EOL 8 website review

Turkish music online
Turkish Ministry of Culture website

favorites | caveats | commentary | navigation


Maybe you're teaching a course with West Asian or Muslim content but your library is skimpy on music from Turkey. Or maybe you'd just enjoy exploring Turkish music. With some pointers, you might quickly find what you want on the Turkish Ministry of Culture website. Once you've heard music you want to keep, what next? Tips on capturing and using audio files from websites might be helpful, assuming that you can't buy the music commercially (Kalan Music is credited with supplying some examples).

I was surprised at the breadth and depth of the musical examples. Numerous regional examples. Plenty of traditional classical examples. But who knew about barrel-organ recordings? Ladino songs? Rebetika? In retrospect, why not, and it's great to have so many in one place.

From an ethnomusicology point of view, the examples are uneven and the titles are sometimes misleading. But there are many excellent recordings here. Some of the commentary is not bad either.

My favorite audio examples

Religious (mosque and Sufi music), especially vocal pieces by Kâni Karaca, the superb singer with the sonorous, god-like voice. Skimpy offerings no doubt reflect the secularist government (at the time of this review) fear of promoting Islam.

Ottoman (traditional classical music), especially a taksim instrumental improvisation by Tanburi Cemil Bey, for his much-admired artistry and structure; gazel vocal improvisations by Hafız Kemal, for his virtuosity and expressivity; a composed solo sung by Recep Birgit, for his elegant and restrained style; and funky gypsy (non-classical) music by composer-clarinetist Şukru Tünar, especially "Hicaz Raks."

Janissary (Mehter)
Mehter compositions surviving from the heyday of the Ottoman Empire sound strange today, so 20th century composers created new music for the mehter revival; "Ceddin Deden" is the most-played of these new compositions.

Enormous variety of genres, including Ladino (Sephardic Jewish), Greek rebetika, village music, even organ grinder music from Old Istanbul. Warning--exploring can be addictive.

Caveats, Ottoman examples
* Çeng: a virtually unknown instrument today
* "Kanun taksimi": santur, not kanun. Santur is also virtually unknown today.
* "Şu karşıki dağda": Dede Efendi is name of the much-admired composer of the late 18th-early 19th century. Unless a modern singer took that name (unlikely), someone mixed up the credits.

Online commentary
I like the term "Ottoman music" for traditional Turkish classical music. The article on Ottoman Music is lovingly detailed, thoughtful, and helpful, except that the non-Turkish-speaking reader will substitute "instrumental" for the translator's word, "saz."

Not bad once you figure out the categories from a Turkish viewpoint and understand "folk" as found in a record store bin label. I found the site overview in the left frame helpful, and the drilling-down links in  pink at the top of the page especially useful:

I congratulate the Ministry on this substantial accomplishment and look forward to their site inspiring other countries to do the same.

In its eighth year of publication, EOL is only now offering its first web review. For shame! Web reviews of online journals, folklife festivals, scholarly conferences, and other neglected venues are long overdue in our field. Contact EOL Review Editor with suggestions. Ask Peter Manuel and other editors when their journals will begin reviewing websites.

Karl Signell

released 11 December 2002