July 9, 2012 By Üzeyir Ahamdu

Rhymes forge Nationhood

Martin Stokes’ ‘Republic of Love: Cultural Intimacy In Turkish Popular Music’ delves deep into the public life in Turkey mediated by the pop culture and pop music in particular with special reference to Zeki Muren, Orhan Grancebay and Sezan Aksu, ‘who are closely associated with the political transformations of the 1950s, 1970s, and 1990s respectively.’ Stokes argues: ‘Nostalgia for these musicians, I argue, mediates public engagement with Turkey’s long liberal “moment.” Far from sanitizing the past (as Grainge 2002 and others suggest), this nostalgia continues to pose complex and lively questions about public life at a popular level.’ Stokes’ attempt is to circumvent the social theories on modernity as being singular fashioned in the West and leaving the rest of the world in the “imaginary waiting room of history,” to use Chakrabarty’s memorable phrase (Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference,  Berkeley: University of California Press 2000). Social theorists who work outside Europe have emphasized the role of popular culture, including popular music, in the ‘forging of nation and modernity, in contrast to what the Frankfurt-based Marxian theorists like Adorno considered it to be part of political authoritarianism. Republic of Love explores how popular music in Turkey helped the nation formulate its own modernity different from the one mediated in and by the West. Let me annotate Stokes’ words in his description of all musicians the book brings into Focus.

Zeki Müren (Singer, Composer and Actor 1931-1996)

‘He often rationalized his commercialsound recordings and films as ways of making himself available to “the common people” (the halk), who didn’t have the chance to see or hear him in Istanbul’ (Page 40)

‘Though Müren was associated with camp spectacle, his acknowledgement of religious decorum—already a feature of his films—was also very much of its time. Such sensitivity to women’s religious practice, a complex and contradictory field during this period of aggressive secularization and Islamist reaction, allowed him and his managers to cultivate a female audience as no other nightclub singer had previously succeeded in doing.’ (page 46)

‘So part of the newness of Müren’s voice was registered in terms of this broad institutional change in Turkish vocal culture: singers increasingly learned repertoire and technique from media and other sources, rather than from institutionalized musical authorities.’ (Page 61)

‘Nostalgia for Zeki Müren—manifested in the writing and reading of books, the construction and maintenance of websites, the organization of academic conference panels, and the resuscitation and circulation of old films and archival musical repertoire discussed in this chapter—suggests another response to prevalent post- Susurluk cynicism’ (page 71)

Orhan Gencebay (Turkish musician, bağlama virtuoso, composer, singer, arranger, music producer, music director, and actor: 1944-)

‘Gencebay’s main strategy in interviews, including mine, has been to distance himself from the term arabesk and all it implies (at least to the intelligentsia) in the way of alien cultural infl uence, reaction, emotional excess, disordered urbanism and political violence.’ (page 97)

‘Gencebay says that his own efforts to craft a modern national music were more authentic.’ (page 98)

‘Gencebay’s counter- narrative is based on his claims that currents of experimentalism and quests for modernity in Turkish popular music have been persistently misunderstood, that national institutions such as the TRT are not the sole arbiters of the modern in Turkish music, that cosmopolitanism has deep roots in Turkish musical culture and should be seen as a progressive.’ (page 101)

Though Gencebay is no longer central to Turkish popular music life, he continues to be understood as an exemplary figure of sincerity, decency, and civic virtue.’ (Page 103)

Sezen Aksu (Singer, lyricist and Producer: 1954-)

‘If Aksu succeeded in initiating broad and civil debate about the place of minority languages in the national “mosaic,” she did so because she chose her battles carefully, could rely on popular support, and now had the endorsement of the state.’ (page 136)

‘Aksu, Alexiou, and Bregovic testify to the emergence in the 1990s of Balkan music cosmopolitanism. This cosmopolitanism is clearly connected not only to fashions in world music in the 1990s, but also with the eastward expansion of the European Union and broader anxieties about East- West integration across the continent. Europe was undergoing significant changes and Aksu, Bregovic, and Alexiou gave these changes significant shape and feeling.

Aksu’s musical cosmopolitanism, though, was from the outset very much oriented to domestic markets and national preoccupations. Cosmopolitanism sells, but it has to do so in local terms and in national markets. (page 138)

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