Erol Büyükburç, one of the first vocal artists of Turkish Pop Music


by Orhan Kahyaoglu

As popular music in Turkey began to take primitive shape towards the end of the 1950s, pop music brought a new vision, a popular western concept to the scene. After WWII, as Turkish governments opened the doors fully to American-centered capitalist politics, famous western style singers from southern Europe became popular, followed later on by American music, especially rock'n roll.  A certain section of the urban public that listened to French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese pop songs in the 1950s, especially the urban elite college youth, were caught up in the wave of rock'n roll that was sweeping over the world, and started forming rock groups.  Yet the southern European pop remained popular as well.  Of course, all these western popular styles of music made only a small dent in the popularity of Turkish art music.  But the problem was being able to sing this western popular music in Turkish.  In an interview with Fecri Ebcioglu in 1967, he said that he had gone to the US in 1958, and seen that all of the immigrant groups living there were singing their popular music in their own languages. Wondering why this had not yet happened in Turkey, he laid the foundations of "Aranjman" music (Turkish-language covers) within one or two years.  That is, the lyrics of western pop songs of the period would be translated into Turkish and sung by Turkish artists.  This was a new era in pop music.  But in the language of the times, it was referred as "Turkish light western music."  Though it had yet to turn itself into a true Turkish pop model, this process can be considered the starting point for pop in Turkey.

I also found this period an appropriate time to start a Turkish pop music site.  The songs we've chosen will illustrate the forty-five year panorama stretching from that point to the present day.  Whatever else pop may have, it has a commercial side.  Musicians have begun to find it more attractive than playing jazz, or devoting themselves to jazz or other club music.  Even if we can't really call the music of that period pop, someone like Erol Büyükburç was able to walk into the big "gazinos" (musical nightclubs), the main venue for entertainment culture, and displace the stars of Turkish art music to become a top artist.  But he was still mostly writing and singing in English.  Though few in number, he was also singing rock adaptations of Turkish folk songs.

The first song in this introductory series, a cover called "Bak Bir Varmis Bir Yokmus" (Look, once upon a time...) was sung by Ilham Gencer and his group.  It became a great success, and thus deserves to be considered the first Turkish pop song.  During this time, Ebcioglu also sang some cover songs that placed him high on the charts.  That is, Europe's pop songs hit the Turkish music scene again with Turkish lyrics.  But the 1960s were a very important time for third-world countries, as well as for Turkey.  Independence movements were rising all over the world.  As people started acting on their demands, a trend in all the underdeveloped countries toward creating their own national music based on their folk music drew attention.  In Turkey as well, as the ideology of freedom and populism quickly spread during the years following the 1960 coup, we witnessed an increased interest in folk culture among urban intellectuals.  In just this time frame, new alternatives were brought to pop and cover music, which was trying to reform itself.  True, the western style pop music was still setting the course.  But a pop music created from folk songs, drawing on folk musical sources, came to reflect the national sensibility of the period.  In this way, our selection "Burçak Tarlasi" (Field of vetch) by Tülay German became the opening sentence to this trend, which signified this nationalist/innovationist opening of the gates, and would later become "Anadolu-pop" (Anatolia pop).

The 1960s were a period of just such an effort in Turkish pop music, and though it comprised a relatively small percentage within the whole of Turkish popular music genres, it gave rise to original singers and songs along two different main directions.  Especially the "Golden Microphone Music Competition," held in 1965 by the newspaper "Hürriyet," and the "Inter-High School Music Contest" organized by "Milliyet" newspaper, became launching pad for several star singers and groups to come onto the scene and gain popularity.  During this decade, countless groups and singers played important roles in this musical trend.  Another feature of this decade was the recording of popular songs in Turkish by several European singers from Adamo to Marc Aryan.  We include a few landmark pieces in the 50 pieces making up this site.

