societies in search of their identity, with a “National Identity. ”

One of the most obvious elements of the concept of national identity is culture. To the extent that there is a direct relationship between culture and national identity, cultural activities also play an important role in the formation of a nation/nation state. Making use of culture to make historical references, and exploiting these values in the search for a national identity, are indispensable vehicles of official ideologies (State Politic).

The “Turkish Nation State” model, the foundations of which were laid in the early 1900s, clearly stated in 1923 that the identity of the young Turkish Republic would be formed by making references to Asian and Anatolian history . Within this new order, taking form with the statement that “The foundation of the Turkish Republic is culture,” music definitely had a valuable and meaningful place. Wanting to build its new identity on “its own culture,” the Republican ideology was of course obliged to define those cultural elements that were “its own.” Music was assigned an important duty in the formation of the new Turkish identity. Which music would reflect our national identity? The answer to this question is given by Ziya Gökalp: “Folk music.”

Shortly before the emergence of these thoughts, people such as M. Fuat Köprülü, Mahmud Ragıb Gazimihal, Yusuf Ziya Demirci and Musa Süreyya had understood the importance of folk music, and started work on the subject . It was now clearly understood that the Turkish Republic was founded on a populist politic, and in the are of art, would find its support in folk music.

In truth, some composers had been able to produce new folk music-inspired works years before this development. That is, the Republic of that period had a musical politic which claimed that it would move from the local to the national, and from there, to the universal. During those years, the “westernization,” “modernization” and “nationalization” movements were conducted in parallel, and music was gaining an increasingly important position in all these movements. At the same time, the significance of the “efforts to tie our origins to Asia”, active in the stating of Turkish identity, was assigned increasing importance, as well as “our Asian roots” in the realm of music. Devoting nearly forty pages in his first book to the music of the Asian Turkic peoples, which he expressed in terms of “The Musical Politic of the Russian Turks,” Mahmud Ragıb Gazimihal, clearly shows how important this subject was to him.

With projects such as the “Turkish History Thesis” and the “Sun Language Theory,” the association of historical roots chiefly with Asia but also at times with Anatolia and Mesopotamia in the searches for identity, gained new dimension. In this context, the efforts to prove that “our musical identity is Asian” were linked to another very important premise: that of the pentatonic traces present in Turkish melodies. Composed of five tones with no half tones and called a “pentatonic scale,” this arrangement of tones can be called the first attempt at an ideological-technical approach to the pitch system of Turkish music. Ahmed Adnan Saygun, in his 1934 report to the Historical Society, which was later developed and published as a treatise, “Pentatonism in Turkish Folk Music,” he states the following:

In the musical journey of mankind, pentatonism is not something which all races have in common. It has a completely racial quality.
Pentatonism is the stamp of the Turk in his music.
Wherever pentatonism is present:
a) the people living there are Turks
b) Turks, founding a civilization in those places in ancient times left their influence on the local people.
The homeland of pentatonism is Central Asia, the homeland of the Turks.
Its directions of diffusion are those of the Turks.
Comparisons of various pentatonic characters will provide us with very important results. These comparisons will make it possible for us to determine the origins of Turks who are living far from their homeland.
Actually long before the abovementioned report and treatise were published, in 1929, Mahmud Ragıb Gazimihal explained his very interesting ideas on this subject with a melody he collected himself . The same writer, in a treatise he published in 1936 , dealt with this subject in detail, but he avoided stating views as assertive as those of Saygun.

The issue of pentatonism, a reflection of the searches for identity in the first period - despite the fact that these projects were abandoned later, even by those who first lead the projects - are still referred to even today by some musicians in discussions of the search for identity .

