Turkish Folk Music

Folk music in Turkey is as diverse as the country and its people. Folk music has an altogether greater significance for Turks in Turkey – and especially Turkish-speaking immigrants in Europe – than does German folk music for Germans. Although Turkish migrants have lived in Germany for more than 50 years and although countless Germans holiday in Turkey – not to mention the roughly 23,000 Germans who make their home in Turkey – most Germans have remained unaware or larger closed off from this aspect of immigrant culture.

Folk music in Turkey is listened to by broad strata of society, so much so that the conservatory at Istanbul Technical University even has an academic department devoted to the study of Turkish folk music. Unlike Germany, there is a continual connection between Turkish folk music and Turkish pop music – something that is evidenced by the pop diva Sezen Aksu or the internationally known Tarkan. Turkey’s most important representative in terms of World music, Mercan Dede, makes use of popular and spiritual music. 

Ultimately, there’s one thing that one can say about Turkish folk music: without a bağlama, it’s not Turkish folk music.

Singers and poets like Muzaffer Gürenç play the bağlama. When he takes the bağlama in his hand, he becomes one with it, singing songs of love and sorrow or peace and friendship. He also plays wedding and dance numbers, odes to nature and songs about life as an immigrant. With the bağlama, Muzaffer Gürenç both plays entirely within the tradition of the great bards who spoke out against prevailing political conditions and iniquities and tells the heroic stories of Turkish Robin Hoods like Hekimoğlu or the epics of Sheikh Bedreddin and Köroğlu. Muzaffer Gürenç appears here in the tradition of the forward-looking Turkish folk musician.

Muzaffer Gürenç follows the path of his musical models, Ruhi Su, Arif Sağ, and Zülfü Livanelli. When he plays and sings Alevi songs, he continues on in the path of musicians Hasret Gültekin, Nesimi Cimen and Muhlis Akarsu, who were all murdered in Sivas in 1993.

Muzaffer Gürenç also takes joy in playing and singing the beloved Central Anatolian love songs of Neset Ertaş, songs from the Aegean coast, Zeybek songs, as well as other dance and love songs.

The artist also sings the unforgettable and beautiful poems of the Islamic mystic Yunus Emre, the rebellious Pir Sultan Abdal, the blind – and yet still sighted – Aşık Veysel, as well as Nâzım Hikmet. With newer popular and political songs, musicians like Muzaffer Gürenç preserve the honourable memory of the victims of political assassinations, such as the journalist Uğur Mumcu.

As Zülfü Livanelli writes in one of his songs for Metin Altıok, who was murdered in the Sivas Massacre, “Living is our duty in the midst of the fire.” With his music and his songs, Muzaffer Gürenç also embraces the victims of the July 2, 1993, Sivas Massacre that was perpetrated by Muslim extremists.

With his instrument, songs and voice, Muzaffer Gürenç gives voice to his longing for a more humane world. 

Translation by Murat Gürenç (Erkrath/Germany) and Stefan Martens (Istanbul/Turkey).