Banning music to stop COVID-19 in Turkey?

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.

The number of COVID-19 cases is once again on the rise in Turkey. On Sept. 8, Turkey’s Interior Ministry published a circular that urged provincial authorities to take extra precautions. Among new regulations pertaining to public transportation and the wearing of masks, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced a rather unexpected new rule: music is to be banned after midnight.

The regulation reads as follows: “Playing both live music and recorded music with records and playback will be definitely banned in cafeterias and restaurants in Turkey’s 81 provinces. It will end as of 12 pm.”

Turkey’s nightlife ground to a halt back in March when venues, bars, and nightclubs were closed by a government decree. Since then, shopping malls were reopened, then cafes and restaurants, and finally some outdoor concert venues. Many bars and taverns remain closed.

The 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. Others connect the music ban to renewed calls within certain Islamist circles for the caliphate to be reinstated in the country. Still others joke that perhaps the coronavirus will be so depressed by the lack of music that it will disappear on its own.

Whatever the reasoning behind this regulation, it has caused anger among entertainment industry workers, many of whom (from sound engineers and security to classical violinists and rock guitarists) have been unemployed since March. A social media campaign known under the hashtags #CodeRedRestart and #WeMakeEvents has provided an outlet for musicians in Turkey and their fans to air their grievances regarding cumbersome regulations and the lack of government assistance.

Among others, musician Ceylan Ertem, singer Şevval Sam, trumpeter Barış Demirel, and the Instagram or Twitter account of many venues have turned their profile pictures red and shared the following message:

“My profile will be lit in all red for the next 7 days. I stand in solidarity with the rest of my brothers and sisters in the event/entertainment industry who are out of work due to no fault of our own. We have spent years building our businesses from the ground up. Time, money, more time, more money, and constant grinding has brought us here. If we fail it should be because WE caused the failure and not because we are forced to be shut down without any sort of assistance. This is our passion. This is our dream. The dream is to do what you love for a living.”

Before this latest regulation, concerts were slowly starting up again. For example, in Istanbul open-air or drive-in venues from Harbiye to Burgazada had begun hosting events while carefully enforcing masks and social distancing. It’s not ideal to watch a rousing performance sitting down and isolated from the crowd, but after months without any concerts at all it was better than nothing. Now the status of these events is in question.

Of course, besides concert venues the new regulation also affects bars and restaurants. The twitter account Beyoğlu Esnaf, representing the shopkeepers and properties of Istanbul’s historic nightlife district, pointed out the absurdity of this situation:

“Imagine you’ve sat down at a meyhane, Zeki Müren is playing softly on the stereo. At midnight the police shut off the music: ‘Hey barkeep, turn off the music, we’re going to catch corona.’ Bars are closed, music is restricted in open-air establishments. We’re made to foot the bill for everything that happens!”

Music is an inseparable part of nightlife, especially if you’re drinking rakı. Cracking down on music rather than crowded political meetings or people sauntering down the street with their masks around their chins makes little sense. 

Like concert venues, alcoholic establishments have already suffered enough. On September 5, Refik Restaurant announced that it was permanently closing. This historic meyhane opened in 1954 and once was a favorite among bohemian writers like Edip Cansever and Tomris Uyar. On August 26, the vine-covered pub Asmaaltı shut its doors for the last time after 20 years of business. And the list goes on…

Now is the right time to sound the red alert for musicians, venues, bars, and clubs in Turkey. The entertainment and nightlife industries are on their knees. Before any more historic restaurants close for good or musicians abandon their careers to find other work, they must receive the support they have been calling for since March. 

September 27, 2021 A fight for housing and joy