Despite all the abovementioned searches, and whatever the tone structure of Turkish music, the idea of manipulating it according to western techniques as demanded by the times has never been abandoned. While a search for roots is underway on one hand, we have inevitably worked in the direction of achieving a modern musical environment in keeping with our “western identity.” It is safe to say that this view, which in the beginning even excluded Turkish classical music , has now given way to a more moderate view which emphasizes the common demoninator . These searches for musical identity are now bearing their first fruits. Folk songs, arranged polyphonically, are being broadcast on the radio; and composers are writing original works inspired by folk music. By the 1940s, western technique and style had been adopted by various people and institutions, and even come to be applied in many areas. However from an economic and social standpoint, the 1940s were the beginning of a painful period for Turkey and the world at large. Despite this, Turkey did not abandon its leaps in music culture. Orchestras, conservatories and radio stations continued operating uninterrupted. Folk music pieces arranged polyphonically were being performed by orchestras and chorusus, while at the same time the radio was reaching the people through special radio programs consisting entirely of folk artists. During the same period the recording industry, which had not been idle since the 1900s, was releasing hundreds of 78s featuring “local artists” and aşıks (minstrels). This sector, operating completely according to the market economy, and having found a comfortable “uncontrolled” realm of activity, manipulated local music within market conditions and presented it to the people . The emerging influence of western musical techniques on folk music, as well as the takeover of the music sector by mostly western recording companies gave rise to certain new ideas in the musical world. This new movement, providing for the preservation of local styles and national identity, was represented officially by the “Yurttan Sesler” (Voices of the Homeland) program, and personally by Musaffer Sarısözen.

Technique and Style in Turkish Folk Music

In Turkish folk music terminology, the word “style” (tavır) refers to local manners of playing and singing. Those who work in the field of folk music have not arrived at a single common viewpoint concerning the fundamental principles of the concept of “style.” Many artists and specialists have different views on the subject . The music performed by Anatolian people today — whatever the ethnic origins of the performers — show certain similarities in terms of technique. This similarity in tonal systems, rhythms and instruments gives way to diversity in the playing and singing of melodies. There are many reasons for this. The variation in playing and singing styles make the issue of “style” very important. However the elements that nourish and form style are technique. That is, they are musical elements such as tonal structure, instruments, meter (rhythm) etc., used to a degree that they determine the style of a melody. The longstanding emphasis on the view that examines the stylistic features of Turkish folk music from a geographical standpoint has disregarded other elements able to affect style.

This being the case in Turkish folk music, the techniques used by composers who make use of folk melodies and compose works with a western musical system (tempered and twelve-tone systems) have given rise to the widespread opinion that “Turkish folk music has lost its element of style.” First emerging in the early 1940s, this ideological movement, with its view that “Turkish folk music must be applied in a different way,” conducted its work along different lines. Setting forth the logic of “Yurttan Sesler” in an interview, one of the leaders of this movement, Muzaffer Sarısözen referred to the abovementioned technical elements in explaining the importance of style in the performance of folk music:

“The folk music classes at the Radio began very slowly, with an unimaginably difficult and tiring effort; because to be able to sing the folk songs of a country in a way that does them justice, one needs to know the regional characteristics of the country’s melodies. Just as this is difficult to understand, the ability to perform is also dependent on playing very subtly and carefully. There are great differences in style between the many different regions. The Urfa singing style has a very different character from that of the Black Sea; as does a Harput style song from a piece from Kastamonu, a tune from Erzurum from a zeybek from Muğla, or a Bozlak style dance tune and a song from Rumeli. All have very different characters in terms of makam, rhythm and style. If these are not performed according to their particular forms, the piece loses its color, and becomes unbearable .”

The initial support for this new project by Sarısözen came from people within the Radio such as Vedat Nedim Tor, Mesut Cemil (Tel) and İzettin Tuğrul İşbay, or people in close association with the radio. Actually it cannot be said that these supporters of Yurttan Sesler were all of one accord . During these years also, Ahmet Adnan Sygun composing his “Yunus Emre Orotario” (1942), created an original work, working the makam (modal) music structure of the east, the pentatonic scale, and certain local melodies into his piece. However this was still a piece written with western technique and the style that emerged was clearly within a western form. The same holds true for the “folk songs” which were arranged polyphonically. In his concept of Yurttan Sesler, Muzaffer Sarısözen did not want to give much play to the “western” musical approach; he intended to form a special performing ensemble which would emphasize the local styles and unique technical characteristics of Turkish folk music. Along with these technical details, Sarısözen expressed his “Yurttan Sesler Ideology” and Turkish musical identity; and thus turned his creation into an institution:

“The broadcast of folk songs, which the Radio has held onto fervently and performed successfully, is not only about providing a pleasant time for the listener nor simply giving an idea about our folk song types. Yurttan Sesler’s foremost goal is to unite our hearts and create a single feeling throughout our country. It hardly needs explaining any more that the artists working for Yurttan Sesler are creating an entirely new kind of fortress, and even the most modern agents of destruction will not be able to knock the tiniest piece from it .”

