Musicians and music-lovers are digging up rare vinyls to give a new lease of life to a music genre that had the world grooving to its beat in the ’90s.
It all started with a reissue of a record by Anadolu rock living legend, Selda Bagcan, that somehow fell into the hands of Jasper Verhulst, bass player and pivotal figure of the wildly successful Turkish psyche revival band Altin Gun.
“That was the first Turkish music I really discovered, reissued around ten years ago on Finders Keepers, a British label,” says Verhulst.
Verhulst had come to Istanbul to play bass for Dutch act Jacco Gardner. During his stay, he did a fair amount of crate-digging in Istanbul record stores.
Not only did the discovery of rare Turkish grooves lead to the forging of Verhulst’s new brainchild, Altin Gun, but the band’s distinctive ethno-rock spanning sound, discovered by cult Seattle radio station KEXP – that rocketed the band to dance floor fame – also fueled a world-wide craving for rare Turkish vinyl from the seventies.
Anadolu rock–or -pop, as it is sometimes called–is the name of a specific Turkish rock and folk hybrid sound which made use of flanged-out psychedelic guitar effects, popular in the West in the early seventies.
It also incorporated Turkish instrumentation, like baglama and electro baglama mainly, as well as traditional percussion instruments. Some of its best and most known practitioners were Erkin Koray, Baris Manco, Cem Karaca and Selda Bagcan.
“What appealed to me about Anadolu rock,” says Verhulst, “is the combination of Turkish tradition with seventies psychedelia and synthesizers, spacey effects like flangers and tape delays, and stuff like that. It was just a really nice blend and worked really well. In a lot of countries, people started combining folk music with the modern sounds of that day, but I think that in Türkiye it worked really well, better than in some other modern countries, I guess.”
The Turkish psychedelic sound, which thrived for around ten years and was quashed by the coup in Türkiye in 1980, appealed to a domestic audience who longed for something rocky that was locally inflected. It also had an allure for Westerners, who picked up on its familiar guitar groove, which at the same time blended Turkish ethno touches.
This was the time when many adventurous Western travellers were following the hippy trail through Istanbul to India, the Beatles were jamming with Indian sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, and the Rolling Stones were proclaiming their affinity for Moroccan gnawa all-stars Nass El Ghiwane.
The Latino Wave
In the 1990s, Anadolu rock gradually started to make itself known to a new generation of listeners through Turkish and German-Turkish rap and hip-hop acts, like Cartel and Islamic Force in Germany, who would sample Baris Manco or Erkin Koray riffs.
However, Turkish hip-hop remained for the most part in the Turkish musical ghetto, and it would take another generation to resuscitate the music in a way that appealed to the tastes of an international audience.
Koray, who prefers to by name Grup Ses, is an enigmatic Istanbul crate-digger and beat-maker. He claims to have been collecting rare Turkish grooves since 1998.
“Not only do I collect tracks that are good for DJing,” says Grup Ses, “but I also look for any local stuff that I think is interesting, like fairy tales, obscure recordings etc. for sampling, mainly."
“With the popularity of 'Turkish psychedelic music' abroad and the trend of collecting vinyl, record prices skyrocketed,” says Grup Ses. “It’s not easy to find rare stuff these days, and even if you find it, it’s too expensive. I generally don’t look for something specific, I visit record stores frequently and check what’s new. I’m not obsessed with specific genres.”
Not only is the sound supremely titillating to Western-weaned ears, but the vinyls were produced in extremely limited editions, so that today they fetch high prices in Türkiye as well as in Berlin and West European cities where Turkish immigrants have settled, bringing with them their own musical predilections and record collections. This author turned up a record in his wife’s cellar by Turkish folk artist Asik Mahzuni Serif valued at 400 euro.
Today many used record merchants in Berlin have become hip to the high demand for Turkish vinyl and run their business on a two-tiered price system, selling old classical music and “schlager” (German pop) titles at discount prices, while ratcheting up prices for Turkish Anadolu rock from the seventies. In fact, many keen collectors of the genre have arranged with flea market stall owners to sift through offerings before they hit the streets.
Erbatur Cavusoglu is Berlin’s most well-known dealer in vintage Turkish vinyl. He runs a small, basement record shop in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, home to a big population of Turkish, first, second and third generation immigrants.
Cavusoglu came to Berlin five years ago from Istanbul in order to pursue his dream of buying and selling Turkish vinyl abroad, initially with the idea in mind that most of his customers would be Turkish.
However, as it turned out, his customer base consisted of only twenty percent Turkish nationals, while the majority were curious tourists and international hipsters keen on Turkish and world music. Periodically, he would also have known artists popping in to dig through his crates, like members of Altin Gun or Goth act Dead Can Dance.
“I think all of the members of Altin Gun or half of the members were here and also some other bands. Like, those people hip to Turkish music. Especially Jasper (Verhulst) who knows world music very well. World funk, soul and disco music. And then he became interested in Turkish music and he learned a lot about it.”
The interest in Turkish vinyl, says Cavusoglu, was largely stimulated by an awareness among music lovers from the West that the rest of the world had something to offer music-wise. It started with the Latino wave in the early nineties, continuing through the Balkan music fad, and dovetailed with the current interest in Turkish psychedelic rock of Anadolu rock.
“I think the reason why Anadolu rock became more popular is that the Western world is also due to tourism,” says Cavusoglu. “People go to Türkiye on holidays and then they listen to some local music, and then they meet some local artists or whatever. So I think that was the reason. Another reason is second or third-generation migrants from Türkiye who have started doing – not folk music – but something more hybrid or European. Like Altin Gun or Derya Yildirim (a Berlin artist and baglama player from Türkiye).”
Asked if he had discovered any gems in his few years in the Turkish vinyl business, Cavusoglu says: “Once I ordered online a cheap Turkish album, it was nothing super rare. But I acquired it because it was for a reasonable amount - twenty euro. But when it arrived in the mail, inside was a completely different album than that advertised on the sleeve.
In fact, it was an album that I had been looking for, for ages, a very rare vinyl by Nesrin Sipahi, her best album. I had been looking for this album for maybe 20 years. Needless to say, I didn’t complain to the guy that he sold me the wrong record.”