Striking the right note

A peek into the history of women in Turkish music

By Emma Harper | January 14, 2016


Anatolian rock is a bit of a boy’s club. Or at least that’s how it seems at first.

Anyone who loves this amalgamation of folk, rock and psychedelic music is more than familiar with Barış Manço, Erkin Koray and Cem Karaca. But, outside of the much-sampled Selda Bağcan, where are the women?

In an article in last week's Reorient magazine, Kornelia Binicewicz dives deep into Turkish music from the 1960s and 1970s in search of female musicians. The resulting piece, titled ‘Wham, Bam, Thank You Ma’am’, explores the development of the music industry and the role of women during this period of cultural upheaval.

Binicewicz writes about the pop stars of the 1960s, such as Ajda Pekkan and Füsun Önal, who dominated the airwaves with their covers of European and American hits and stole the spotlight with their chic, barely-there clothes. She highlights how these pop stars embodied women’s (often unrealised) dreams of social freedom with this particular anecdote:

‘I heard an interesting story recently from Özgür Erkök Moroder – an artist and director living in Berlin – that perfectly echoes this “pattern”. Özgür told me about his mother, who established a girl group in 1965. The Daisies were beautiful, modern, and sexy; they sang in French, and covered songs by France Gall and Marie Laforet. They had all been raised in wealthy and established Turkish families, were all very well-educated, and had many aspirations. Their dreams of showbiz and making it big in the music industry, however, fizzled out as soon as they married and settled into family life. The miniskirts were put aside, and, as Özgür said, they became exactly like their mothers and grandmothers before them, as if “nothing had ever happened”; their revolution came to an end.’

Punctuated by YouTube clips and LP covers, the article goes on to document the various female artists who rose to the top of their respective genres – like Esin Afşar, a major folk musician, and Gonül Akkor, whose music ‘showcases everything characteristic of Arabesk’ – while at the same time painting a broader picture of the music scene during these two decades. The best part, though? There are enough new-to-me Turkish female singers for at least a week’s worth of YouTube searches (and a glorious week it has been down the YouTube rabbit hole).

If you want to learn more about how these women ‘flirted with styles such as cha-cha, tropical, go-go, yé-yé, and rock and roll’, explored their Turkish identities and ultimately produced ‘music both appealing and unique’, you should click here and read the full article.

Main image is courtesy of Reorient magazine.

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