As in the music of many different peoples, the style of Turkish folk music, passed down from generation to generation, is especially today still palpable in local folk tunes. Yurttan Sesler put forth a monumental effort to broadcast these local styles countrywide, and realize its fundamental goal of “uniting the entire country in a single feeling.”

From the moment of its inception, Yurttan Sesler faced much criticism; critics charged that it always “highlighted the Turkish identity and ignored the musical practices of other groups,” “monotonized local playing and singing styles,” and “marginalized local instruments by forming accompanying groups dominated by saz.”

Despite all these criticisms, Yurttan Sesler held fast to local styles (which highlighted the Turkish identity), and at the same time to protect and maintain the “western view,” at least in form. Though the goal of creating a choral tradition in Turkish folk music was not plainly stated in those days, this intent became clear from the 1970s on. The larger instrumental groups and “choruses” which had their start in the 1970s have today been replaced by a different and more “advanced” approach. No longer useing the name “Yurttan Sesler,” today’s various “Turkish folk music” groups are active within the body of Turkish Radio and Television (TRT). Tens of Turkish folk music ensembles/choruses, working in a more “contemporary” approach and practice but still based on the original Yurttan Sesler concept, work within various corporate and official institutions. Some of today’s TRT Turkish folk music ensembles, as well as the other ensembles mentioned above have a very different technical and stylistic approach from that of Yurttan Sesler, and by extension, a different perspective on performance. In contrast with the local style-bound performance of the early period, today’s ensembles have adopted the fundamental elements of a “contemporary” Turkish folk music, composed of a synthesis of local style and western techniques. Appearing to be diametrically opposed in the early period, locally produced modern Turkish music and local style Turkish folk music today are practically underoing a synthesis. To what extent this new phenomenon is a manifestation of our western characteristics and to what extent it displays our subtle national tastes is a matter of discussion. Social and cultural change, speeded by global agents, make it necessary to deal with local style and techniques, national identity, modernization, and by extension, the concept of universality as a single whole. These concepts and issues, seriously questioned in the early period (1920-1940) and middle period (1940-1970), are not the subject of much serious thought in the recent (post-1970) period. And especially, the economic distress and difficulties of everyday life which are part of the “processes of uniting with the world” have caused a rise in populist attitudes in cultural politics. The recent great developments in communications technology have relegated matters such as cultural values, national music, and local styles and techniques to secondary importance. Along with this, groups trying to preserve and look out for all these values have suffered serious difficulties in their search for a plan of action in their education efforts. For example, in the recently founded Voice Department of the State Conservatory, which also teaches Turkish folk music, training is given by teachers bound to the “Italian school.” The question of whether “students/artists trained here are receiving an education in voice; or, being subjected to a stylistic revision — unawares — in Turkish folk music in a western school of singing” has thus far remained unanswered. In addition, it is well known that the “Azeri Türkü” (Azerbaijan folk song) repertoire, which has rapidly developed and spread since the 1980s, is being used ideologically by certain groups. The view that “the polyphonic and national leaps in Azerbaijani music should be applied to Turkish folk music as well” was a common opinion in the Turkish folk music community during those years. In the context of the social-economic-political developments in the world (globalization), this practice, based on the idea of “a people’s inclusion in a model to which it feels closer and which carries a ‘national characteristic’” does not have as many supporters as it did formerly. This is because the transference of imported models — with the exception of dictatorial regimes — cannot find an effective realm of cultural application. In the context of Turkish folk music, the entire chain of events discussed thus far can be said to be a musical conflict within the globalization/localization dilemma of western modernity. It is the natural result that this situation should reflect either “positively” or “negatively” on musical technique and characteristics of local style.

Thus far I have provided information relating to the search for identity and local styles in the music (Turkish folk music) of formal institutions, and perceptions of their technical characteristics. But there is a second element of all these subjects, which acts independently of official views and which has never cut its ties with the outside world: Turkish folk music in the commercial market.

