How vintage grooves are reviving Turkish rock music

Musicians and music lovers are digging up rare vinyl to breathe new life into a music genre that had the world grooving to its rhythm in the ’90s.

It all started with a reissue of a record by living Anadolu rock legend Selda Bagcan that somehow fell into the hands of Jasper Verhulst, bassist and key figure in the hugely successful Turkish psych revival band Altin Gun.

“It was the first Turkish music I really discovered, reissued about ten years ago on Finders Keepers, a British label,” says Verhulst.

Verhulst had come to Istanbul to play bass for Dutch act Jacco Gardner. During his stay he dug quite a lot of boxes in record shops in Istanbul.

Not only did the discovery of rare Turkish grooves lead to the birth of Verhulst’s new brainchild, Altin Gun, but the band’s distinctive ethno-rock sound, which was spotted by cult Seattle radio station KEXP, propelled the band to dancefloor fame and a worldwide yearning for rare Turkish vinyl from the seventies.

Anadolu rock – or pop as it’s sometimes called – is the name of a particular hybrid Turkish rock and folk sound that made use of flanged psychedelic guitar effects that were popular in the West in the early 1970s.

It also included Turkish instruments, mainly baglama and electro-baglama, as well as traditional percussion instruments. Some of its best and most well known practitioners were Erkin Koray, Baris Manco, Cem Karaca and Selda Bagcan.

“What attracted me to Anadolu rock,” says Verhulst, “is the combination of Turkish tradition with 70’s psychedelia and synths, spacey effects like flangers and tape delays and so on. It was just a really nice mix and worked really well. In many countries people started to combine folk music with the modern sounds of that time, but I think it worked really well in Türkiye, better than some other modern countries I think.”

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The Turkish psychedelic sound, which thrived for about a decade and was wiped out by the 1980 Türkiye coup, appealed to a homegrown audience craving something rocky with a local twist. It also had an appeal for Westerners, who tapped into its familiar guitar groove while mixing Turkish ethnic touches.

This was the time when many adventurous Western travelers followed the hippie trail through Istanbul to India, the Beatles jammed with Indian sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, and the Rolling Stones professed their affinity with Moroccan Gnawa all-stars Nass El Ghiwane.

The Latin Wave

In the 1990s, Anadolu rock gradually began to be introduced to a new generation of listeners through Turkish and German-Turkish rap and hip-hop acts such as Cartel and Islamic Force in Germany, sampling Baris Manco or Erkin Koray riffs .

However, Turkish hip hop remained largely in the Turkish music ghetto, and it would take another generation to revitalize the music in a way that appealed to the tastes of an international audience.

Koray, who prefers to call Grup Ses, is an enigmatic box digger and beat maker from Istanbul. He claims to have been collecting rare Turkish grooves since 1998.

“Not only do I collect tracks that are good for DJing,” says Grup Ses, “but I also look for local stuff that I think is interesting, like fairy tales, obscure recordings, etc., mostly for sampling.”

“With the popularity of ‘Turkish psychedelic music’ abroad and the trend of collecting records, record prices have skyrocketed,” says Grup Ses. “It’s not easy to find rare stuff these days, and even if you do find it, it’s too expensive. I’m generally not looking for anything in particular, I often visit record stores and see what’s new. I’m not obsessed with any particular genre.”

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Not only is the sound exceedingly tickling for ears unaccustomed to the West, the vinyls were also produced in extremely limited editions, so that today they fetch high prices in Türkiye as well as in Berlin and Western European cities where Turkish immigrants have settled their own musical Likes and record collections. This author found a record of the Turkish folk artist Asik Mahzuni Serif worth 400 euros in his wife’s basement.

Today many used record dealers in Berlin are hip due to the high demand for Turkish vinyl and run their business with a two-tier pricing system, selling old classics and hits at discount prices and raising prices for Turkish Anadolu-Rock from the 70’s. In fact, many avid collectors of the genre have made arrangements with flea market stall owners to sift through the offerings before hitting the streets.

Erbatur Cavusoglu is Berlin’s best-known dealer for vintage Turkish vinyl. He runs a small basement record store in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin, home to a large number of first, second and third generation Turkish immigrants.

Cavusoglu came to Berlin from Istanbul five years ago to pursue his dream of buying and selling Turkish vinyl abroad, initially with the idea that most of his customers would be Turkish.

However, as it turned out, his clientele was only twenty percent Turkish nationals, while the majority were curious tourists and international hipsters with an interest in Turkish and world music. Well-known artists also came by regularly to rummage through his boxes, such as members of Altin Gun or goth act Dead Can Dance.

“I think all members of Altin Gun or half of the members were here and some other bands too. For example these people who like Turkish music. Especially Jasper (Verhulst), who knows world music very well. World funk, soul and disco music. And then he became interested in Turkish music and learned a lot about it.”

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Interest in Turkish vinyl, says Cavusoglu, was largely fueled by an awareness among Western music lovers that the rest of the world had something to offer musically. It started with the Latin wave in the early 90’s, progressed through the Balkan music trend and dovetailed with the current interest in Turkish psychedelic rock of Anadolu rock.

“I think the reason why Anadolu Rock became more popular is because the western world is also due to tourism,” says Cavusoglu. “People go to Türkiye for holidays and then they listen to local music and then they meet some local artists or whatever. So I think that was the reason. Another reason is second or third generation migrants from Türkiye who have started making – not folk music – but something more hybrid or European. Like Altin Gun or Derya Yildirim (a Berlin artist and baglama player from Türkiye).”

When asked if he’d found any treasures in his few years in Turkey’s vinyl business, Cavusoglu says, “Once when I ordered a cheap Turkish album online, it wasn’t super rare. But I bought it because it was for a reasonable amount – twenty euros. But when it came in the mail there was a completely different album inside than what was advertised on the sleeve.

In fact it was an album I had been looking for for ages, a very rare Nesrin Sipahi record, their best album. I’ve been looking for this album for maybe 20 years. Of course I didn’t complain to the guy that he sold me the wrong record.”

Source: TRT World

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