25 Temmuz 2010 Pazar

Arabesk Music Phenomenon

Arabesk music is a new hybrid genre mixing Turkish classical and folk music with those of the West and Egypt (Özbek, pg 211) and by doing that challenging the classical dichotomy of Turkish music which is based on the differentiation of “European polyphony and Turkish monophony” (Karakayalı, pg 128). In this assignment, in the light of Nedim Karakayalı’s “An Introduction to the History of Music Debates in Turkey”, “Doğarken ölen: Hafif müzik ortamında ciddi bir proje olarak Orhan Gencebay” and Meral Özbek’s “Arabesk Culture a Case of Modernization and Popular Identity”, I will try to understand Arabesk music phenomenon in Turkey.

According to Karakayalı, in the light of Rauf Yekta’s writings we can claim that early Republican period of Turkey was shaped by “a crucial distinction between Turkish and Western music” (Karakayalı, pg 127). In accordance with Kemalist nation-state building project, Turkish music was tried to be directed towards Western polyphony and even Turkish Art Music which takes its roots from the Ottoman period was for a short period of time repressed . Similar to Ziya Gökalp’s great cultural project of “Turkish-Western synthesis”, Turkish music was oriented towards a synthesis between Western and Turkish tones. In this atmosphere shaped by a sharp dichotomy between Western and Eastern (sings of Orientalism), Arabesk music emerged as a counter force “in the middle of a battlefield, pushing the two armies farther and farther apart from each other and inserting itself almost violently in the center of the whole debate” (Karakayalı, pg 130). Arabesk music is the popular music genre that appeared in Turkey in the late 1960’s. Although I call Arabesk as a music genre, like Meral Özbek and Nedim Karakayalı underlined, it is more than this and a kind of culture. The definition of Arabesk music in the Encyclopedia of Music as “a music of alienation” is also an interesting note (Özbek, pg 223). Karakayalı also points out that in the 1970’s Arabesk music did not have a specific opposite (Karakayalı, pg 131) and “occupied an unclassifiable status” (Karakayalı, pg 132) in reference to classical categorization.

Özbek on the other hand, thinks that Arabesk music which later transformed into Arabesk culture, is a natural consequence of serious rural-urban cleavage in Turkey during the period of early steps of modernization and is an integral part of Turkish modernity, as well as a historical formation of popular culture that has been mostly despised and seen as an anomaly by Turkish intellectuals, scholars. She explains the appearance and the development of Arabesk music in relation to the political and social changes in Turkey. In her opinion, official cultural politics, growing market forces, the development of a culture industry, and popular traditions as well as changing lifestyles all prepared necessary conditions for the widespread of Arabesk music at the margins of big cities that became densely populated after rural to urban migration wave (Özbek, pg 212). In order to substantiate her argument Özbek uses many examples but especially spends time on the life story of “the king of Arabesk”: Orhan Gencebay. Özbek points out similarities between Gencebay’s and rural to urban migrants’ life stories (Özbek, pg 213-223). Özbek refers to lyrics of some Orhan Gencebay songs and shows reflections of these alienated people’s lives, thoughts and sentiments in the sorrowful words and dramatic voice of Gencebay. “In 1968, Gencebay wrote and performed Give Me Consolation (Bir Teselli Ver) and then Nobody Is Without Fault (Hatasız Kul Olmaz), which made a breakthrough as something more than music” (Özbek, pg 215). She tries to analyze Gencebay’s lyrics with regard to the psychology of these people and tries to determine reasons for the Arabesk explosion. Özbek even tries to indicate the symbology in Gencebay’s songs. “Thus, in this symbolic network, both the personal and the communal levels are addressed through the vocabulary of love, which is itself offered ultimately as the imaginary solution for handling the problem of meaning caused by displacement under modernization” (Özbek, pg 216). Karakayalı also points out the abstract character of Gencebay’s lyrics. “Hiç bir somut olay ve nesnenin bulunmadığı bir metinde geriye ‘Ben’in fikirleri, özdeyişleri, duyguları kalıyor. Ve doğal olarak ‘ben’in sözünü ettiği herşey de soyut ve genel bir nitelik taşıyor” (Karakayalı, pg 148). Moreover, according to Nedim Karakayalı, Orhan Gencebay is an exceptionally successful project not a subject. “Orhan Gencebay bir özneden çok projedir – tamamlanmamış, belki de tamamlanamaz bir proje. İstisnai olan da bu projenin kendisidir” (Karakayalı, pg 137).

Finally, in my opinion -in parallel with Özbek’s concluding remarks-, Arabesk culture is not a deviation from modernity but rather a case of modernization unique to Turkey that has progressive effects on Turkish modernity, a reflection of rural-urban cleavage that should be analyzed more seriously and objectively by intellectuals, researchers.

- Karakayalı, Nedim, “An Introduction to the History of Music Debates in Turkey”
- Karakayalı, Nedim, “Doğarken ölen: Hafif müzik ortamında ciddi bir proje olarak Orhan Gencebay”
- Özbek, Meral, “Arabesk Culture a Case of Modernization and Popular Identity”

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