Turkish pop music began to take shape early towards the end of 1950s when Turkey was closely acquainted with other western genres. French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese pop songs were listened to by urban public in the beginning. Then, college youths went after rock’n roll while it was sweeping over the world. Turkish musicians performed only covers of popular western songs. Then, famous musicians such as Erol Büyükburç began to compose original songs. “Little Lucy”, both composed and written by Erol Büyükburç, was the first example of the genre.
Erol Büyükburç – “Little Lucy” (1961)
Starting in the 1960s, Turkish pop music began to evolve. Fecri Ebcioğlu, who was a Radio Istanbul dj, laid the foundation of “Aranjman” music. “Aranjman” music were that the lyrics of western pop songs translated into Turkish and sung by Turkish artists. That was a new era in pop music. “Bir Varmış Bir Yokmuş” (Look, once upon a time) by İlham Gencer was the first example of the Aranjman music. The lyrics of the songs were written by Fecri Ebcioğlu. Following the 1960 Military Coup, an interest in folk culture increased in the urban society. That tendency of folk music showed itself on popular music too. The genre got its name in 1964 together with “Burçak Tarlası” (Field of vetch) by Tülay German. That song opened a new trend, the popular western songs were arranged into more oriental sounding motifs, which would later become “Anadolu-pop” (Anatolia pop). A year later, Tülay German performed “Yarının Şarkısı” (Tomorrow’s Song) in folk-pop composition and the song was used as the election song of the labour party. While many developments were happening, Timur Selçuk broke new ground. He wrote in Turkish, and moreover he composed his own song. “Ayrılanlar İçin” (For those departed) passed into history as the first original composition of pop music. “Ayrılanlar İçin” went down big and became the most popular in the year when it was released.
Tülay German – “Burçak Tarlası” (1962)
Golden Microphone Music Competition sponsored by the Hürriyet newspaper and Inter-High School Music Contest sponsored by the Milliyet newspaper were a milestone in the history of Turkish pop music. The contests became the springboard for the rise of new bands. The contests allowed people not living in the urban areas to be exposed to pop music, which in turn inspired many young musicians to create highly original songs. Cem Karaca, Erol Evgin, Fikret Kızılok, İlham Gencer, Cahit Oben, Rana Alagöz, and Erkin Koray claimed their fame through these contests. “Çayır Çimen Geze” by Mavi Işıklar, “Lorke Lorke” by Siluetler, “Bahçelere Geldi Bahar” by Selçuk Alagöz, “Develi Yaylar” by Mavi Çocuklar, “Emrah” by Cem Karaca ve Apaşlar and “Konya Kabağı” by Rana Alagöz were some songs which won the public’s affection. During the same period, European singers recorded popular Turkish songs. Juanito was the most prominent of them. He came to İzmir for 2 weeks along with the Los Alcorson orchestra but he didn’t go back to Spain with them. He started to speak Turkish in a short time and then began to record Turkish songs. The song named “Arkadaşımın Aşkısın”, covered originally from “La Femme de Mon Ami”, had a special place in Turkish heart. Another pleasant song was “Kime Derler Sana Derler” (To whom they tell, to you they tell) which was written by Sezer Cumhur Önal and sung by Sacha Distel. Italian multi-talented musician Patricia Carli came to Turkey a few times for concerts while she was in Turkey, she recorded a few Turkish songs. The song named “Mektup” (The letter) was in tune along with her beautiful voice.
Starting in the 1970s, Turkish pop music began to take off. The number of pop singers increased, meanwhile the pop music began to take serious steps towards becoming a real industry. The first music labels were founded in the beginning of the 70s. Another important development came along with Toplu İğne Composition Contest which was broadcasted live on the TRT channel. The contest launched many talented musicians, and their original compositions. Consequently, “Aranjman” genre faded away. The contest was also a kind of try out for Eurovision. Turkey joined Eurovision for the first time in 1975, bringing up the rear. The only country which deemed Turkish song worthy of points was Monaco and it was only 3 points. After the mid-1970s, political movements gained momentum, and it influenced pop music as it did to everything else. A group of musicians performed only songs which had political messages. Selda Bağcan, Edip Akbayram, Zülfü Livaneli, Melike Demirağ pioneered the genre.
Erol Evgin, who has tried to gain a footing on pop music since the late years of the 60s, began to work with composer Melih Kibar and songwriter Çiğdem Talu in 1976. They were very productive and within a decade released many pleasant songs. Erol Büyükburç, loved musician of the 60’s, maintained his course during 1970s. He performed many songs, but “Manolya”, “Bir Başka Sevgiliyi Sevemem” and “Hop Dedik” were notable songs of his from the 1970s. Alpay, who experimented with a number of styles from romantic folk to rock, made himself unforgettable along with the songs named “Fabrika Kızı” and “Eylül’de Gel” which he performed in the 70s. If the topic is pop music of the 70s, it’s impossible to pass over Bülent Ortaçgil and his album “Benimle Oynar Mısın” (Would you dance with me) which is considered one of the foremost works of Turkish pop music. Nükhet Duru, Nilüfer and Sezen Aksu hit the big time within a decade. Nilüfer performed her first song in 1972, and she won the “Altın Plak” (Golden record award) with “Dünya Dönüyor” in 1973. The same award was won by Nükhet Duru with “Beni Benimle Bırak” in 1975. Sezen Aksu released her first record in 1975. She was due for her third record “Seni Gidi Vurdumduymaz” for her fame. After she acted in part of the movie named “Minik Serçe” in 1979, she started to be called minik serçe which means tiny sparrow.
