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Music and dance

An Ottoman army band performing on the streets of Istanbul during the 559th anniversary of the Istanbul Conquest, on 29 May 2012 / Photo Shutterstock
An Ottoman army band performing on the streets of Istanbul during the 559th anniversary of the Istanbul Conquest, on 29 May 2012 / Photo Shutterstock
Music in Turkey is varied, including an old double tradition of türkü (folk songs) and şarki (lit. ‘Eastern’, light songs, often for the court). Considered degenerate and of Byzantine or Arabic origin, these songs were banned between 1934 and 1943. They have gained great popularity in the last few decades, not as the ‘authentic’ genre appreciated by the elite, but as the arabesque genre, combining traditional, Westernized popular instrumental styles. Singers such as Orhan Gencebay (born 1944) and İbrahim Tatlıses (born 1952), who are popular with the public, are two stars of fusion music.

There are several other styles besides the unrivalled arabesque music, including pop (e.g., Tarkan Tevetoğlu, born 1972), rap, which became popular in the 1990s, and protest music, such as that performed by the left-wing GrupYorum (‘Interpretation Group’). Protest music carries on a tradition beginning with Ruhi Su (1912-1985), a former opera singer who performed mystical and Alevi songs but also proved himself a creator of new musical styles, inspired by European and Latin American protest styles. This music is a part of a wider folkloric corpus, including popular dances. Finally, several groups, such as Kardeş türküler (Songs of Fraternity) are trying to ‘revive’ Anatolian folksong by performing Armenian, Greek, Sephardic, and Kurdish songs.

Western classical music was considered by the Kemalist authority the only music reflecting the ‘Turkish spirit’; the State Opera and Ballet, a public agency, operates six operas (Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir, Mersin, Antalya, and Samsun) and organizes several festivals. Despite a loyal audience and the emergence of several pianists on the international scene, such as İdil Biret (born 1941) and Fazıl Say (born 1970), Western classical music has played a minor role on the Turkish music scene.

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