Erol Büyükburç, one of the first vocal artists of Turkish Pop Music


by Orhan Kahyaoglu

Even though pop music did not enjoy truly widespread popularity in the 1980s, it's safe to say that this music did gain significant momentum in proportion to the establishment of urban life.  The appearance of makam music within pop music was especially helpful in gaining the public's attention and names like Sezen Aksu, Nilüfer and Kayahan (with Aksu at the top of the list), made great sales.  Though not included on this list, names such as Hakan Peker and Fatih Kisparmak began gaining popularity at the end of this decade.  Sezen Aksu's backup singers, which were to become a school in themselves, all became stars in the 90s.  First among these was Askin Nur Yengi, who made her debut in 1989.  But the important event of the 1990s was the explosion of pop music.  The new technical possibilities brought several young singers onto the circuit one after the other, but most of them faded away quickly.  What must be emphasized, as I touched upon in the beginning of this article, is that during the last fifteen years, pop music has gradually become the fundamental direction in popular music in Turkey.  As consumer culture has turned into a concrete lifestyle in this decade, it has also entered the behavior and attitude of large sections of pop society, and turned into a mode of behavior itself.  As this new tempo has brought with it a homogenization, it has become extremely difficult to talk about original and lasting examples, or the permanence of any singers.  For this reason, within this tempo of consumption, we saw fit to include just a very few singers who have earned the right to be called "enduring."  Perhaps in years to come this number will increase.  It is precisely because pop, in its true definition, is a quickly-consumed commodity, that we have made such a limited choice.  Otherwise there would be several more singers deserving of mention.

So, let's look at the ten singers we've chosen to represent the last decade.  We included the song "Abone" (Subscriber) by Yonca Evcimik.  The "dance" and new rhythm of consumption is clear to see in Evcimik's music, which is a good representative of the new techno-pop style.  Drawing in millions - including children - the song "Abone" and the album on which it's included, was the first ever to sell 2.5 million copies.  This song symbolized the fast tempo of urban life.  Sertap Erener, preened and launched into fame by Sezen Aksu, is in our opinion one of the most important voices in our pop history.  Here we include her song "Kumsalda" (On the beach).  It's no secret that Tarkan is the greatest mega-star to emerge during the 90s.  Managing to endure with his skillful performance and composition, Tarkan became the star both of children and grandmothers.  We have included his hit, "Acayipsin" (You're strange) in our list.  And Mirkelam, taking off with just one video in 1995, has managed to maintain his original musical style over time.  We've chosen his song "Her Gece" (Every night), which made waves in his famous video.  Yildiz Tilbe, with her unique voice and original songs, has gained a wide following, and especially during the last three or four years, has become a true pop star.  But in this series, we saw fit to include the title song of her first album from 1994, "Delikanlim" (My young guy).

One of the most important and creative figures on the path of pop from the 1990s to the present was Nazan Öncel.  With the skill of her compositions and interpretation, the originality and irony of her lyrics, she had to be included on our list, and is represented her with her song "Hay Hay," one of the popular songs from late in her career.  We also saw fit to add a piece each from Teoman and Haluk Levent, who both gained a wide public in the 1990s.  Teoman's "Babamin Öldügü Yastayim" (I'm the age my father was when he died) and Haluk Levent's "Akdeniz Aksamlari" (Mediterranean nights) held special significance for us in pop history. 

Two singers who gained their popularity with their political stance in the late 80s, and maintained their styles in the 1990s despite all the following political developments, have moved a wide public.  The first of these is Ahmet Kaya.  Forced to emigrate because of the persecution he experienced, he died in Paris.  Here we include his song "Yakamoz" (Moon shine). Though the other group we wanted to include here, Grup Yorum, took a radical political tack, their songs (which we could classify as "politic pop") have had a non-political following as well.  We chose their widely popular "Daglara Gel" (Come to the mountains) for our list.

The fifty songs we've included here do not of course compromise a flawless summer of Turkish pop music.  Personal criteria have definitely come into play.  But we believe we've included all of the truly enduring songs, especially from the first decade.  The difficulty lay mostly in choosing songs from the last fifteen years.  Finally, as the last song in this overview, we chose Ilhan Sesen's "Ellerimde Çiçekler" (Flowers in my hands).  Gaining popularity in the 80s with the group Grup Gündogarken, Sesen was perhaps one of the most important pop stars of the last decade.  Even two to three years ago, he was nearly a mega-star.

Pop is not a culture and musical genre to be underestimated or excluded.  In the last analysis, it also has aesthetic criteria.  If they can withstand the consumption, pop songs can endure.  In our opinions, the fifty songs we've chosen here are good examples of music that didn't just fade and disappear; and we believe they'll continue to endure.  But it must also be added that without understanding the dynamics and sensibilities, without being aware of the politics and ideological trends they follow; that is, without a sincere understanding of this society, it is difficult to examine and understand pop, and the reverse is true as well.