For example, we couldn't do without including a classic cover, "Deniz ve Mehtap" (The sea and the moon) by the famous Izmir-born Dario Morena, who lived in France and died very young.  We also included Berkan's song "Samanyolu" (Milky Way) which came out in 1966 and was possibly the most unforgettable classic of Turkish pop.  Another point worth mentioning is that original compositions written in Turkish now became more popular, even though their style was still that of the covers.  That is, composition and lyric production had begun to take root.  Names like Baris Manço, Erkin Koray, Mogollar and Cem Karaca, though some of them came in via the competitions, were the shining youth of the late 60s.  We included Manço's "Kol Dügmesi" (Cuff button), Koray's "Anma Arkadas" (Don't mention it, friend), Karaca's "Resimdeki Gözyaslari" (The tears in the picture) and the Mogollar's "Dag ve Çocuk" (The mountain and the child) on the site as examples that display the sensitivity of Anatolian-pop.  Along with these, Kamuran Akkor's "Ask Eski Bir Yalan" (Love is an old lie), Erol Büyükburç's "Altin Tasta Üzüm Var" (Grapes in a golden bowl) and Beyaz Kelebekler's "Bütün Asklar Tatli Baslar" (All loves start out sweet) were each pop classics that made their mark on the period.  One of the latest talents of this period, Hümeyra, was immortalized with her song "Kördügüm" (Unsolvable).  Timur Selçuk, for his part, though not really fitting within either of the abovementioned camps of pop, made waves with his compositions set to lyrics by master poets. And of course we included Selçuk's "Ispanyol Meyhanesi" on the site.  The last classic of the 60s on the site is "Gel Desen Gelemem ki" (Even if you tell me to come, I can't) by Yasar Güvenir, who is no longer with us today, but made great contributions to Turkish popular western music.

Inevitably, this site includes mostly songs from the 70s, because that was the decade when Turkish pop truly took off.  The Turkish cover and Anadolu-pop styles grew more refined.  Now having left the pre-capitalist mode, the pop sector gradually came to hold a larger share in the music industry. During this decade, the uniquely Turkish arabesk was the truly popular genre, and appealed to a broad section of society.  But as society became more urbanized, the pop sensibility took serious strides towards becoming one of the pulses of urbanites.

The 1970s were a period when immigration from the country to the city gained momentum, and the demands and struggles of society increased.  Within urban culture, which was constantly changing and reinventing itself, Turkish pop music continued in two directions, Turkish-language covers and Anadolu-pop.  During this period, the music began to take serious steps towards becoming a real industry.  Along with the emergence of many new and important types of songs and groups within this style, the stars of the 1960s still maintained their course as well.  Though Anadolu-pop was represented by a group of old or new singers, a socialist sensibility came to the forefront, and took on an important role in the course of society.  We have included a few groups and singers that symbolized this direction in Anadolu-pop.  For example, though Selda Bagcan's "Çemberinde Gül Oya" (Rose lace on my kerchief), Edip Akbayram's "Aldirma Gönül" (Never mind, heart) and Zülfü Livaneli's "Karli Kayin Ormaninda" (In the snowy beech forest) can be thought of as Anadolu-pop, they are still popular today, as singular, original songs. Timur Selçuk and Cem Karaca also, with their socially oriented identities, held an important place in this family in the 1970s.  Of course, we could add other artists working along this line.  We included two pieces that, with their original styles, did not fall within this political line of Anadolu-pop: Üç Hürel's "Aglarsa Anam Aglar" and Modern Folk Üçlüsü's "Deriko."  The most important peculiarity of Üç Hürel is that following the path of Feridün Hürel, the group was a symbol of originality, always wrote their own lyrics and music.  The Modern Folk Üçlüsü (Modern Folk Trio) for their own part, came out with an original pop sound, making use of folk music and even makam music.  However we can easily say that the main direction in pop music of the 70s was still the Turkish cover.  The attractive side of this was that within this style, pop music had finally headed towards serious production.  45s and album projects would now provide direction to songwriting. The media took an active role in emphasizing the images of the singers/performers, but lyricists and arrangers began producing their new pop pieces with a collective attitude.  Of course, it's also true that the number of singers writing performing their own material increased.  For example, the famous Turkish pop music singer Alpay's "Fabrika Kizi" (Factory girl, 1970) was included in this site as a very famous pop classic.  This cover piece was also an indicator of a societally oriented sensibility. Another song we included was Senay's "Hayat Bayram Olsa" (Would that life were a holiday).  A classic cover, this song became a symbol of the rising social democrat/socialist feeling of the period.  We also saw fit to include the song "Senden Baska" (Other than you), by Füsün Önal, another important name from this decade.  The greatest stars of Turkish pop music, Nilüfer and Sezen Aksu, also hit the scene during this period.  But for this site, we chose one of Sezen Aksu's hits from the early 80s.  From Nilüfer, we chose "Dünya Dönüyor" (The world goes around).  Nilüfer was included in the site because she was the most popular pop star of the first half of that decade.  Another singer that can be thought of as part of the cover family was Melike Demirag.  Her song "Arkadas" (Friend), released in 1974 - because it was written for a film by Yilmaz Güney of the same name - became very popular, and became a symbol of the socially focused attitude in pop music of the time.

