Turkish Rock

Rock music first appeared in Turkey as rock’n roll, twist and beat music. Istanbul used to be one of the most popular spots for western travellers who wanted to go […]

Rock music first appeared in Turkey as rock’n roll, twist and beat music. Istanbul used to be one of the most popular spots for western travellers who wanted to go to Kathmandu, Nepal. Sultanahmet was a popular place for traveller musicians to gather. They were strongly influenced by young people   in Istanbul with their instruments, music, lifestyle and appearance. In addition, the Turkish government opened its doors fully to American-centred capitalist politics after World War II. American soldiers, especially the marines, brought many records, magazines and instruments to Turkey. Later, young people in Turkey would find them in bazaars and came to know American music.

In the 50s, elite urban college youth were caught up in the wave of rock’n roll and started forming rock groups. But real rock music emerged in the 1960s shortly after the legendary rock groups The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, queen, yes and Led Zeppelin became popular in Turkey. Erkin Koray was the original spirit of rock in Turkey. The first Turkish rock song “Bir Eylül Akşamı” (A September Night) was recorded by him in 1963. He also had strong influence on many musicians. Barış Manço, considered to be a rock legend, was only one of them. He attended Erkin Koray’s concert which was at Galatasaray Lycee in the late 50s. Later, Barış Manço formed a band and started his music career. He released his first record in 1962. Of course, he was not the only one. Many bands such as Apaşlar and Kardaşlar were formed during that period. At first, they performed western songs and later Turkish-language covers.

Barış Manço – “Trip (Fairground)” (1968)

Golden Microphone Music Competition and Inter-High School Music Contest, which were organized by different newspapers, gave rise to both rock and pop music. They acted as a launch pad for several legends to enter the music scene and gain popularity. Mavi Işıklar, Siluetler, Cahit Oben, Cem Karaca, Haramiler, Erkin Koray and Moğollar were some of the competitors. After the mid-1960s the musicians began to compose Turkish songs. Psychedelic rock music was dominant during that time. Meanwhile, folk instruments and folk sound began to mix with rock music. Clearly Turkish rock music was going through its experimental period during the 60s and 70s. For example, Western-style songs were labelled as pop music or Anatolian pop, and the musicians didn’t have all the instruments to perform what they really wanted. Truly, Turkish rock music developed in 80s, became popular in 90s, and found itself in 2000s.


Following the 1970s was a period of immigration in Turkey from rural to urban areas. Independence and labour movements that started in the 60s continued throughout the next decade. In Turkey’s mercurial cities, urban intellectuals began to show more interest in Turkish folklore and traditions. Cem Karaca, Erkin Koray, Moğollar, Barış Manço, and 3 Hürel were certainly the legends of 70s, and they all tried to incorporate rock music into the traditional Turkish sound emphasizing the folk aspects of it. Consequently, the works resulted in a blend of Anatolian folk and western rock sounds.  At the same time, a socialist influences came into the spotlight. Timur Selçuk and Cem Karaca identified with socialism and became a sort of pied piper of leftist mass music.  “Hudey” was Cem Karaca’s first record and featured a rock’n roll- beat cover of the folk song of minstrel Pir Sultan Abdal. He also worked with Moğollar, another legendary band of the time. They released Öbür Dünya / El Çek Tabip in 1973. In 1957 the song “Tamirci Çırağı” (Apprentice Mechanic) was released and became very popular among Turkish leftists. Other examples include “İşçi Marşı” (Labourer’s March), and “Yoksulluk Kader Olamaz” (Poverty can’t be destiny), was another song which leftist masses sang together with one voice. Moğollar had a special place in rock music during the 1970s. They blended western and Turkish folk music and shaped the future of Turkish rock.  In 1971, the group won the Grand Prix du Disque from the Charles Cros Academy. Prior awardees included groups such as Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix. Almost all the tracks on this album were composed with traditional arrangements. Barış Manço was another icon of rock music. He started his music career when he was still in high school. He had a great run with “Dağlar Dağlar” (Mountains Mountains) in 1970. He then formed Kurtalan Ekspres, the band that would accompany him until his death. He released “Baris Mancho” in 1976. The album reached the top of the charts in Romania and Morocco but this did not meet his high expectations. He released three more albums from 1977 to 1980.  Onur, Haldun and Feridun Hürel were three brothers and members of the group Üç Hürel. An important aspect of Üç Hürel was the fact that they wrote their own lyrics and music. The group was a symbol of originality and creativity. They used their own drums, they produced an electro guitar-saz and used them to create their own unique sound. They reached their height in 1972 and 1974 along with “Sevenler Ağlarmış” (The lovers had been crying).  Unfortunately, the brothers had financial problems, and retired from the music scene in 1976.  After the mid-1970s, political turmoil and terror increased in Turkey. The music sector also slid into chaos. Erkin Koray, also called Erkin Baba (father) referring to his legendary status, was abroad. The new songs of Barış Manço were average, Dadaşlar faced arabesque and many leftist musicians left the country in order to protect themselves out of fear of persecution. Cem Karaca was the first loss. He moved to Germany because he already had suspicions of what would happen. His was denaturalised in 1983, and his exile continued till 1987. Despite this, several groups formed in the recent 70s like Hardal, Asia Minor, Whisky, Devil and Denge, kept the ball rolling during the 80s.