Since the early 1900s, starting out with 78s, then moving on to 45 and 33rpm records in the 1960s, and from there to reel-to-reel, cartridges, cassettes and CD technology, the music market began turning its efforts towards folk music, and from the 1960s on this activity saw a significant increase. Even in the first period, certain aşıks and local artists recorded their voices and thus set the stage for the musical exchanged between peoples.

The social transformation of the 1950s and the societal opposition in the 1960s also had their influence on Turkey’s musical culture. In this period, aşıks (and especially Alevi aşıks) addressed social issues, sometimes in severe tones. Certain views such as “adapting to the times” of “fulfilling the needs of the times” were instrumental in preparing the aşıks to begin taking part in contemporary musical approaches. These artists, at first performing their deyiş with nothing but their saz, later adopted background arrangements known in Turkish as “alt yapı” (lit. “substructure”), usually with mostly electronic instruments supporting the basic melody. Local folk musicians were no different in this respect. In addition, migration, one of the social issues of the time, served to speed up the change in music. The mass migrations in Southern and Southeastern Anatolia in particular caused people to break from their own music. Later however, this situation gained a new aspect; it led to a mutual exchange of music between groups of people. The social chaos, economic problems, political instability, made meaningless the musical politic which the state had expended such effort to create. In this stage, music began to be determined entirely by the inner dynamics of the music market (in today’s terms, market conditions). The libertarian, pacifist and humanist thoughts which began to emerge in the world during the 1960s were soon reflected in Turkey’s musical environment. In this period, mostly dominated by music groups, it became the custom when drawing from folk tunes, to add the word “Anadolu” (Anatolia) to the genre: “Anadolu rock,” “Anadolu pop.”

There were now two fundamental groups in the folk music practice of this period. On one side were the musical practice founded on the control principle of TRT radio stations, which highlighted Turkish identity and heeded local styles; and on the other was commercial folk music, which behaved completely according to market demands ....

The musical style whch the music market approved/directed/imposed was always influenced and dominated by technology. The “channel recordings in a studio environment” system which became common in the 1980s brought together musicians who never saw each other in a single recording. This situation made the knowledge of musical notation an inescapable requirement. This was also a time in which technically advanced increased in numbers. “Playing bağlama from sheet music” had become a priveleged status. Many characteristics of local style became lost within this whole; modern technology was gradually doing away with the meaning and importance of local style. Market conditions looked at ideology and consequently the search for identity that characterized the first period as a “stodgy” way of thinking. Concepts such as “urban folk music,” “contemporary folk music” and “modern folk music” were now talked about by music lovers of all ages . The global activity following the rising market values have now taken music under its influence. The resulting music is being launched as a “contemporary interpretation of folk music.” Now music produced in this style has been accepted by some sections of society .


Today, in addition to the abstract reality of music, a process is underway in which it is being associated with social phenomena such as politics, history and identity. It is a well-known fact that global and national ideologies and economies have taken all types of music under their influence. It could be said that the ideology of globalization deals with music as a sector in the narrow sense; and in the broad sense as a necessary element for the broadening of the global cultural base.

It is obvious that this approach, formulated as “the globalization of culture” and “the nationalization and universalization of the local” is the fundamental goal of the globalization ideology. The association of this approach with music has nearly a 100-year history; and almost all the statements within this network of relationship are made within an ideological context rather than about the technical characteristics of music or its abstractualized reality.

This state of affairs is most influential on local cultures and consequently local music. Differentiating under the influence of globalization and the consequent social change on the one hand, and digging in its heals against change in the effort to emphasize national identity on the other, local music is not being sufficiently addresed by todays folk music community; and thus presents a conceptual gap. In fact, the issue of insufficiently addressed issues of technique, style and identity in Turkish folk music is clear. However, these concepts must be presented in relationship to each other; and this brings with it the problem of method.

“Obligatory change” is an inevitable reality of globalization within Turkey’s musical world. Thus the most appropriate methods will be to interpret it correctly and distinguish the subtle difference between “forced” and “natural” change; and conceive of/examine the inner dynamics of music in both a concrete and abstract context.


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