It would be impossible to create a site on pop music without including Bülent Ortaçgil.  Never attaching himself to either of the two main camps of pop, Ortaçgil should be considered the most important singer of the time.  We chose the title song from his famous 1974 album, "Benimle Oynar Misin" (Would you dance with me) for the site.  We also found it unthinkable not to include Ilhan Iren, who left his mark on the decade with his own original songs, and chose his song "Yazik Oldu Yarinlara" (We'll regret it forever).  So many new songs and artists came onto the scene during this decade that we had a truly difficult time in choosing who to include.  The other important songs and artists chosen to represent this decade include Tanju Okan's "Kadinim" (My woman), Esmeray's "Unutama Beni" (Don't forget me), Nükhet Duru's "Beni Benimle Birak Giderken" (Leave me with me when you go), Iskender Dogan's "Kan ve Gül" (Blood and Rose) and Zerrin Özer's "Gönül" (Heart).  During this decade, pop music began to account for a serious part of the huge music industry.  Though it hadn't reached as wide an audience as arabesk, Turkish popular music had started to gain serious ground, especially with the help of Turkish Radio and Television (TRT).

The coup of September 12, 1980 brought with it an entirely different socio-political situation.  Freedoms were greatly restricted, and pop music was affected as well.  Still, the rise of mostly cover music was not much restricted; quite the contrary, it began to be the most listened-to music.  Anadolu-pop, and especially singers who performed politically oriented music, disappeared for a time.  Work opportunities disappeared, and record production ground to a halt.  Some artists were forced to emigrate.  In this atmosphere, new names ceased to come out as quickly as they had done in the past; and very few new groups or singers emerged onto the scene.  On the other hand, it's safe to say that the careers of many of the big names of the 70s soared towards the late 80s.  And some groups that had come out in the late 70s with a political bent became stars in the late 80s.  At the same time, a new politically oriented music, exemplified by Ahmet Kaya, which took its inspiration from arabesk and makam music appeared on the scent.  This period also saw the rise of a host of interesting politically-oriented groups within the Universities, including Grup Yorum.

The feature that distinguished Turkish pop of the 80s was that Turkish art music forms, that is, makam music, had begun entering the pop genre.  The first significant representative of this new development would have to be the couple Ergüder and Nur Yoldas's album.  It was pleasing, well-conceived and original from a musical standpoint.  Their piece "Sultan-i Yegah," drew great attention, and we couldn't leave it out of this pick.  But the real star to leave her mark on the 80s, with a pop style in the same direction, was Sezen Aksu.  First shaped by Atilla Özdemiroglu and later by Onno Tunç, Sezen Aksu's pop style is well represented by her first pop hit in of the early 80s, "Firuze"  Fikret Kizilok, an original figure in Anadolu-pop from the late 60s, came out with very original pieces.  His song "Zaman Zaman" (Once in a while) is included in our list as one of the most important pieces from this period.  Also, the trio made of Mazhar Alanson, Fuat Güner and Özkan Ugur, all well-known musical personalities since the late 1960s, were to become one of the important figures in Turkish pop and rock from 1984 on.  In MFÖ's first album "Ele Güne Karsi Yapalniz," the title song of which is included here, they also followed the lines of makam and mystical music as well as the rock style.  Özdemir Erdogan was also one of the most popular singers of this decade.  Here, we include his song "Ikinci Bahar," also performed by Sezen Aksu.

We chose a song each from three groups that became much loved in the 80s, especially among university and urban youth.  Yeni Türkü ("New Folk Song"), who first took off with their second album "Akdeniz, Akdeniz" (Mediterranean), became one of the most-selling and most talked-about groups in the late 80s.  They are represented here by their song "Telli Telli."  Though these groups had clear socialist tendencies, they didn't come out with a directly political approach.  When Yeni Türkü achieved star status, they distanced themselves a bit from that style.  Another group with a similar character that came out at the beginning of the 80s, Ezginin Günlügü, brought the Turkish folk music and western classical music traditions into their pop style.  Here we include their popular song and title track in their album, "Seni Düsünmek' (To think of you). The last of these groups that we've included is Bulutsuzluk Özlemi, which worked much more along the lines of classic rock.  They gained their greatest popularity with the title song of their politically-oriented album, "Uçtu Uçtu."