Feb. 14 was a good day for Turkish pop music. At midnight on Valentine’s Day, Netherlands-born rapper Murda (Önder Doğan) released his first full-length album in Turkish. Meanwhile, the rising R&B star Seda Erciyes released her long-awaited second single. Murda’s album Doğa proves once again that rap has gone full pop in Turkey. Meanwhile, Erciyes’ “Başa Sarıp Dur” (Rewind and Stop) indicates that R&B is also beginning to makes its way.
Murda burst onto the Turkish rap scene in September 2019 with the single “Aya” (To The Moon). This song and its accompanying music video were the product of a collaboration with Turkish rap superstar Ezhel. With its syncopated reggaeton beat, catchy chorus, and code-switching English/Turkish lyrics, the song became an instant hit. It racked up 50 million listens in the first two weeks alone.
Murda struck again this past January with another Ezhel collaboration (”Bir Sonraki Hayatımda Gel”/Come in My Next Life). With the release of his album, his appearances on the famous music competition O Ses Türkiye, and a Turkey-wide tour planned for spring 2020, Murda is set to conquer hearts all over the country.
Though few in Turkey knew Murda’s name before last year, he’s long been a sensation in the Netherlands. Born in Amsterdam in 1984, Önder Doğan released his first EP “Turkse Pizza” in 2008. He continued to release songs in Dutch under the influential label Noah’s Ark. In 2010, Doğan embraced an acting career playing the lead role in the film Gangsterboys. In 2016 he even enjoyed a #1 hit on the Dutch charts with “Rompe.”
Teaming up with Ezhel was another turning point in Murda’s career. With the success of “Boynumdaki Chain” and “Aya,” this child of Turkish immigrants realized just how big the market for rap was in the motherland. With a full album of Turkish-language songs, Murda rapidly gained fans across Turkey.
While Murda has put in his time as a rapper, “Doğa” is as much pop as it is rap. The catchy hooks, melodic beats, and cheeky lyrics in Murda’s songs show that he’s inspired by figures like Drake. This Canadian rapper proved that the distinction between pop and rap has now become tenuous.
Like the “pop rappers” of North America, Murda adopts the persona of the sensitive lover with a sprinkling of casual sexism again reminiscent of Drake (the songs are filled with “bitch,” “mamacita,” “baby girl”). Love songs like “Şimşek” are pure candy: not necessarily nutritious but highly addictive. The single “Nereye Kadar” alternates between promises of lifelong devotion to his lover and dirty talk. One of the highlights of the album is Ezhels’ guest verse on “Pırlanta” (Diamond), where he name-drops Halil İnalcık (a historian of the Ottoman Empire) in describing his own history with a lover.
The break-out single of the album is “Güneş” (Sun), a duet with YouTube-celebrity-turned-pop-singer Zeynep Bastık. The lyrics show Murda’s characteristic wit and slangy code-switching: “Hastayım mami no Acıbadem / Ne bu hâlim gördü bütün âlem / Büyüledin beni, fly sanki KLM“ (I’m sick with love for you, mami, no Acıbadem [a Turkish healthcare company] / What a state I’m in, the whole world has seen / You’ve enchanted me, fly like she’s KLM).
As for the music video, Güneş offers a pastoral love story packed with gurbetçi (Turks living abroad) clichés: the young couple sneaks off to the big city to wander hand-in-hand through the Grand Bazaar, drink tea, and stroll through the picturesque neighborhood of Balat.
As if trying to make up for this sensitive side, Murda’s other tracks make copious reference to the luxuries that fame has allowed him: Mercedes-Benz, champagne, Gucci, diamonds, and so on. In terms of the music, “Eşkiya” and “Halter” are less pop and more trap, with their auto-tuned vocals, minor-chord melodies, and slapping high-hat drums.
Despite moments of lyrical unevenness and abrupt tonal shifts, Doğa is eminently listenable, even if it falls (for this critic at least) somewhere between a guilty pleasure and an actual pleasure.
The other important Valentine’s Day release was “Başı Sarıp Dur” by up-and-coming singer Seda Erciyes. Born in Istanbul in 1993, Erciyes got her start providing back-up vocals for singers like Elif Çağlar. She was also a finalist in the Young Jazz and Nardis Jazz Vocal competitions.
She’s now single-handedly working to bring R&B into the local music scene. While musicians like Tinashe, Solange, Kali Uchis, and FKA twigs have been successfully integrating R&B with the independent music scene in North America, neither original R&B nor its new generation have had much of a counterpart in Turkey.