On 12 September 1980, tanks started to appear on the streets while the Turkish public were asleep. When they woke up they were under control of a junta led by General Kenan Evren. The democracy of Turkey was stopped once again. The junta restricted all freedoms including music. The junta regime also forbade Zeki Müren and Bülent Ersoy, who were Turkish classic music artists, to take the stage. After the junta regime, Turgut Özal was president and he implemented a vast liberal economic programme. The liberal economy gave rise to industrialisation which caused a huge migrant wave from rural to cities. The rural migrants established shantytowns all over Istanbul and went on their lives in the urban centres. Later, the shantytowns became the birthplace of the arabesque culture which dominated 80s. Although arabesque music took its place in pop music during the 1980s, many upscale works were produced. “Zaman Zaman” by Fikret Kızılok, “Sultan-ı Yegah” by Ergüder-Nur Yoldaş were ranking albums. All the songs of albums were smash hits. MFO’s “Ele Güne Karşı Yapayalnız” was the foremost album of the decade. Sezen Aksu released “Sen Ağlama” which was rich in arabesque tunes. Yeni Türkü, Ezginin Günlüğü and Grup Yorum were formed within a decade, and they became much loved in the 80s, especially among the university and urban youth. Yeni Türkü, who released three pleasant albums within a decade, became one of the most talked-about bands in the 80s. Ezginin Günlüğü brought Turkish folk music and western classical music traditions into their pop style. The group took off with their first album “Seni Düşünmek” in 1985. Grup Yorum, mostly known for political song writing, gained great popularity in the recent years of 1980s.
Yeni Türkü – “Olmasa Mektubun” (1987)
Starting in the 90s, Turkish pop music had second heyday, and entered into the consciousness of large sections of pop society. The appearance of makam music within pop music served to gain the attention. Sezen Aksu and her backup singers, which were to become a school in themselves, dominated the decade. Yıldız Tilbe, Sertap Erener, Emre Altuğ, Işın Karaca, Aşkın Nur Yengi, Hande Yener and Zeynep Casalini were from that school. They were always consistent and successful while many singers appeared and faded away this period. Aşkın Nur Yengi was the first successful pop singer of the 90s. Her first album “Sevgiliye” sold over 2 million copies and eleven more albums followed it. Yıldız Tilbe released her first album in 1994 and later all her albums received significant airplay and sold well in Turkey. Sertap Erener is definitely one of the most successful female Turkish pop singers. She released her first album in 1992, and many upscale works followed it. She’s mostly known for winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 2003. Sertab Erener formed a band with Demir Demirkan in 2009 and goes on her music career. Sezen Aksu is definitely the queen of Turkish pop. Her influence on Turkish pop is not a secret. She is resounding icon and a superstar. Her works in 90s were epochal. Her first album in the 90s was “Gülümse” introduced the modern dance sound to Turkish pop music. Her work with Tarkan resulted in a continental hits like “Şımarık” and “Şıkıdım” and her collaboration with Goran Bregovic resulted magnificent album “The Wedding and the Funeral” which enabled her to increase her fan-base across the globe.
Yonca Evcimik was one of the pioneers of the 90s in Turkish pop music. Her first album “Abone”, released in 1991, made record sales for its day. Many upscale singles and albums followed it. The “dance” and new rhythm of consumption was in Evcimik’s music. Her work with a music label from the Netherlands resulted in house music hits such as “I’m Hot For You” which topped the charts in 1995. Once, Sezen Aksu praised Yonca Evcimik, saying that “If Evcimik had opportunities as much as Madonna, she definitely would be better”.
Yonca Evcimik – “Abone” (1991)
Tarkan is greatest mega-star to emerge during the 90s. He opened the music market in Turkey for a new music style that had not been played in Turkey before. His music is a mixture of east and west styles with pop music. . His second album was made in 1994 “Acayipsin” (You are sensational) and sold more than 2 million copies in Turkey and 700 thousand copies in Europe, a first for a Turkish singer. In 1997, after having a break of 3 years, Tarkan returned with the album “Ölürüm Sana” (I die for you) he also sang an international tour in which people maxed out a stadium in London, the Bataclan in Paris and the Arena in Berlin. When the album was released he reached third place in France and number one in Belgium and Germany. His fourth album was released in 1999 and it was called “Tarkan”. It contains a collection of his best music. This album was designed to conquer international markets such as Europe, Asia, the United States and Latin America.
Tarkan – “Ölürüm Sana” (1997)
Ahmet Kaya gained his popularity with his political stance in the late 80s, and maintained his style in the 1990s despite all the following political developments, have moved that affected the wide public. Ahmet Kaya came from Kurdish ethnicity. All his albums were known for its protest music. He was forced to emigrate because of the persecution he experienced, he died in Paris. During the televised annual music awards ceremony at which he was to be named Musician of the Year, Ahmet Kaya spoke out about his Kurdish background and said that he wanted to produce music in his native language. He announced that he had recorded a song in Kurdish and intended to produce a video to accompany it. Serdar Ortaç, who years later apologized for his behaviour, led the crowd stated singing Turkish national anthem. This was an incident which led to a prosecution case which made him leave Turkey. He moved to Paris and died from a heart attack when he was only 43 years old.
Ahmet Kaya – “Kum Gibi” (1994)
Photo Credits: Sedat Mehder