On Cultural Omnivorousness: Reinvention of Anatolian Pop as Turkish Psychedelic
By Yaprak Melike Uyar
Due to globally unified measures for controlling the Covid-19 pandemic, it has been almost one year since musicians have last met their audiences. The pandemic crisis results not only in the collapse of the economic system, but also generates existential crisis for members of the culture industries, as well as to many others from different layers of society. When there is a health threat that pushes us into increasingly precarious circumstances, how do we find meaning through music? It might take a while to be able to examine the paradigm shifts that the pandemic created in the music industry. In the meantime, I would like discuss a case that gives many hints about the pre-pandemic music industry: the reinvention of Anatolian pop as Turkish psychedelic music.
Anatolian pop is a hybrid genre that started in Turkey in the late 1960s, and represents a localized version of psychedelic rock, rock ‘n’ roll, and progressive rock. The genre created a revolutionary impact on Turkey’s music culture by bringing together Anatolian folk influences with modern popular music of the West. However, with the military coup of 1980, the versatile environment of Anatolian pop experienced a dramatic decline. Many recordings were destroyed as a consequence of political and cultural oppression, while others were forgotten, abandoned in moldy basements. With the nostalgic interest in bringing local music back to the scene and the revival of vinyl culture, Turkish popular music from the 1960s and 1970s has been resurrected in the new millennium, creating new spaces of performance. At the turn of the century, Anatolian pop acquired a new label in the global music market: “Turkish psychedelic”. However, do both Anatolian pop and Turkish psychedelic genres refer to the same musical cultures? What are some cultural concerns that were influential for the revival process? I will try to summarize the historical process with the utilization of the concept of cultural omnivorousness.
Cultural omnivorousness, a term introduced by Richard Peterson in 1992, refers to a taste profile that defies hierarchical boundaries among genres, including both the highbrow and lowbrow. Peterson argues that musical taste is chosen as an indicator of aesthetic taste because it is assumed to be relatively accessible to all participants, regardless of their income, geographical location, or time constraints. Pierre Bourdieu was among the first theorists who drew attention to the relationship between musical preferences and social classes. According to him: “Nothing more clearly affirms one’s ‘class’ and nothing infallibly classifies, than tastes in music” (1984, p. 10). However, with the digitalization and the expansion of music mediation techniques, it is hard to talk about such clear distinctions. Peterson’s research suggests elite or high-status individuals were the most voracious consumers of culture, and their tastes were not exclusive.
The revival of Anatolian pop has strong connections with the concepts of digitalization, vinyl revival, and retromania, which has been defined as “the obsession of the society with the cultural artifacts of its own immediate past” by Simon Reynolds (2011, p. 8). However, prior to commenting on the revival process, it is crucial to mention the significance of Anatolian pop and the concept of synthesis in Turkey’s socio-cultural history. The idea of synthesis inherent in the music of Turkey has its roots in state music policies of the Turkish Republic in its construction period. In the early years of the Turkish Republic, the founder of the Republic, Mustafa Kemal, defined the national cultural agenda as a combination of European and Anatolian values. To follow this idea of synthesis, Turkish composers were sent abroad for Western classical music education, and were expected to create a synthesis of classical music with local folk styles. Meanwhile, to structure a “Turkish” folk music culture, field trips were organized to various parts of Turkey. Notating and collecting melodies and repertoires of Armenian, Georgian, or Kurdish origin, and redefining them as “Turkish” folk music was problematic in a myriad of ways. Classical composers assigned to synthesize “Turkish” folk music into their compositions were later called the Turkish Five, and became representative of the nationalistic ideals of the early days of the Republic.
Neither the Turkish Five composers nor the musical ideal of a fusion between traditional and Western music left a profound impact, and the latter mission remained a hypothetical one until the Anatolian pop era. The Anatolian pop movement started in 1964, when the jazz singer Tülay German released her groundbreaking single, “Burçak Tarlası” (Field of Vetch). Produced by jazz drummer Erdem Buri, and performed by the Doruk Onatkut Orchestra, it was the first traditional Anatolian folk song performed with Western instruments, flute, guitar, a drum set, percussion, and string instruments. The label “Anatolian pop” was coined by Taner Öngür, the bass player of Moğollar, one of the key bands of the movement. The synthesis Zeitgeist of the 1970s was not just specific to Anatolian pop; jazz, funk, and disco were all adapted to local taste. However, the tense political climate of the military coup of 1980 resulted in the stagnation of Turkish popular music’s eclectic nature, and the 1980s marked the rise of the Arabesk and Unkapanı music industry via cassette tapes.
