Beats Without Borders | Anatolian Rock Revival


Ashe Burr, Writer/Volunteer

If it wasn’t made apparent by my articles that I have written over the course of the past year, one of my hobbies is finding fun and interesting music from across the globe. During my exploration, I came across a style of psychedelic rock from the world’s most famous transcontinental city, Istanbul. The largest city in Türkiye gave birth to the musical style known as Anatolian rock.

The genre itself has a long history, which may come as a bit of a surprise. It began as the brainchild of modern Türkiye’s founder, Atatürk, who wanted to create a national identity through music. This national identity mostly took form through Anatolian folk, which differentiated itself from the music of the Ottoman Empire. Anatolian folk takes traditional melodies from across the vast nation and combines them with Western notation.

The aforementioned project, called the Tanzimat reforms, began in 1923. With these reforms, Anatolian folk music was collected, archived and spread across the young nation. An example of the Anatolian folk that became widespread throughout Türkiye is “Bolu Dağları” by Barış Manço. I’ll come back to Manço in a bit.

Much like the rest of the world during the 1950s, rock ‘n’ roll took over Türkiye’s airwaves. Bands such as the Tornados and the Ventures, as well as soloists like Elvis and Bill Haley, spurred this popularity. The popularity of these songs led many Turkish artists, including Erol Büyükburç, to make English covers of popular American songs. Büyükburç eventually became a legendary singer because of his own creations, but the covers gave him a platform to springboard off of. Büyükburç was credited with creating one of the first Turkish pop songs with his track “Little Lucy.” One of his first covers was of The Gladiolas’ song “Little Darlin’.”

As more and more Turkish artists began to write their own songs, more and more Western influences began to find their way into the music that was coming out of Türkiye. Manço’s 1975 track, “2023,” is a great example of this. The nearly 7-and-a-half minute song features Manço monologuing, leading into a synth-led instrumental that lasts for the majority of the song. Saxophone and flute also find their way into “2023.”

But who exactly was Manço? He was considered the catalyst behind the popularity of Anatolian rock in 1960s Türkiye. His band Harmoniler was one of the first groups to mix Anatolian folk music with growing rock sounds, as well as being one of the first to add a psychedelic twist to the sounds they created. 

During that same period, Manço was a member of the legendary band Moğollar. Moğollar was a band that would redefine what Anatolian rock was, as they were one of the most popular bands during their existence, even if they disbanded in 1976. 

Sadly, this golden age of Anatolian rock would not last. On Sept. 12, 1980, a military coup overthrew the government of Türkiye. Many of the musicians who were synonymous with Anatolian rock likewise became synonymous with leftist thinking. These artists faced censure, with artists like Cem Karaca, also a member of Moğollar at one point, having to flee abroad while others were imprisoned. With a massive vacuum at the top of the Turkish music scene, genres such as Arabesque filled the void. These new genres were a more accurate representation of the time as a whole. 

Following a return to democracy in 1989, a new wave of Turkish rock began. This wave strayed away from the roots of Anatolian rock and began to sound more and more like bands from the West. One of these bands that came from this new wave is maNga. maNga is most remembered for their participation in the 2010 edition of Eurovision, where their song “We Could Be the Same” took second place. 

In the late 2010s, however, Anatolian rock saw a revival. One of the artists leading this revival is Gaye Su Akyol. Before her career in music, she had a successful career as a painter. Painting is something that runs in her family, as her father, Muzaffer Akyol, is a famous painter in his own right. Akyol has not only been a pioneer in this revival of Anatolian rock, but she has also become an important figure for Türkiye’s LGBTQIA+ community, even featuring in İris, a documentary about a bisexual trans woman in Türkiye. 

The revival of Anatolian rock isn’t just limited to Türkiye itself. Altın Gün is a predominantly Dutch band that was formed thanks to an ad on Facebook, where the bassist was looking for Turkish musicians to join. The band has become one of the most prominent Anatolian rock groups, with their 2019 album Gece being nominated for a Grammy for Best World Music Album. The band released their fifth album, Aşk, on March 31, 2023, and the following song is one of the tracks off of it:

Even with the revival still in its infancy, the future is bright for Anatolian rock.