Erciyes’s first single, “10:50,” came out in July 2019 under the label Epic Istanbul, a subsidiary of Sony Music Turkey. Channeling R&B legends TLC’s classic song “No Scrubs,” “10:50” was a love song about rejecting toxic lovers. The sleekly produced music video showed Erciyes and her crew of back-up dancers enacting solidarity among women who have no time for nonsense.
As Erciyes said in a recent interview: “In our country, in particular, we have the need for women musicians who can live their own femininity freely, not recognize barriers, and tell their own stories without hesitation.”
“Başa Sarıp Dur” picks up where the last single left off. Erciyes again worked with the producers Flytones, who are responsible for the smooth electronic beats that are now characteristic of her sound. While the lyrical tone is again romantic, the song focuses as much on the necessity of knowing when to pack up and leave: “The marks you left on me, the promises you didn’t keep, ya ya / The paths we choose ourselves, completely different endings, ya ya.”
The lush music video for “Başa Sarıp Dur” demonstrates painstaking attention to visual detail. The costumes, sets, and editing all make for an immersive melancholy. The video reverses the male gaze with images of muscular, scantily clad men wearing angel wings. One of them is bounded and gagged in the trunk of Erciyes’s car—another love story gone wrong. Time to start over.
At a time when the dark clouds of economic recession lurk on the horizon, signs of catastrophic climate change appear from the sandstorms of Ankara to the wild fires of California, and the pandemic continues to ravage the world, it makes sense that viewers are captivated by imagining what it would be like to escape to a different reality to undo present mistakes.
Turkish Interior Ministry’s decision to ban both live and recorded music after midnight has led to much head-scratching. Some wonder whether the government is under the mistaken impression that COVID-19 spreads through sound decibels.
One good way to gauge how the feminist movement has transformed commonsense perceptions of gender in Turkey is to look at the entertainment industry. Recent statements by Turkish celebrities show an increasing willingness to speak out on issues long raised by feminist activists.
These days, whoever I speak to has been watching MasterChef Turkey. At a time when COVID-19 is raging in the streets and the price of basic foodstuffs continues to surge, the cooking reality show provides a much-needed distraction.
The massive outpouring of support for U.S. Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris by American celebrities brings to mind the difficult position of Turkish artists who dare wade into politics. One cannot forget the harsh reaction from the ruling AKP to Turkish celebrities who expressed support to Istanbul Mayor İmamoğlu last year.
Amid rising homophobia and social inequality in Turkey, the latest film from director Ümit Ünal is a timely reflection on how love unites people and society rips them apart.
Zoomers in Turkey do not listen to a single genre of music. Indeed, the divisions between rap fans and rock fans, for example, may not be as stark as it was in the early 2000s, but there are K-pop aficionados, metal heads, devotees of trap, followers of arabesk rap, and other subcultures.
You can gauge one’s awareness of the pandemic by how they wear their mask. There are those who wrap their masks around arms or wrists. They avoid seeming completely oblivious to the global pandemic while also maximizing their intake of the Aegean coast’s fabled freshness, corona and all.
On July 21, Turkey was shook by the brutal murder of 27-year-old university student Pınar Gültekin by a man named Cemal Metin Avcı. many of Turkey’s influential cultural figures, from musicians to models, weighed in on Gültekin’s murder and the larger epidemic of femicides.
Earlier this week, writer Adalet Ağaoğlu died at the age of 91. Ağaoğlu’s generation grew up in a different set of “narrow times” than we live in today. Yet her work remains powerful in showing what does remain the same, particularly the political obsession with a single “great man” to rule the nation.
Earlier this week, the Turkish management of the clothing chain LC Waikiki banned LGBTQI+ symbols on their products and displays—or even anything that might be confused as an LGBTQI+ symbol. LC Waikiki’s memo comes as hate speech against LGBTQI+ people surges across Turkey. As LGBTQI+ issues grow more visible, the reaction is ever more vehement.
If anything, perhaps this continual updating of folk music in Turkey does prove its timelessness. This does not mean that these songs are without history, but that however much the world changes, we will always have need for songs that express the meaning of love, infatuation, mortality, and loneliness in the simplest terms possible.
Given the LGBTI+ community’s history of seeking spaces of freedom amidst the ever-tightening grip of individual and organized hate, this year’s Pride Istanbul theme is “Where am I?” The online talks, workshops, and discussions center on issues like migration, isolation, and safety.
Just because 'Naked' moves beyond certain stereotypes does not necessarily make it “Turkey’s boldest woman’s story”. If including nudity or sex scenes was a barometer of political progressiveness, then the Turkish porno craze of the 1970s or the dirty programs watched through satellite TV in the 1990s would be perfect models of feminism.
After months of staying at home and practicing distancing, it is inevitable that people will occasionally swing too far in the other direction—once given the opportunity. This is a wider social problem, one which no amount of “pandemic-shaming” (polarized along political lines like most things in Turkey nowadays) is going to solve.
