Remembering Cem Karaca: The father of Anatolian rock
Suffering a heart failure, Karaca, a beloved and respected figure in Turkey, died on Feb.8, 2004 in metropolis Istanbul, at the age of 58.
During his lifetime, he recorded 24 albums and gave hundreds of concerts, winning the hearts of millions of people.
Karaca became an influential phenomenon in Turkey with his signature felt hat, big brown glasses and long wavy hair along with the messages he conveyed through his music.
Karaca was born on Apr. 5, 1945, to Armenian and Azerbaijani parents. Both of his parents were professional actors.
He started his music education at the age of 6, with the guidance of Toto Karaca, his mother.
His father Mehmet İbrahim initially wanted him to be a diplomat or a doctor yet later urged him to sing the “music of the region.”
Karaca married Semra Özgür in 1965 and shortly after joined the army. That is where he became familiar with Turkey’s folk songs.
Karaca started his career with a cover band, called “The Dynamites,” followed by another group called “The Jaguars,” a tribute to legend Elvis Presley.
After his military duty was completed, Karaca started to compose music with Western instruments. In an unusual synthesis, Karaca fused traditional Anatolian folk rhythms with rock beats.
“I used to see it as old and primitive, but [later] I realized that the style of music revives and expresses my feelings,” Karaca had said in an interview.
He later joined “Apaşlar,” where his popularity peaked. Karaca and the Apaşlar won second place at the Golden Microphone music competition with a cover version of “Emrah.”
Following their award, Apaşlar went to Germany and recorded songs with the Ferdy Klein orchestra.
Recordings from that period include one of their best-known songs, “Resimdeki Gözyaşları,” released in 1968.
Two years later, Karaca and bassist Serhan Karabay left Apaşlar and formed another band called “Kardaşlar.”
When they were recording songs in Germany in March 1971, a coup d’état took place in Turkey.
Back to Turkey
In 1972, Karaca returned to Turkey and joined the Moğollar. He recorded his hit masterpiece “Namus Belası.”
After clashes with the band's co-leader Cahit Berkay, Karaca and Ünol Büyükgönenç formed Dervişan.
Karaca’s leftist stand was much more felt during his music career with Dervişan as many of their songs criticized social injustice, such as “Tamirci Çırağı” (“The Repairman’s Apprentice” in English) or “Yoksulluk Kader Olamaz” (“Poverty Cannot Be Destiny” in English).
He also composed a theater play for the “Worker’s March,” for May 1 Labor Day, for which charges were pressed against him.
In 1978, Karaca formed a new band called “Edirdahan” and recorded “Safinaz,” Turkey’s first rock opera song.
Karaca also supported Palestine's resistance with a stand at the international fair in the Aegean province of İzmir.
Karaca covered “Mutlaka Yavrum” to raise awareness of the Palestinian issue.
Political unrest and homesickness
The singer went to Germany in 1979 when Turkey's political unrest reached its peak. He faced political pressure over his records and statements. He was in an eight-year exile in Germany.
In April 1980 Karaca was unable even to attend his father’s funeral.
A few months later, on Sept. 12, 1980, military forces under the leadership of Gen. Kenan Evren toppled the government and took power. Karaca and Selda Bağcan were ordered to return home to face charges of treason.
They refused and on Jan. 6, 1983, their citizenships were revoked.
While in Germany, Karaca voiced his longing for home in an interview.
“There's no cure for homesickness,” he said. There, he recorded songs on working-class issues in Turkish and German.
Eventually, in 1987, he was given amnesty by then-Prime Minister Turgut Özal and returned home.
During this period, he produced solo records like 1989's.
Karaca also worked with musicians Berkay and Uğur Dikmen, producing such standouts as “Islak Islak.”
He gave his last concert in Ankara on Jan. 17, 2004, and died a few weeks later, on Feb. 8, at age 58.