I am Baha YETKİN, oud player, composer and trainer. As an artist and trainer who has been actively involved in the music scene since 2000, I wanted to contribute to those who are interested in music and those who want to make a career in music by writing down the knowledge and impressions I have gained as a result of my experience. You will soon find these articles in Turkish and English as podcasts on digital platforms.
Here are the topics that I will talk about in this first post:
1- What is makam music?
2- How is makam music perceived in Turkey and in the world?
3- What are the application areas of makam music today?
First of all, it is necessary to understand what makam music is. First of all, I should state that Makam music is not a music belonging to a particular region or group. We see different examples and types in many places. Different societies have given different names to similar melodies, approached from different perspectives and added different feelings and flavors to the music culture. Indian Raga music, Greek Rembetiko music, Classical Turkish music, Traditional Anatolian music, Spanish Flamenco music, Arab music, Iranian Mugam/Dastgah music, Azerbaijan Mugam music are the main makam music in the world. Names such as Makam/Mugam/Dastgah/Raga are names given to a characteristic musical phrase/melody. Although the colors may differ, they are basically all the same type of music. We know from historical research that the first examples or versions of makam music are ancient Greek modes, which today are known by names such as Lydian and Dorian. Also, I have an inference from the books, writings and historians’ explanations that there were similar types of music in Ancient Egypt and even earlier tribes. It’s possible, although it’s not proven yet. Of course, these makams have evolved over the years both in western and eastern music until today. When we examine the music culture together with the development of societies, we obtain much more detailed information. There are many texts (articles, theses, etc.) written by valuable musicologists/ethnomusicologists on this subject. Those who want to research and learn more in detail can access these documents on the internet.
Ever since I started my musical life, and even before, it has always seemed strange to me to look at makam music in Turkey. Somehow, someone divided the music composed from Anatolian cultures and performed in this region into two, saying Art music and Folk music, and they divided the music, which is the same, into two and sides. I always asked: Art music contains art Does folk music not contain art? Is this a strange situation? Both of the music called Art music or Folk music today are modal music. Unfortunately, misperception, understanding, mistakes and inadequacies in education, useless discussions in defining the problem and producing a solution, and the inability to get a proper result in Turkey have put this business in a strange theoretical and academic dilemma. As a result, as of 2023, unfortunately, there is no standard education form and curriculum of the music that has been going on in these lands for centuries. Accordingly, we hear strange and inconclusive discussions about different performances everywhere and on these issues, such as I played right, you played right, or such and such a master recited or played like this.
Also, I would like to mention one more thing that seems strange to me. Over the years, I have heard and witnessed that some people are uncomfortable with being called Classical Turkish music. If we’re going to get sub-identities involved, they might be right. BUT, the term “Turkish” in this name is an adjective given to the citizen of the Republic of Turkey. It does not indicate that this music belongs only to Turks. We know that Turks, Armenians, Greeks, Arabs, Macedonians, Albanians, Circassians, Romani, Kurds and many other ethnic backgrounds have contributed to this music for centuries. With this feature, Classical Turkish Music is one of the two classical music in the world, the other is of course Western Classical music.
On the other hand, the names given to this music in the world are a bit more complicated and vary according to the place where it is used. For example, what I encountered; Ottoman music, Ottoman palace music, Ottoman chamber music, Turkish music, Classical Turkish music, Istanbul music. Names such as microtonal music, Turkish modal music. I don’t know why people feel the need to rename it, but this issue should be resolved soon.
I can explain the view of makam music in the world with my own experience as follows; a group of people think only of Arabic music when it comes to makam music. In some environments, when this music is mentioned, they say, “It’s very bad music, I listened to a recording, there is no chord, no harmony, and these people are masters of makam music”. I’m asking who and which recording you listen to. The names they give are not the names of known masters. Often, there are people who pretend to be masters by using the power of social media. People believe that those people are masters. With this information pollution, people also approach the makam music with prejudice. I mean, bad publicity unfortunately damages a centuries-old musical legacy. If you are performing this music, I request you to take this job seriously and convey it correctly and let people listen to the right examples. If you are someone who is trying to learn this music, please ask your instructors and masters who you should listen to or follow. Also, share these people and recordings with your circle so that people will be aware of the beauty of this music.
Another issue is dealing with the academic dimension, but that side is not my field. There are expert musicologists who have written articles and books on the subject, I recommend you to read and follow them. I’m just sharing my experience and knowledge with you.
If we come to today’s application areas; Many musicians around the world (especially those of Middle Eastern, Spanish and Indian origin) include makam music in their music. For example; Such as Dhafer Youssef, Ibrahim Maalouf, Anouska Shankar, Aziza Mustafa Zadeh, Avishai Cohen, Paco de Lucia, Vicente Amigo, Renaud Garcia-Fons. Apart from these artists, we know that makam melodies are occasionally included in works composed for TV series, movies, jingles and musicals. I hope the use of this music genre will increase day by day and reach more people and drive the bad music out of the market 🙂
Again, I would like to end this article with a few examples from my own experiences. We had a flamenco group in Istanbul for 5-6 years. I was accompanying with my oud. My brother started playing flamenco guitar when I was 9-10 years old. After getting familiar with this music for years thanks to my brother, it became much easier to perform. I saw and understood that each flamenco mode or “makam” has a characteristic structure just like in Turkish makam music. When I went to Spain and performed flamenco upon invitation, I gained the appreciation of the master guitarists, musicians and instructors there. These people were astounded at how fluently and naturally I accompanied flamenco pieces. But for me, flamenco and Turkish music are very similar to each other. It is enough to feel and give yourself to the music.
In another example, I would like to share with you a memory from the concerts we held with my friend, Romanian singer and composer Manooka, whom I was introduced after I moved to London. Almost all of the works were from Romanian and especially Transylvanian culture. While I was studying those pieces, I realized that these pieces were in makams like Suzinak, Hicazkar and Şehnaz, which I learned during my Turkish music education and practiced many times afterwards. I noticed that they are the same authorities, only minor implementation changes by region. This allowed me to perform those works more comfortably and to do my improvisations more appropriately.
The intervals used in makam music are sounds that sound naturally in nature and are actually simpler to vocalize and hear. In this way, millions of people around the world can easily listen to these music and accompany them easily. They can also find something of themselves even if they don’t understand their words. Let me give you a small example; At the Ottoman music workshop I held in Madrid, I was asked to give an example of an oral work. I also sang the work of Selahattin Pınar, whom I call my composer, called “How did I love that cruel woman” in Kürdilihicazkar mode without any explanation. By the time I finished, more than half the room was crying. More than half of the people who listened to me there that day were people who had never listened to Turkish music in their lives. This event once again showed me how important it is to express emotions through music. I have once again seen that the language we speak, the belief, the geography you are in do not matter, and that the universal power of music is more effective than these.
We wish you to feel the music, express your own feelings and find works that express yourself,
Stay with the music