Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Look at Turkish Music: Grupa Yorum

There are a number of musical groups and even schools of music revolving around political themes. In Latin America, there is Cancion Nueva or the New Song movement. Its basic principle is that American culture has a very strong and corrosive influence over local culture. They believe that "cultural imperialism" is reflective of economic imperialism. Their solution is to produce and promote indigenous music that is laced with a political message.

This movement, which I would designate as "cultural secessionism is in my opinion a part of a larger phenomenon that stretches across the political spectrum. Christian rock acts upon the realisation that music is laced with moral influences that might be objectionable. It seeks to produce high quality music that does not spiritually weaken adherents of Christianity and instead strengthens their faith. There are Jewish groups and producers who have acted upon the same realisation. There is a vibrant Jewish music scene that reaches into all styles and genres, from Arab Jewish to klezmer, from rock to cantorial. It would be possible to listen to nothing but Jewish music 24/6. Many people do so.

Years ago, I got into an argument with a Jewish fan of Wagnerian opera. Richard Wagner was a composer who drew on German folklore and mythology. Hitler was a prominent fan of Wagner. Festivals of Wagner's operas were attended by both Hitler and members of Wagner's family, putting a Nazi imprimatur on Wagner's music.

Not long after, I had a rude awakening. As a long time fan of Mikis Theodorakis, I found that his enmity to the State of Israel was so vehement that my fondness for his music was as inconsistent as that of a Jewish fan of Wagner. Across most of the extreme left of the political spectrum, hatred of Israel is uniform and strong.

Some people say that opposition to Israel is not the same as antisemitism. In my opinion, this is only theoretically true. The inconsistency with which Israel is judged in contrast to the standards by which other nations are judged is blatant and inexplicable in any rational framework. Although is tactically ill advised to call an opponent of Israel a Jew hater, it is desirable to point out the inconsistencies in Israel's treatment in the court of public opinion.

There is a musical group named Yorum that is very popular around the world despite the fact that they sing in Turkish. The group was founded in 1985 by for friends at the University of Marmara. They are banned in Turkey, and have hundreds of trials and arrests of their membership to their credit. Despite the banning of their concerts and the seizing of their albums, they are one of the most popular groups in Turkey. They are pro Kurdish and sometimes sing in that language.

Kurdish language and culture function under severe restrictions in the Turkish Republic. There have been terrorist groups which championed the cause of Kurdish nationalism. There has been violence from both sides. The Turkish government can not be expected to play by gentleman's rules.
Despite the fact that I am repulsed by their politics, which is hostile to Israel the music of Yorum is breathtaking. There is a string instrument that figures very prominently in their music that sounds like a bouzouki. It is almost a reminder that Greeks and Turks once lived in adjacent houses rather than adjacent countries. During the population exchange of 1923, a river of bloodstained tears flowed between the two countries. It was a sorrowful chapter in Balkan history.

There is a place in my mind that bears little resemblance to the world in which we live. In that place, ethnic diversity is not a threat but a gift to the world of cuisine, of literature and of music. Listening to the music of political opponents is not a repudiation of realism but a reminder that humanity's lapses into warfare are tragic even when they are necessary.

There is a moment of the Passover seder in which ten drops of wine are spilled from the cup of wine to symbolise the spilling of Egyptian blood during the exodus from Egypt. According to one opinion, it is considered a misfortune that Egyptian blood had to be shed in the Exodus, that the death of a human being created in G-d's image diminishes G-d's joy. Spilling wine from a cup that symbolises a measure of happiness is a reflection of this world view.

It is in this spirit that I listen to groups like Yorum. Their music is a reminder to me of the beauty in the human race and experience and the sadness that I should feel that nations fight, even though in some cases there is no choice.

I hope my readers will listen to this music presented with this post and look beyond it into the amazing world of Turkish music.

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