Turkish reforms music to Kurds ears

NEWS

Turkish reforms music to Kurds ears
Article from AFP

The Kurdish hills are alive with the sound of music now that key changes in Turkey have enabled Kurdish musicians and crooners to come out of the closet.

The first notes of change in the wake of landmark democracy reforms agreed by the Turkish parliament in August have begun to be played by the music-mad Kurdish community. Following the quasi-recognition of the Kurdish language by the authorities, and the ground-breaking step of legalizing language courses and broadcasts in Kurdish, the Kurdish music industry is reportedly experiencing a boom.
Not so long ago Turkey dealt with anyone supporting Kurdish culture by charging them with separatist propaganda and throwing them into jail. Indeed, feelings against Kurdish people still run high in Turkey where Kurdish rebels have waged a bitter and violent 15-year campaign for self-rule in the southeast of the country. But in the IMC market in Istanbul, the heart of music production in the city and a haven for music publishers and record shops, all that has been temporarily forgotten, with sales of Kurdish music rocketing.

“Before, people were frightened, the police could turn up at any moment and demand that the radio or cassette be turned off,” said a manager of music company Umut Plak in Istanbul, who preferred not to be named. “Now the taboo has gone and the market is going through the roof. There are so many amateur singers who have been waiting for this moment to show themselves,” he said.
He said sales had risen 20 percent since the new laws were passed.

Music company Asanlar Muzik recently said it had chalked up a nine-fold jump in sales in cassettes of Kurdish music in the southeast of the country between June and August alone. In June, out of 50,000 units sold, only 5,000 were of Kurdish music. In August 70,000 units were sold in all, with a staggering 45,000 of them Kurdish titles.
“I’m convinced that if the laws remain in place the market is going to benefit hugely, there’s massive potential”, says Cabbar Baris, the head of Kom, a company specialising in sales of Kurdish music.
He said eighty percent of the cassettes in his catalogue have, at one time or another, been banned in the southeast of the country. He reckons the appearance of new radio and television stations will not only increase demand for music, but will also provide new advertising possibilities.

The street vendors who hawk music in the capital now no longer complain of being hassled “at least twice a month” said the Umut Plak manager. He proudly exhibited the first two laser video discs charting the history of Kurdish songs, one by Kemale Xani, the other by Salih Dilovan, which came on the the market only two months ago. Before, there was simply no demand.

However, some fear a backlash by Turkish nationalists whose representatives in parliament fought tooth and nail to stop the reform measures going through. Mehmet, a buyer of Kurdish music, was gloomy about the future, saying Kurds would think twice about marketing themselves as Kurdish singers because of the bad feeling.
“Anyway, the greatest Kurdish artists sing in Turkish, like Ibrahim Tatlises, Ozcan Deniz, and Izzet Altunmese, because they would never have got on television and would never have made it to the top if they had sung in Kurdish”, he said.
One person to buck that trend is the most popular variety singer in the country, Sezen Aksu, who started singing in Kurdish almost as soon as the ink was dry on the reforms, brushing aside attacks from nationalists.