Book links identities to pop music
EMRAH GÜLER ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Martin Stokes’ (above) second book, ‘The Republic of Love’ dissects Turkey’s recent history and its conflicting national identities through three musicians.
The way to explore a nation’s identity is through a country’s music, its singers and the intimate connection they establish with their fans, advocates Martin Stokes, a lecturer in Ethnomusicology at Oxford University and the writer of “The Republic of Love: Cultural Intimacy in Turkish Popular Music.”
Stokes is a renowned academic studying music and music theory with a particular emphasis on contemporary Middle East. He is no stranger to examining Turkish music as his first book “The Arabesk Debate: Music and Musicians in Modern Turkey” was published in early 1990s.
Stokes’ second book, “The Republic of Love” has recently been translated into Turkish by Koç University Press. The book dissects Turkey’s recent history and its conflicting national identities through three musicians. Zeki Müren, the flamboyant singer who single-handedly normalized the concept of queer in Turkish culture, Orhan Gencebay, the father of arabesk music, and Sezen Aksu, the diva and queen of Turkish pop music, stand at the core of Stokes’ book. Through these public figures, Stokes visits Turkey’s history from the 1950s to today, and questions alternative conceptions of Turkishness as opposed to identities imposed by state ideologies. The music and public personae of these three figures help shine a light on the history of Turkish politics, a constant source of civil unrest. Stokes looks at music and pop culture in general as a major player in cultural change and as a reflection on turmoil.
The music, songs and careers of the three names are tested through concepts of love, intimacy, affection and an ambiguity in gender identities, and how they are defined and redefined on the public stage. Stokes brings forth theories of cultural intimacy to look at public sentiments as they are removed from national ideologies and identities to form brand new identities.
Zeki Müren: Bringing queer into mainstream
Calling “The Republic of Love,” “a beautiful and insightful achievement,” New York University’s Deborah Kapchan writes, “Stokes delves deeply into the historical context of Turkey, but this book has ramifications far beyond the cases examined, breaking new ground in ethnomusicology, anthropology, and Middle Eastern studies.”
The first chapter is devoted to Zeki Müren, or the Sun of Art for the people of Turkey, arguably the greatest performer of Turkish classical music, with over 200 albums in a career of nearly five decades that ended with his demise in 1996.
Müren was also well known for his brand of camp, an effeminacy that far exceeded that of all the other artists in Turkey – male or female. His theatrical and flashy stage shows in his early career were always unique and revolutionary. He was the first man to wear a skirt on stage, more than three decades ago.
Müren’s flamboyant clothes, heavy makeup, coquettish dances, gestures, well-delivered speeches on TV and his infamously dirty addresses at informal gatherings all helped to build a unique image that penetrated our collective memory.
Coining him as “the ideal citizen,” Stokes traces a career that began in 1951 when he recorded his first album and began performing on the state radio station Istanbul Radyosu. Stokes looks into the intimacy Müren maintained throughout decades that was at best conflicting thanks to his implicit queer identity and brand of camp.
Tugging on heartstring
The second name in Stokes’s book is Orhan Gencebay, the father of “arabesk” music, a music deeply associated with the frustration of chaotic urbanization after the 1960s. Gencebay, unlike his listeners, most of who were comprised of unhappy migrants to big cities, came from a middle class family and had a background in music. A simple statistic can reveal Gencebay’s colossal presence in Turkish music. His song “Sevemedim Kara Gözlüm” (I Couldn’t Love My Black-eyed One), according to Gencebay himself, has been recorded by over 100 other performers. Stokes calls Gencebay’s music and his influence, “an affectionate modernism,” an escape route from the turmoil of 1970s and 1980s through unadulterated love.
The final artist discussed in “The Republic of Love” is Sezen Aksu, the power house of Turkish pop music, a constant source of change and evolution who continues to be the biggest name in pop music since her debut in 1970s with her album “Serçe” (Sparrow), earning her the nickname Little Sparrow. Check out Stokes’ book either in Turkish or English to get a glimpse into Turkey’s recent history through the country’s musical artists.