Baris Manco

Playlist: Anatolia Rock

September 22, 2008
by Anne Szustek
Inspired by Britain’s Mersey beats and the twang-infused guitar that got American surfers grooving in the 1960s, young Turkish artists took up their instruments and followed suit, despite their weak command of English and a culture that publicly frowned upon mention of sex and drugs. Welcome to Anatolia Rock, a union of Turkish folk culture and swirling psychedelia worthy of the most fervent dervish.

Altin Mikrofon

The Altin Mikrofon, or “Golden Microphone,” competition is arguably when the Anatolia Rock movement began to gather steam. Organized in the mid-1960s by Hürriyet, one of Turkey’s major dailies, Istanbul high school students threw together their answer to America’s garage bands.

Bands entering Altin Mikrofon had to either perform a self-composed pop song written in Turkish, or perform a Turkish folk tune with Western rock instruments. Winners got a nationwide tour and had their tracks released on the Altin Mikrofon album series. A prime example of folk song-meets-psychedelia from this period is “Tas Var Köpek Yok,” or “There is a Stone, There is No Dog,” by Bunalimlar. Released in 1967, the track’s pounding bass could hold its own against the hooks in songs of its better-known British contemporaries.

Erkin Koray

Erkin Koray, dubbed by some non-Turkish music critics as “the Jimi Hendrix of Turkey,” got his footing in Altin Mikrofon and toured with Bunalimlar during the early 1970s. But a 1971 conversation held in France with one of his British contemporaries is among Koray’s more cherished memories. Koray found himself sitting across from John Lennon at a café some 30 kilometers from Cannes. Hürriyet quotes the conversation as going like this: the Beatle asked Koray, “What do you think” of my movies? The Turkish rocker responded, “I think it should suffice to say that I felt them. What counts in Turkey is music.”

“Erkin Baba” (or “Erkin the Father”), as he is popularly known, incorporated the sounds of Turkish instruments into his psychedelic approach. He even invented an electric version of the baglama, a Turkish instrument similar to the lute. Koray continues to perform and still gives live shows in Istanbul cafes.

Cem Karaca

Cem Karaca was another alumnus of the Altin Mikrofon competition during the mid-1960s. Like the other members of the Anatolia Rock movement, he drew inspiration from Turkish folk music and themes, such as in his Altin Mikrofon contribution, “Karacaoglan,” which uses poetry from the Turkish philosopher of the same name.

Over time, however, Karaca used Turkish imagery to make a statement about the political environment of the times. During the 1970s, Turkey was embroiled in a battle between leftists and ultra-nationalists. Karaca fell into the former category. His song “Namus Belasi,” or “The Scourge of Honor,” uses the dire practice of honor killings as an idiom to describe the politically charged atmosphere.

In 1979, Karaca moved to West Germany to escape the rioting that saw left-wingers killed in increasing numbers. On Sept. 12, 1980, Gen. Kenan Evren seized control of Turkey in a military coup. The subsequent regime attempted to have Karaca extradited to face charges of treason. Karaca remained in exile in Germany until 1987, four years after Turkey had a democratically elected government. During the final years of his life, he embraced Islam and Turkish identity. Karaca died in 2004.

Baris Manco

Baris Manco, also popular during the tumult of Turkey during the 1970s, tried to remain above the political fray. In spite of—or perhaps because of—this ambiguity, he tended to appeal more to the right-wing youth of the era. Nevertheless, this could very well be a result of his using traditional Turkish themes without having any underlying political message.

Domates, Biber, Patlican," or “Tomatoes, Pepper, Eggplant,” is one such example. Besides the obvious paean to village life, Manco’s vocal aesthetic in the song is reminiscent of traditional Turkish singing.

In the years following the coup, Manco set out to inspire national unity, incorporating more indigenous folklore and philosophy into his work. Case in point: on top of the driving beats of “Hal Hal,” released in 1989, Manco paints an image of an Ottoman-era woman glittering with a coquettish silver anklet, or “hal hal.”

Manco released his final studio album in 1995. He died four years later in his hometown of Istanbul.

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