Rap anthems of the Boğaziçi protests

Songs often become inseparably associated with certain social movements. The Boğaziçi University protests, which now extend far beyond campus itself and certainly beyond the issue of one unelected rector, have yet to give rise to one irrefutable anthem. However, for a movement that has only been active for a little more than a month, it has already inspired an impressive amount of music.

Songs often become inseparably associated with certain social movements. It’s difficult to think of the Gezi Park protests of 2013, for example, without humming to yourself certain lines from Duman’s “Eyvallah” or Kardeş Türküler’s “Tencere Tava Havası.” Both songs were created specifically for the movement—composed, recorded, and released with impressive speed. 
 
The Boğaziçi University protests, which now extend far beyond campus itself and certainly beyond the issue of one unelected rector, have yet to give rise to one irrefutable anthem. However, for a movement that has only been active for a little more than a month, it has already inspired an impressive amount of music.
 
The most high-profile song inspired by the Boğaziçi protests so far is a collaboration between legendary rapper Fuat Ergin and a group called the Youth Movement Coordination. This group, which works on educational rights and other issues that affect young people, apparently reached out to the Berlin-born rapper and asked him to help contribute to a song they were writing for the protests. Fuat, who has been rapping in Turkish since the mid-1990s and who has often given workshops on the art of rap, revised their lyrics and then invited the students to the studio to record the track. These recording sessions also offered a good occasion for video footage and by January 31st, both the music and the video for “Boğaziçi Hür” (Boğaziçi Is Free) were released.      
 
The lyrics are simple and direct: “The taste of freedom doesn’t resemble cotton candy / Winding roads cannot break our will / We have struggle, the movement, and the future / You have trusteeships, impositions, and repression.” The video also features powerful footage from the last month of protests, including police violence and proud rainbow flags waving on campus. The song itself makes a good soundtrack for a crowded gathering, with a catchy sing-along chorus: “Don’t fret with regret / Get up Boğaziçi! / Our patience has exploded / Boğaziçi!/ Knots in our throats / Boğaziçi! / We won’t turn back.” The word “Boğaziçi” isn’t particularly easy to fit in a rap, but they charmingly transform it from a four-syllable to a three-syllable word. The chorus also features a clever pun on the university’s name (based on the Bosphorus Strait, “Boğaz” in Turkish literally means “throat”) in the line “Knots in our throats.” 
 
The song immediately found its listeners but it also raised some eyebrows. The person who initially reached out to Fuat to collaborate on the song was taken into police custody and then released. Fuat also received both negative and positive press, but this is not unusual for him. Living in Turkey since 2004, he has created a fair bit of political music, particularly on his latest album Omurga. In 2019, he rapped about environmental issues on the rap protest anthem “Susamam” and has been called a terrorist for it. He has also written songs about military veterans, child brides, and other issues. 
 
One might have issues with certain elements of Fuat’s politics, but there is no denying that he is an artist with his heart in the right place. In fact, since the Boğaziçi protests began we are seeing a widening gap between those artists who are willing to speak up in support and those who conspicuously remain silent. It is heartening that many of the musicians I have written about here have chosen to use their platforms, at least on social media, to support demands for independent, democratic universities and a liveable future for Turkey’s youth. In general, however, the more famous a musician is in this country, the less likely they are to speak up. This is why exceptions from the pop world, like Gülşen and actress/singer Gülben Ergen, are particularly valuable. As for rappers, standing with the oppressed should be an automatic reflex. Those who continue to stand diplomatically in the middle of the road will only continue to demean themselves in the eyes of their fans. 
 
At the same time, protesters don’t necessarily need famous names to create the movement’s music for it. A group of anonymous musicians has been releasing songs written straight from the ground. If you type in “Gizli Özneler” (Secret Subjects) on YouTube you will find four songs, each released about a week apart. “Yetti” (That’s Enough), the first song from January 7, is a time-capsule of where the movement was at that moment. The rap song expresses the outrage of that first week of protests when Boğaziçi students found out that an unelected rector had been appointed to their school. The lyrics, half in Turkish and half in Kurdish, deal with Melih Bulu’s famous statement about loving Metallica and accusations that many of his academic works are plagiarized. 
 
The second song, released on January 12, is even more rageful against the “Kukla” (Puppet) that gives the song its name. Referring again to the Metallica gaffe, the Secret Subjects rap: “What we like isn’t hard rock but trap / what you have is not a rector but an appointee.” The auto-tone in the song is both part of the trap sub-genre of rap that they refer to and also a way for the creators of the music to disguise their identities. 
 
5 days later, the secretive musical collaborators released “İstifa” (Resign) a more experimental, techno-inspired piece that has found less resonance with viewers. However, on January 31 they returned with another instant classic inspired by the twists and turns in the movement. The title “Bundan Sonrası Bizde” (What’s Next Is Up to Us) is based on words uttered by two students taken into custody and booked at an Istanbul courthouse. The lyrics also refer to the 1990s, when Boğaziçi students and faculty famously protested against the ban on university students wearing headscarves, as well as the neighborhood of Hisarüstü surrounding Boğaziçi. It discusses the difficulty of dealing with real estate brokers as well as the daily struggles of this semi-slum neighborhood where students reside. Just as the movement is expanding its focus, this latest song shows attention to a wider variety of issues.
 
As the weeks continue, undoubtedly more songs will be released both by this group and more high-profile names. No movement is without its music. More will appear until its anthem is finally clear.                               

February 14, 2021 Take me to the moon!