Though some of the correspondences are superficial, the coincidence of the protests in the U.S. erupting just as people here are commemorating Gezi has lead to some soul searching about the similarities and differences in state violence and racism in both countries.
In Turkey today, 2.7 million people use online dating apps like Tinder, OKcupid, and Bumble. Both of the promises and the pitfalls of online dating have become more extreme as the coronavirus affects how people approach physical and emotional intimacy. A number of recent documentaries shed light on people’s experiences searching for sex, love, and/or entertainment on these platforms.
It’s a spring day in Athens. Over 120 Greek musicians and performers gather on the steps of the southern slope of the Acropolis to sing in Turkish. They gathered to express their solidarity with the Turkish protest band Grup Yorum.
Music festivals are among the many things that COVID-19 has taken away from us. There is simply no way to cram into a sweaty mass of dancing people and preserve one’s social distance. Yet event organizers are trying their best to find creative ways to keep the festival spirit alive.
Nilipek is an Istanbul-based singer and songwriter whose latest album Mektuplar (Letters) perfectly captures the emotional atmosphere of the quarantine days. Trapped between four walls, one is left alone with one’s own thoughts and memories.
The teen drama Aşk 101 (Love 101), Netflix’s latest Turkish-language offering, is full of clichés but is not without a certain charm. Yet the intense controversy that preceded the show’s release on April 24 had little to do with the story.
One positive outcome, if we can call it that, of the pandemic is that many of us have begun learning new skills. Bread has become the classic example. Yet certain habits are more difficult to satisfy at home. For many friends I know, drinking rakı at a meyhane is one of those experiences that they have missed the most.
At a time when many of us turn to fictional narratives to make sense of the mess that is our world, the detective show Alef and the podcast series Karanlık Bölge (The Dark Zone) provide just what the doctor ordered.
“Desperate times call for desperate measures.” Recognizing that artists would also be hit hard financially by the coronavirus, countries like Germany and the UK have created emergency funds for creative workers. In Turkey, securing support for creative workers such as musicians has been an uphill battle.
The Turkish government has encouraged citizens to avoid going outside, even asking them to declare their own state of emergency. Yet many do not have this luxury. A number of recent mini-series and documentaries released online paint a picture of everyday life in the parts of Istanbul where necessity continues to drive people—especially young people—onto the streets.
Music writer Barış Akpolat spent “200 Hours with Ezhel” conducting interviews that shed light on Ezhel’s musical journey from street concerts in Ankara to sold-out stadiums, from a jail cell in Istanbul to the New York Times list of the most important emerging artists in Europe. Akpolat’s book also provides insight into Ezhel’s political beliefs.
Turkey’s usually thriving artistic and cultural scene has been brought down to a whisper amid coronavirus outbreak. For those with the luxury or necessity of self-quarantine, artists and event organizers are trying their best to bring the arts directly into people’s homes. Or more accurately, to their computer screens.
A deadly virus has struck Istanbul. Panicked people flood the streets hoping to snatch up whatever necessities they can find. They attack each other while lining up for bottles of drinking water. Now that The Protector’s third season carries undeniable resonances with the most hot-button issue of the day, contagious viruses, it seems the most we can expect from the show is this kind of accidental relevance.
Since 2015, young, female musicians who upload covers or DIY music videos on YouTube have spearheaded a new strand of Turkish pop. Amongst them is the rising star Ekin Beril who released a debut LP last week.
With such names as ELZ AND THE CULT, She Past Away and Brek, Turkey's darkwave scene is thriving. In a predominantly conservative country, the scene offers spaces of hope.
Can Evrenol’s latest film, Girl With No Mouth (Peri: Ağzı Olmayan Kız), cements the director’s place as one of the leading figures of genre film in Turkey. While Turkish independent cinema is experiencing something of a renaissance, the material conditions for making and selling quality films are increasingly difficult.
Despite efforts to silence him, Demirtaş has remained an active figure in Turkey’s political scene, and now its literary scene. In late 2019, Demirtaş released Leylan, his third book written from his prison cell. Amid all denunciations and counter-denunciations, the literary significance of the work itself gets lost. Its voice and structure demonstrate newfound confidence.
For the past five or six years, venues owned or run by holding companies, corporations, and other massive commercial interests are increasingly the only places where music fans can see their favorite bands. One might say music fans are damned with them and damned without them.
2019 was a good year for Turkish music and 2020 is looking even better. A number of Turkish indie bands are releasing uncompromising music that has gained them an ever-growing following across the world. While the Turkish psych trend is in full swing, other bands are building a global fan-base without having to play up their Turkishness.