This beautiful drawing was made by our friend Anna.
Friday, 1970, Istanbul, Turkey. As on every Friday evening, Cahit is preparing for his concert at Yusuf’s around the corner.
Yusuf’s used to be a small café, known for its good coffee in this part of the city.
But since a new style of music emerged, popular especially amongst the Turkish youth, Yusuf started organising concerts in his café on a regular basis. His café soon became a hotspot of Istanbul's nightlife.
Everybody who wanted to be part of that new music culture met there. The style of music played at Yusuf’s, soon evolved into a distinctive genre, namely Anatolian Rock, and massively influenced Turkish music of the seventies.
Still at home, Cahit packs his guitar, a 1956 Fender he got from a second hand shop some years ago, and his notebook where he writes down lyrics or melodies that come to his mind.
At his previous concerts, he did some covers of Beatles and Led Zeppelin songs, which the crowd liked very much.
But, one night at Yusuf’s, Cahit brought himself to deliver a new and different performance. As he unpacked his guitar, he put his notebook on the music stand. He started playing his own songs.
He blended ‘conventional’ rock with the melodic patterns that he knew from Turkish folk music and, most importantly, he sang in Turkish. The audience loved it and went crazy. It is this novel and distinctive sound that made Yusuf’s a famous concert venue and Cahit a cherished artist in the scene.
On his regular way to Yusuf’s, Cahit passes through an everchanging blend of sounds, smells and colours. It is the noise of chatters, running TVs, clanking dishes, running air conditionings, laughing women and the smell of street food at the bazaar that he loves about his city, Istanbul, where he grew up.
As Cahit arrives at Yusuf’s, most of his friends are already there. They are all passionate about music; this is what connects them. They spent most of their childhood sitting in their rooms together and listening to records. At first, old Turkish singers, later every Western artist they could get their hands on.
By now, Yusuf’s is packed. You hear chatter, clinking glasses, some instruments here and there. People are sitting everywhere, on the tables, on the floor, next to the windows and many are even standing outside. You hear some of the musicians tuning their guitars, the atmosphere is hazy and the café is full of tension and anticipation. The first concert is going to start soon.
And this is what it could have sounded like:
Barış Manço - 2023
Barış Manço is a Turkish music legend.
He is one of Anatolian Rock’s pioneers. With his musical work spanning a wide range of genres and incorporating new technologies, such as drum machines in the 80s, he lastingly influenced Turkish music in all of his active decades, the 70s, 80s and 90s.
Barış Manço was also very successful outside of Turkey. He even had a number one record in England in the 70s and played together with Metallica in Russia in the 90s. In Turkey, his popularity was immense. The Barış Manço park and the Barış Manço museum in Istanbul now show that.
2023 is his first album that wasn’t a compilation of earlier singles. It is a concept album showing many different influences like Progressive Rock, Psychedelic Rock, Funk and Folk music.
Unfortunately, for non-Turkish speakers, it is rather difficult to get an understanding of the concept behind the album. The lyrics seem to contain lots of metaphorical images, since Google translate only spits out nonsense. The album’s title suggests that the story takes part in the year 2023 and is somewhat futuristic, but that is just a speculation.
But anyway, musically, this album is like one of these labyrinths in castle gardens. You start listening to it and immediately, it sucks you in, leading you from one corner to the next, giving you no chance to exit before the last track was played. Speaking of the last track, the song Kol Basti! is paradigmatic for the psychedelic vibe of the album, a catchy rhythm full of Turkish-style instrumentals and mesmerising guitar riffs. It seems to be a Turkish classic, as Altın Gün also covered it in their album gece. Additionally, it is the perfect setting for Manço’s warm, deep and powerful voice.
Lay down, close your eyes, enjoy!
Selda Bağcan - Türkülerimiz 2
This will probably sound disrespectful of Turkish culture, but it is meant in the best way possible: she seems to me like the Turkish Joan Baez. The reason for my analogy is her political engagement that has continued until today and her satirical lyrics. She often holds rather leftist views on Turkish society and politics and calls for support of the poor and the Turkish working class. This has brought her many sympathisers, but at the same time many opponents in Turkey. Especially after the 1980 coup d'état in Turkey, her political lyrics were despised by the military leaders. She was imprisoned three times between 1981 and 1984 and suppressed for many years. But Bağcan has been active until today, having played at many international music festivals.
