Anatolian music fails to rock Turks

Text by Basten de Jager –

Photo by Moa Aulanko –

The Sounds of the Saz and melodious Turkish lyrics got the band Altin Gün, Turkish for golden day, nominated for the grammy’s in 2019. The publics reactions was overwhelming as it was really unexpected. The nomination was not only a personal victory, it also marks a comeback of Anatolian rock, an incredibly popular genre that emerged in the sixties and seventies in Turkey. Altin Gün became a big success among western youth and music critics, inspiring bands like kit sebastian. The Turkish public however, is neither interested nor impressed by the return of Anatolian rock.

Progressive music in a conservative society

Turkish singer Gaye su Akoyl is one of the biggest Turkish based Anatolian rock artists and her fan base, unlike Altin Gün, consists mainly of Turks. She is a thorn in the side of the government and Erdogan for her influence on the progressive youth of Istanbul, that’s why her concert was heavily secured as visitors had to walk through a checkpoint with guards to attend, and a drone was checking if the public behaved accordingly.

Gaye’s set included almost exclusively slower songs. ‘The municipality did not allow her to do her faster songs, because the lyrics in these songs criticise the government and president Erdogan´ Bogac Delikurtoglu, an attendant of the concert says. This form of censorship and oppression by the conservative government is one of the main reasons Anatolian rock is struggling finding its place in contemporary Turkish society, according to music scientist Burcin Bakadir Güner. ‘The concept of Anatolian rock perfectly reflects the ideas of the Turkish republic in the 50s’ he says. Güner studied the origins and evolution of Anatolian rock and says it emerged in the 50s and 60s, a time where Turkey got rid of conservative Ottoman and Islamic tradition and tried to connect with liberal western society. Ideas such as secularism and freedom of speech were reflected in Anatolian rock, which was made by mainly left wing artists.

Güner states that in the 80s, when a coup occurred and left wing Anatolian rock artists had to flee the country, the genre almost completely disappeared because of the values and ideas it carries. According to Güner, the comeback of Anatolian rock, with its liberal and progressive values, could be a very difficult process in Turkey. Because the conservative political climate in Turkey simply will not allow it. As long as Gaye remains censored, a real re-emergence of Anatolian rock is unthinkable.

‘It reminds the youth of the songs their parents listened to’

The political climate is not the only explanation of why Anatolian rock is struggling to captivate Turkish hearts. ‘It reminds the youth of the songs their parents listened to,’ Deniz Güngören, music lecturer at Bilgi University, says about modern Anatolian rock bands like Altin Gün. He notes that the Turkish youth rather listens to genres like rap and techno than the reissued ‘old-fashioned’ songs of Altin Gün. ‘There are some who listen to it, but mainly because of the message, whereas Europeans listen to it for the sounds’. He compares it to a hypothetical revival of krautrock, ‘I assume the Western European youth would not be a big fan of that either’.

Another element is the origin of the genre, Altin Gün is based in Amsterdam and four out of six members are Dutch. Another Anatolian rock band is Kit Sebastian and it is based in London. They are Western bands that adapt and reissue Turkish music and instruments. Ata

Güner, former composer of Altin Gün, says that bands like theirs are not perceived by the youth as Turkish at all. ‘Using a baglama or davul and Turkish lyrics doesn’t suddenly make the music feel familiar to them’ he says. The modern and western influenced Turkish music made by bands who are based in Europe is more of a hobby and playful experiment than it is serious to the Turkish youth. ‘For westerners the genre is new and therefore exciting and oriental, for Turks this is not the case’ says Güngören. This, according to him, is the main reason for the imbalance of popularity of Anatolian rock in Western Europe and Turkey.

Even though she deals with repression and censorship, Gaye su Akyol will remain making music and try to revive Anatolian rock.