The first use of the term “Turkish psychedelic” to define a compilation was present on Love, Peace & Poetry –Turkish Psychedelic Music, released in 2003 and including an eclectic group of musicians such as Selda Bağcan, Bülent Ortaçgil, Erol Büyükburç, and Özdemir Erdoğan. The term Turkish psychedelic was created overseas and retroactively came to be used in Turkey to define Anatolian pop. Roskow Kretschmann, from the German DJ/producer collective Jazzanova, was a frequent traveler to Turkey and a collector of local records. In 2005, he released a two-compilation series, Bosphorus Bridges. DJ Kaan Düzarat said this album “clearly changed the scene”. In 2006, Mustafa Özkent’s album, Gençlik ile Elele – a local funky gem of the 1970s – was re-released by another eminent global digger, Andy Votel’s UK record label Finders Keepers. In 2007, American hip-hop producer Oh No released the album Dr. No’s Oxperiment, which heavily sampled Selda Bağcan’s song “İnce İnce”. Two years later, rapper Mos Def discovered the same album and used Selda Bağcan’s vocals in his “Supermagic” track. These features increased the visibility of Turkish popular music in the international popular music industry. Many compilations of Turkish psychedelic complied by DJs, producers, and record diggers have been released in the last decade. Local acts such as Babazula and Gaye Su Akyol regularly performed in European cities; the Dutch/Turkish band Altın Gün was nominated at the Grammys in the category of Best World Music Album, with their album Gece (Night).
Through a discography analysis, it can be concluded that Turkish psychedelic became an umbrella term for Turkish popular music of the 1970s. Some common musical features of category may include the use of the Turkish/Anatolian traditional music repertoire, utilization of electric bağlama, kanun, oud, G-clarinet, and Moog synthesizers, and the employment of melodic phrases common in Anatolian folk music. The term was developed to be used commercially to promote Turkish popular music, and some exaggerated conceptions of “Turkishness” took place on album covers, with “exotic” Oriental images becoming a feature of promotion.
In addition, two historically opposite poles of Turkish popular music – jazz and Arabesk– now appear in the same compilation albums of Turkish psychedelia. The cultural elite of Turkey had always had a high appreciation of jazz, while degrading Arabesk as the musical and cultural consequence of “degeneration” via the wave of urban migration from rural towns in the 1960s. It is remarkable to see the music industry now treating the Arabesk star Hakkı Bulut in the same category as pop-jazz singer Özdemir Erdoğan. For a long time, Hakkı Bulut was even banned from Turkish National Television.
Turkish psychedelic, the term, reflects the tendencies of cultural omnivorousness, and it can be observed that the processes of digitalization resulted in a reinvention process. The omnivore thesis defines the current status of the relationship between culture and power, allowing for a wide array of cultural tastes and neglecting the hierarchical cultural boundaries among genres. In the case of Turkish psychedelic, what was previously defined as highbrow and lowbrow lost its boundaries and created new layers of meaning. The label of Turkish psychedelic created a second life for those recordings, past their class-related connotations. Most Anatolian pop songs had politically conscious lyrics. Similarly, the stars of Anatolian rock reflected the political polarization in Turkey. For instance, while Cem Karaca was accused of treason for promoting a Marxist-Leninist view, Barış Manco was drawing upon nationalist values. In the process of commercialization, the cultural and political content of those recordings turned into another differentiation factor, making them more appealing. The reinvention of Anatolian pop with the title of Turkish psychedelic resulted from the changing mediation techniques, with the reallocation of past materials through rereleases and remixes.
 The genre of popular music emerged in the late 1960s, bringing Arabic and Egyptian music influences with freer forms of Turkish art/folk music.
 The timbre of bağlama – the Turkish folk lute also known as saz – had a special impact on the sound of Anatolian pop/rock sound.
Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Londra: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Peterson, R. (1992). “Understanding audience segmentation: From elite and mass to omnivore and univore”. Poetics 21 (4), 243–258.
Reynolds, S. (2011). Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past. New York: Faber and Faber, Inc.
Yaprak Melike Uyar is an ethnomusicologist. Her main researchinterests are jazz and popular music of Turkey, and the music of the Mevlevi Order of Sufism. With her dissertation, Jazz in Turkey: The Cultural Connotations and the Processes of Localization, she earned her PhD degree in musicology from the Turkish Music State Conservatory of Istanbul Technical University. She completed her MA degree in ethnomusicology at ITU MIAM, with the thesis The Commodification of Whirling Dervish Rituals. Yaprak Melike is also a DJ, performing at various venues in Istanbul with an eclectic genre selection ranging from afro-beat to disco, psychedelia to jazz. She has hosted radio programs at Turkish National Radio, Acik Radio, and Radio Adidas Originals. Currently, she is an Academy in Exile Fellow at the Freie Universität Berlin in the Critical Thinking Residency Program. In the summer semesters, she delivers a course entitled Modernization and Hybridity: Musics of Turkey at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.
Citation: Yaprak Melike Uyar, “On Cultural Omnivorousness: Reinvention of Anatolian Pop as Turkish Psychedelic” in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 22.02.2021, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/26487.