When you compare her musical style to Manço’s, she leans more towards the folk tradition. Nevertheless, she also showed influences of Rock and Electronic music, which can be heard on her album Türkülerimiz 2 from 1975. The tracks İnce İnce Bir Kar Yağar or Niye Çattın Kaşlarını are great examples for her strong psychedelic interpretations of Turkish folk classics.
In combination with her energetic voice, it is no wonder that she could reach many people and had loads of followers.
Regarding this particular album, I really like the kind of dull sound of the electric guitar and I think her voice really unfolds here.
Anatolian Rock constitutes a big influence also in contemporary music. We selected two bands that incorporated the Anatolian Rock spirit from the 70s, but interpreted it in a novel way by combining it with other, sometimes contrasting, genres.
Baba Zula - XX
One day in November last year, I walked across the university campus in London to grab my fourth coffee (I know it’s too much; I’m trying to cut down but my Italian customs are too entrenched). As I was rolling a cigarette and waited for the coffee, I happened to have a very interesting conversation with the barista, a guy from Istanbul. Since I was listening to Anatolian Rock quite frequently at that time, we somehow started talking about. He also liked it very much, especially the psychedelic appeal of it. We exchanged some thoughts and he asked me if I knew the band Baba Zula. I said no, to which he reacted rather surprisingly. “It is one of the best and most popular modern Anatolian psych rock bands”, he told me. He wrote it down for me and I said that I definitely give it a listen.
I already found them interesting as I saw pictures of them. They look exactly as if a psychedelic rock band from the 60s in California reincarnated in Turkey and adapted to the local clothing fashion and traditional instruments. They definitely convey the artistic, bohemian and free-spirited vibe of that time, but this is only half the story behind this band. While one could kind of derive their kind of music from their aesthetic look (chaotic, eclectic and spacy) but you would never expect that they experiment quite a lot with Reggae and Dub. That is what I find most interesting about this band; they don’t just reproduce and tweak the Western Rock style or Anatolian Rock from the 70s.
This becomes especially apparent in the Album XX, whose album cover I don’t want to even start interpreting; it is simply special. Apart from incorporating different styles (psych rock, reggae, dub), I really like how they experiment with electronics and collaborate with various singers and other bands. This makes every song distinctive. Sometimes they exaggerate and include weird things such as horse neighing or very blunt electronic sounds.
I think that the Turkish vocals in the songs match perfectly with the overall psychedelic vibe of the instrumental parts, sometimes harmonic and gentle, sometimes rough and expressive.
What is also very remarkable about the band is that they collaborated a lot with a well-known figure in the Dub scene, Mad Professor. He did loads of famous Dub covers, for example of the sublime album Mezzanine by Massive Attack. Mad Professor is responsible for most of Baba Zula’s dub versions and influences. You can hear some of his production on some of the Dub version on the album.
So, lovely people! Give this eclectic ensemble a listen. It is weird, it is messy, but it is fun!
Altın Gün - On
At the bar, with a can of too expensive watery beer in my hand (which is not a rare offer in London). The club is fully packed; human beings have covered every conceivable spot. It is stuffy and you can barely move. A scenario which seems so alien at the time of my writing. The crowd is restive, finally the band appears, Altın Gün. The atmosphere turns funky, vibrant and exciting. No one can resist the groove of this band.
Although I could only see two of the six musicians, I was totally amazed by their music and style. In my opinion, they really struck the current Zeitgeist of modern alternative music. Altın Gün is a lot. Their synthie-heavy sound is well in line with new Indie and neo-psychedelic music (or however you want to call it). But at the same time, their E-guitarist has a very Funk-oriented style and one of the singers also plays the traditional Baglama or Saz (Turkish folk guitar) which reminds one a lot of the psychedelic Rock of Barış Manço. So, their sound is funky, groovy, hazy, disco and rocky.
Yet, it is a beautiful example of how the Anatolian Rock tradition can be embedded into the modern music narrative and still remain authentic. As Sigi mentioned, a lot of their songs are even covers of old Anatolian Rock tracks. But it is remarkable how they are able to transform the old songs into something truly original, Altın Gün-like.
I bet that every millenial likes this band.