Erkin Koray – “Estarabim” (1975)

Turkey kicked off the 1980s with the September 12th Military Coup, headed by General Kenan Evren. The period left behind a sense of oppression due to countless instances of prohibition, denunciations, house raids, custodies, tortures and deaths. Even the contact to the outside world was cut. The only way for to stay connected was through the TRT television channel which was under control of the junta. Even during such a time, Hardal succeed to go on with music, and they released “Nereden Nereye” (From where to where) in 1982. The album was very successful, and kept rock music going. After the military coup, Turgut Özal, best known for his liberal economic reforms, became prime minister. In 1984, he removed the ban on imports. The decision was an important milestone for Turkish rock music it gave musicians access to instruments they could only dream of during the ban. Consequently, the number of bands increased, and new genres such as heavy metal, punk, hard-core emerged on stages across the country. Additionally, a big rock music festival took place at Istanbul Open Air Theatre. One interesting fact about this festival is attendees who came with their grandmothers were granted free entrance to the event, so naturally there were many grandmothers at this concert. Another crackpot event of 1984 was that Ankara deputy of parliament lead the police to round up metal heads and punks to cut their hair! 1986 was one of the best years of rock music. Aqua released Güneşte Dolaşmak that February. The album was so greatly loved that a second edition published. Meridian released the first progressive rock album of Turkey, named “Meridian 8763”. Meanwhile, Whisky released “Babaanne” which was the first hard rock album of Turkey.  In the same year, the first heavy metal band, Pentagram, was formed. In 1989, rock concerts began to take place outside in the open air. Kalamış Park, Göztepe Park and Gülhane Park were all popular spots for these concerts to take place. The masses drawn to these rock events caught the media’s eye. Initially, these rock enthusiasts were introduced to the public as some kind of “children of the devil.” Meanwhile, Deathroom was formed as a first death metal band in Bakırköy. Apart from that, there were many rock and metal concerts that took place during the year. Erkin Koray’s  “Hay-Yam-Yam”, Barış Manço’s “Hal Hal”, and MFÖ’s “ The Best of MFÖ” albums were the last great rock albums of the 80’s.


Bulutsuzluk Özlemi, which worked much more along the lines of classic rock, achieved their greatest popularity with the title song of their politically-oriented album, “Uçtu Uçtu” in 1990. Along with this album, Turkish rock music also gained momentum. Asım Can Gündüz, Kronik, Akbaba, Mavi Sakal, and Kesmeşeker all released albums following Bulutsuz Özlemi. During this period, Istanbul was hosted two concerts which were enough to satisfy the masses of Turkish rockers. In 1992, Bryan Adams became the first foreigner to give a concert in Turkey. A year later, Metallica came to Istanbul, and rockers from all over gathered in Istanbul. These two concerts were milestones for Turkish rock. Their popularity and success made organizers acknowledge the existence of Turkish rock enthusiasts and therefore began to arrange more rock concerts.

After the mid-1990s, rock music truly found itself. It entered into mainstream urban culture, and rock bands became even more varied. Pentagram, the first metal band in Turkey, released three albums from 1997 to 2000. Kargo was another active group which recorded five albums between 1994 and 2000. Mor ve Ötesi was formed in 1995 and released two albums. The group also took part of an antinuclear campaign in 2000. Baba Zula was formed in 1996. They combined traditional instruments with electronic sounds in a unique blend of their own. They recorded their first album, Tabutta Rövaşata, in 1996. The album was created for a movie of the same name. They have released seven albums to date. Şebnem Ferah and Özlem Tekin were members of Volvox, a band consisting of only female members. They later split up to continue their careers independently.

Şebnem Ferah – “Vazgeçtim Dünyadan” (1996)

Şebnem Ferah released “Kadın” in 1996 and “Artık Kısa Cümleler Kuruyorum” in 1999. Özlem Tekin performed “Kime Ne” in 1996, “Öz” in 1998 and “Laubali” in 1999. They were all popular hits for the general public. Zuğaşi Berepe was a Laz language rock band from the Black Sea region of Turkey. The group released and performed two album before leaving the music scene in 2000. Kazım Koyuncu, was the vocalist of Zuğaşi Berepe and continued his music career on his own. Sadly, he died when he was only 33 years old. He has special place in the hearts of Turks, and will never be forgotten.

Kazım Koyuncu

Duman, which literally means smoke, is one of the best Anatolian rock bands ever. The band combines traditional folk music with modern rock and grunge. Duman consists of members Kaan Tangöze, Batuhan Mutlugil and Ari Barokas. The first album, “Eski Köprünün Altında” (Under the old bridge), was released in 1999. The album consisted of 10 songs, each one catchy and somewhat addictive. Later, they made a second effort with Belki Alışman Lazım which was released in 2002. With help from a heavy cover of the Sezen Aksu classic “Her Şeyi Yak”, the album was hit, and Duman became well-known all over Turkey. “Seni Kendime Sakladım”, “En Güzel Günüm Gecem”, “Duman 1-2”, “Canlı” and “Darmaduman” are other popular albums of Duman.

1 comment

  1. Avatar photo
    Mustafa HUNCA

    I truly appreciate the effort you put into this article – THANKS VERY MUCH amd right from the heart…

    BUT … A few things I cannot do without sharing (if you would tolerate – hopefully)

    1) I wish you mentioned a few words about BÜLENT ORTAÇGİL (who has been a true inspiration for top group such as Mor ve Ötesi etc.). He has done his own thing definitely; written his own lyrics (and what a poet he is) composed his own melody and brought together a large audience to follow his music with admiration and loyalty (in simple, plain words that is)

    2) As for 3 HÜREL, I am very sorry having to make this comment but their music was absolutely “RUBBISH”… and I can tell u there were thousands of young people at the time “making fun” of their very “primitive” music…

    Apart from these points which I hope you will not take as offense or anything, I really thank you for the work AGAIN…

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