The pioneering music legend modernised folk songs to appeal to a new generation of Turks and was a cultural ambassador for Turkey on the world stage.
January 31 was the commemoration of the 22nd death anniversary of legendary singer-songwriter and TV personality Baris Manco, a figure adored by Turks of all ages and music fans around the world.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, all events in his memory are being held online.
“However, the traditional Baris Manco ferry will make its voyage as it makes on the first Sunday of February every year, if God wills, but without any passengers this year,” Manco's son Dogukan told Anadolu Agency.
“We will be broadcasting it live on the [verified] Baris Manco Instagram account.”
A pioneer in the genre of Anadolu (Anatolian) rock that took off in the 1970s, Manco was arguably the most decorated and influential Turkish artist of all-time, known for his charismatic persona, flamboyant jewellery, flowing locks and iconic horseshoe moustache.
In a prolific career that spanned four decades in which he composed over 200 songs, Manco was also a prominent TV host and traveller that translated his celebrity to become a cultural ambassador for Turkey on the global stage.
The moustachioed face of Anatolian rock
Born on January 2, 1943 in Uskudar on the Asian side of Istanbul, Manco’s parents decided to name him Baris (Turkish for “peace”) to celebrate the end of the Second World War. (He was allegedly the first person in Turkey to have that name.)
He received his early education at Galatasaray High School and graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Belgium in 1969 where he studied graphic and textile design.
His interest in music began while at high school where he formed a band Kafadarlar (“Buddies”), before recording his first single in the early 1960s with his next band, Harmoniler (“The Harmonies”).
Inspired by western artists from the 1960s psychedelic era such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and King Crimson, Manco soon became a leader in the Anatolian rock movement, which fused western rock and Turkish folk music.
The genesis of the genre can be seen as belonging to the wider wave of global pop which took place from the late 1950s to the 1980s. The popularity of Anatolian rock (used interchangeably with ‘Anatolian pop’) rose in the 1970s alongside big names like Manco, Erkin Koray, Cem Karaca, Selda Bagcan, and Mogallar (a band that Manco also founded).
An early instance of this sonic hybrid was on Manco’s track ‘Dereboyu Kavaklar’: performed on an electric Turkish saz combined with electric guitar, with Turkish lyrics and melodies spiked with Western tones – not to mention the band’s psychedelic-inspired fashion sense.
Manco’s first hit single, Daglar Daglar (“Mountains, Mountains”), was recorded in 1970 and went on to sell more than 700,000 copies. He then went on to form the legendary Kurtalan Ekspres in 1972 – named after a train that leaves Istanbul’s Haydarpasa train station every evening for a three-day journey to the south-eastern town of Kurtalan – which he led until his death.
One of the definitive examples of the Anatolian rock genre can be heard on Manco’s spaced-out experimental 1975 debut titled ‘2023’, drenched with funky guitar and novelty electronic sound effects combed through Manco’s brooding Turkish lyrics.
Conceptually, the album is about the first one hundred years of the Turkish Republic as viewed by someone in the year 2023. Along with Erkin Koray’s ‘Elektronik Turkuler’, 2023 is widely considered to be the era’s defining Turkish album.
Abroad, Manco first found himself adorned in National Geographic and heralded as “Turkey’s rock idol” in the magazine’s March 1973 issue. In the years that followed, he would appear in countless international publications and broadcasts around the world.
Attesting to his global reach, many of his songs were translated into English, French, German, Italian, Greek, Persian, Arabic and Japanese. In turn, Manco was also fluent in English and French and even sang in both languages.
Following the 1980 coup, Turkey’s political environment became less conducive for musical creation and the popularity of Anatolian rock dissipated. In 1988, Manco found his way into the world of TV broadcasting, hosting and directing a show on TRT 1 called 7’den 77’ye (From 7 to 77) that lasted on air for ten years and reached millions.
The first part of the show was aimed at a young audience, as a generation of Turks grew up with his children’s songs like Arkadasim Esek (“My Friend the Donkey”). The second part focused on travel documentaries.
Turkish psychedelic/progressive rock artist Barış Manço at Machu Picchu with a Llama pic.twitter.com/7p8EwCuz6Z— Prog Rock Songs (@progrocksongs) June 24, 2020
Journeying across more than a hundred countries, he narrated the lives of foreign societies back to his Turkish viewers. When asked where he was from, he would frequently respond by saying “from the world.”
Forging national unity and a sense of identity were tasks he considered worthwhile endeavours, a sensibility best captured in one of his best-known sayings: “One who does not possess a good understanding of his past, cannot comprehend his present, and thus, cannot build his future”.
Manco’s stardom remained ascendant well into the 1990s, as witnessed in Japan where 20,000 fans waving Turkish and Japanese flags attended his live concert in 1995.
At the age of 56, he died of a sudden heart attack in 1999, just before the release of his album Macoloji, which celebrated his 40th year in the music industry. He was interred at Kanlica Cemetery in Istanbul and millions gathered for his funeral.
His house in the Moda neighbourhood of Kadikoy was converted into a museum in 2010 to explore his life and music.
Culturally, Manco’s influence continues to persevere, from street murals to the recent Anatolian rock revival by bands like Dutch-Turkish collective Altin Gun to Aussie garage-psych rockers King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.
One of his famous tracks ‘Donence’ was used in Netflix Turkey’s season 2 promo for the show Stranger Things.
As Manco once pronounced: “The last time a person is ceased to be mentioned, then he is considered dead.”
Without doubt, Manco’s legacy in Turkey will remain forever immortalised.