A new compilation of Turkish music from the 1970s and 1980s tells a story of coups, immigration and personal turmoil.
Review: Uzelli Psychedelic Anadolu: an outlandish new compilation of forgotten Turkish funk
As a passionate crate-digger, the Krakow, Poland-born DJ and anthropologist Kornelia Binicewicz has spent many an hour searching for the black gold of rare vinyl. But when she was tasked with curating Uzelli Psychedelic Anadolu – a fabulously outlandish new compilation for the venerable Turkish label Uzelli Kaset – Binicewicz’s treasure hunt involved sifting through countless kilometres of shiny brown magnetic tape.
“Uzelli have released more than 1,300 albums on cassette and that’s just the ones that are catalogued,” she tells me. “I was searching their archive for rare [Turkish psychedelic] music for almost two months.
“This is a psychedelic compilation, of course,” adds Binicewicz, of the music that’s now reaching vinyl, CD and digital formats for the first time, “but it’s also a story of immigration. There’s a sadness to it sometimes because it was made by people missing their families and their roots, but there’s also lots of high-energy stuff you can dance to.”
The compilation of 10 tracks from the 70s and 80s explores rock, pop and folk of the time and tells a story of immigration, coups and personal turmoil. Working closely with Uzelli Kaset boss Metin Uzelli and Turkish music journalist/project researcher Murat Beser, Binicewicz, who lives in Istanbul, unearthed the nuggets she thought most likely to delight and intrigue other non Turks.
Among them are Bana Göre Kızlar Çok (There Are a Lot of Girls for Me), a rubbery slice of arabesque funk recorded by karate black belt Ali Ayhan in 1984, and 1979’s Sıcak Bir Sevda (A Hot Passion), by Kerem Güney and Günesin Sofrası. With its fizzing synthesisers, crashing electric guitar and baglama (a Turkish stringed instrument) motifs, the latter song is one of Uzelli Psychedelic Anadolu’s key finds.
“Kerem Güney isn’t some crazy psychedelic shaman like [fellow Uzelli Psychedelic Anadolu artist] Erkin Koray”, explains Binicewicz, “but he’s one of the most interesting characters on the album. He was influenced by Turkish poets and the existentialist philosophy of Jean Paul Sartre, and he was one of these super-talented musicians forced to do all kinds of other jobs to earn money. He’s best-known as an arranger, so it’s unusual to hear him singing – that’s why Sıcak Bir Sevda is special.”
The Psychedelic Anadolu release highlights the increasing appetite for the many different genres of esteemed Turkish music which once sold hundreds of thousands of cassettes for companies such as Uzelli, Turkuola and Minareci. The fact that this material was ubiquitous in Turkey and Turkish diaspora Germany – yet never part of any formal indigenous pop chart or western distribution system – has only increased its appeal for crate-diggers and those seeking a vibrant, culturally specific sound.
■ Uzelli cassettes: bringing the sounds of Turkey to 1970s and 1980s Germany
■ Turkish revivalism: remembering the forgotten musical divas of the 60s and 70s
Binicewicz hopes this revivalism might also impact upon the artists themselves. “Musicians such as Akbaba Ikilisi, Ali Ayhan and Asık Emrah are still alive and still performing,” she says, “but the creative side of their careers kind of ended with the collapse of the cassette industry. Akbaba Ikilisi got so excited about this compilation on Facebook. Maybe it will push these artists to create again.”
It’s important to note that the psychedelic music released on Uzelli in the 70s and 80s was decisively bifurcated by Turkey’s all-pervasive military coup of 1980. And if it’s the Anatolian psych of the 80s that tends to sound most sonically exciting to outsiders, it’s not just because of its exotic fusion of Egyptian arabesque music and different sub-genres of Anatolian folk.
Naturally, the diaspora of Turkish workers or “gastarbeiters” that settled in Germany post-coup included musicians, and as these players earned more money, they utilised the (mostly) superior technology of German recording studios and released cassettes through Uzelli’s shop near Frankfurt’s main train station.
“This cultural setting made it possible for Turkish artists to produce themselves and make a living,” says Metin Uzelli, “and their recordings came back to Turkey in the luggage of the gastarbeiters.”
It’s arguable that, in exile, Turkish psychedelia was afforded a more radical and articulate voice. And while these politicised musicians remained loyal to their cultural roots, they also responded to the western rock music they heard in Germany.
Electrifying their seven-string baglamas, they upped the tempos and energy-levels of the traditional songs they played for Turkish émigrés at parties. On the new compilation this approach is ably demonstrated by Akbaba Ikilisi, the Frankfurt-based “extreme wedding duo” whose 1983 take on the Turkish folk song Seker Oglan (Sugar Boy) is a magnificent “psychedelic gallop”. In her liner notes for Uzelli Psychedelic Anadolu (Anadolu is the Turkish term for Anatolian Rock), Binicewicz cites 1965 as Turkish rock’s year-zero. It was 1965 which saw the Hürriyet Daily News launch its Altın Mikrofon (Golden Microphone) competition, an event which encouraged young Turks to arrange and record traditional Turkish songs in the style of western rock.
“People wanted to sound like The Shadows, but also keep that traditional element,” says Binicewicz. “The competition was a very important moment for the creation of the scene.”
It wasn’t really until the mid-1970s, though, that elements such as the Moog synthesiser, spoken-word lyrics, electric baglama and motifs from arabesque, fantezi and Anatolian folk music were distilled into something recognisably psychedelic, Turkish and unique. Another of the compilation’s exemplary milestones is Erkin Koray’s limber 1981 oddity Öksürük (The Cough).
“It’s a song about existentialist misery and the difficulty of dealing with reality,” says Binicewicz. “We can feel [trouble] coming like an [involuntary] cough, but there’s nothing we can do.”
As the founder of the website Ladies on Records: 60s and 70s Female Music, Binicewicz was delighted to unearth and include tracks from two of Turkish psychedelia’s finest female singers, namely Elvan Sevil and Nese Alkan.
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t find out much about these two beauties,” she says. “They were better known as film actresses and their music careers were fairly minimal, but when they did make music they did it with the biggest stars, and that tells you something.”
Both Alkan’s Kaçma Güzel (Don’t Flee, Beautiful One) and Sevil’s Yar Senin Için (For You, Beloved) are vibrant, baglama-driven compositions full of longing. “That song can crush and melt even the stoniest heart,” says Binicewicz of the latter track.
The artwork for Uzelli Psychedelic Anadolu pays tribute to Armagan Konrat, the graphic designer responsible for Uzelli’s original cassette covers, and the package also sees journalist Sebastian Reier, aka “Booty Carrell, Alman DJ and Turkoholic”, write a heartfelt postcard to Turkish psychedelic from a German perspective.
Metin Uzelli says that he is in “no hurry” to release the countless other deep-cuts stowed in the Uzelli Kaset archive, and that he will only do so when he can target the right audience with music that has been restored and/ or remastered to “the highest quality”.
Asked why people should give the Uzelli Psychedelic Anadolu compilation a try, meanwhile, Kornelia Binicewicz responds thus: “Turkish psychedelia makes a beautiful connection between European music and Middle-Eastern music, but what brings it up to another level is a certain sadness which I think can open wisdom in people. If we listen closely we can ask important questions which are still relevant today.”
James McNair writes for Mojo magazine and The Independent.