The rise of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the impact on the Turkish music scene explored by Getintothis’ Sean Parker.
Since around the turn of the millennium, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pursued a determined path to de-secularise the Republic of Turkey and return it to its pre World War One state, the Ottoman Empire.
He has done this within a truly spectacular mix of postmodern politics, combining his own form of socialistic capitalism (yep) and conservative Islamic fundamentalism, usually in a checked shirt or suit so that the West doesn’t get too suspicious.
After the War of Independence to stop European powers divvying up the region at the beginning of the last century, Ataturk became president and forced the country to look west, changing the clothing, alphabet, governmental religious stance, and general culture.
Many saw him as a dictator, but there were no holocausts or gulags – he wanted to liberate a staunchly Islamist country/ex empire towards a progressive future.
Since his death in the 50s, the country has run the gamut of communist effects and neo-liberalism as any other, with the apparent endgame now, and Reggie Erdogan closing the saga full circle. Erdogan would like to make 2023, the 100th anniversary of the Turkish republic’s independence, very much his and Allah’s day.
As he and his ruling AKP say, ‘democracy is a train you get off when you reach the station’. This Getintothis scribe lived in Istanbul for a decade ‘til 2014, and the secular aspect of the country is suffocating under the pressure. Here is what the main movers and shakers of the city have to say about it.
‘Reversing L. P. Hartley’s by now near-proverbial 1953 phrase, Turkey’s specialists, historians, and commentators alike are now in a position where they can safely remark that the present is “a different country,” that they really “do things differently there.“ And some would argue that the country and nation state founded by Mustafa Kemal [Ataturk] in 1923 now appears to be on the brink of disappearing as a result of the momentous changes introduced by the political movement founded by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the outset of the 21st century.’ Dr Erimtan Can
‘I know lots of intelligent, educated Turks that have fled the country out of fear from what was going on. However, unlike in the past when many musicians fled the country in the ’70s &’80s for political reasons (with some losing their citizenship and many never returning), I don’t know a single musician that has left the country due to the political situation, and I’m not sure why. I’m sure that a lot has happened with regard to clubs that I am not aware of because I no longer live in Istanbul.’ Expat artist manager.
‘Gulsah Erol is a valuable musician on the music scene here. The police stopped her yesterday claiming that her cello was a bomb and she a terrorist and they beat her, hit her with a Turkish flag, yelling insults at her, and she has injuries all over now. This is the music scene in the new Islamic Turkey; fans and musicians are potential terrorists and police can take you in and do anything they want to you. I am so angry with this country and its authorities thinking they own us and can play with us in any way they wish. I have written everywhere, not that I can seek help from anyone in this. No one can do anything. At least we won’t be silenced.’ Cansu Yazici
‘As a 35 years’ music professional in the Turkish music industry I have seen worst days than this during the 80s, but this one’s getting to be the worst ever if this continues at this speed. These guys would like to turn this place to an Islamic state, and so would the 50% of the population which votes for them. In their deep, dark Sunni Islam understanding there is no place for entertainment or music, not at least western standards of music. It was anyhow very difficult to survive for those musicians with the alternative genres like rock, hip hop, classical, electronica etc. against Turkish pop, folk and arabesque, but now the situation is equal for any musician.
In 2012 a new law prohibited the sponsorship of the alcohol and tobacco companies at any music events, which was the core income of the live music scene. Many recording studios shut down, and there are only 3 major record labels left. Copyright has never been an income for Turkish artists anyhow. Then after the Gezi Park protests they started to destroy the entertainment areas, like Beyoglu, with pressurising regulations. Many festivals were cancelled, and many live music clubs shut down.
Of course the terror attacks over the last 3 years helped a lot in their aim. International artists started to ignore the concert opportunities, and thanks to Turkey’s anti-western politics many expat artists left the country. Nowadays it’s only Arab tourists in Istanbul – not a single western face to be seen. But…despite all of those negatives there are some positive returns. First of all they can’t kill good music, especially in this century and with these communication systems. I hear every day new bands quite underground, but aware that they won’t get rich by making music – they just do what they want, within wide genres and with awesome lyrics, very unique, very brave and getting more and more known by the new generation, thanks to the internet.’ Turkish music industry professional who wishes to remain anonymous.
Portecho are the most dynamic and forward thinking duo in Turkey. With tracks mostly sung in English, Tan and Deniz encapsulate Istanbul’s global vision, and Permanent Runaways is their Krautrock-meets-Erasure style anthem to the preservation of secularism.
Replikas are known from Istanbul through Europe for their avant-rock musings, and post-everything sonic ennui. They soundtracked landmark Istanbul music documentary Crossing the Bridge and continue to inspire intrigued devotion with their Sonic Youth/Mogwai stylings.
Athena are the energised, magpie-like sibling duo of Gokhan and Hakan, entertaining the cool Turkish mainstream with their spirited horn-laden ska since the end of the last century. They are truly dynamic live, with a rabid following, and the aggressively Istanbul Specials nature of their sound is popular nationwide.
Erkin Koray was main guitar god in the Turkish rock n’ prog renaissance of the 60s and 70s, and the loping insouciance of Yalniz Rihtimi (Solitary Rhythm) feels appropriately like strolling through Beyoglu on a hot Saturday night.
Baris Manco was part of the same cultural renaissance as Koray, and went on to become a much bigger star of stage and screen, until his titular lamp (‘Lambaya’) was snuffed out under a pile of prostitutes and through a flurry of cocaine around the turn of the millenium. His Kadikoy home is now a museum to the much-loved musical magician’s memory.