Transglobal Sounds
Transglobal Sounds

João Sardinha

João Sardinha is a researcher at IGOT (Institute of Geography and Spatial Planning), Center for Geographical Studies, University of Lisbon, Portugal. Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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and Ricardo Campos

Ricardo Campos is a researcher at CICS-Nova (Interdisciplinary Centre of Social Sciences), Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, New University of Lisbon, Portugal. Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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Bloomsbury Academic, 2016


Content Type:

Scholarly Books

Music Genres:

Arabesk, Folk Music




Germany, Turkey

Related Content

Drawing a homeland on the staff: Music of Turkey in Berlin

DOI: 10.5040/9781501311994.ch-010
Page Range: 201–220


This article focuses on the music production and consumption of second- and third-generation migrants from Turkey in Berlin, Germany, and how their relationship with music has shaped and continues to contribute to the construction of an imaginary homeland. The study sets out to conceptualize music as a memory mechanism, unfolding further into questions of how cultural memory is both prompted and conserved through musical practice, how listening to music from the homeland is part of the creation and re-creation of cultural memory and identity over time and lifespan and, lastly, how musical forms migrate and often become hybridized.

Besides having the largest population of Turkish immigrants of any city in Europe, Berlin has also witnessed some of the most important socio-political events to take place in Germany in the last century, namely: the dividing of the country and the city of Berlin by the Berlin Wall followed by reunification decades later; the evolution of several subculture movements, such as punk and hip-hop and other non-mainstream, alternative groups; and thirdly, having become home to people from many different nations, making it one of the most multicultural German cities. All these factors, to one degree or another, have had an impact on the integration experiences of Turkish community members in the city. Keeping this in mind, in this article I will focus on the main music spaces of cultural memory preservation and manifestation, centring attentions on the consequences and impacts of music and memory interactions within the Turkish community with specific focus on its young people. The places of music I will concentrate on are music schools, türkü bars and the home environment, paying particular attention to new media technologies as utilized within the household. In focusing on places of music, I set out to provide a comprehensive picture of ethnic music contacts and attempts at preservation from the perspective of the descendants of Turkish migrants, focusing on how contacts and preservation attempts impact identity and integration.

Fieldwork carried out between 2010 and 2012 constitutes the main source of data for this study.[1] The qualitative component of this work consists of semi-structured, one-to-one in-depth interviews in addition to spontaneous, casual conversations carried out with informants. Moreover, the research further benefited from participant observation and document analysis. Data collected focuses on narratives collected from twenty-seven individual interviews, nine of which were carried out with women, eighteen with men. In characterizing the interviewees, seven were music teachers, three were students in music schools, three were parents of music students and fourteen were individuals with no professional or amateur relationship to music-making, but possessing some sort of relationship with Turkish music, be that relationship one of fandom or a simple listener. The interviewees were aged between nine and fifty-five. The interviews took place in music schools, türkü bars, cafes, music studios and at participants’ houses. Turkish was the main language used in the interviews with English also used whenever the interviewee was not fluent in Turkish. My main method for meeting interviewees was one of snowball sampling.

My study thus constitutes data focusing on the second and third generation’s musicking, aided by secondary data centring on socio-cultural activities as applied to the lives of these individuals. Although my main target group were the children and grandchildren of those who emigrated from Turkey to Berlin, I particularly highlight the importance of the parents of some of these offspring, as key informants. Lastly, I emphasize that my use of the term ‘Turkish community’ covers all peoples who are Turkish born as well as those who share Turkish ancestry, being fully aware that there are sub-communities within this more generalized definition.

How memory, music and Turkish migrants meet

Memory is indisputably one of the most important elements of our personal, internal existence, given that it becomes the core of identity. Approaching the concept of memory from a sociological point of view, Olick (2008: 156) explains: ‘All individual remembering takes place with social materials within social contexts, and in response to social cues’. Music is one of the two components (the other being food) most often preserved in all diasporas (Daynes 2004: 25). It serves as a connection to the past, evoking things to which people are emotionally attached to, frequently providing a private and comforting zone for the migrant. In this study I present examples of how descendants of migrants from Turkey go about protecting their ancestral homeland music, often even attaching more importance to its authenticity than their counterparts back in Turkey. One of the reasons for this is music’s potential to be used as a medium to store one’s memories of the past. The work of Greve (2006) and Hemetek (2008) reveals how former migrant guest-workers in Europe have, for many years, preserved music from their countries of origin, becoming emotionally attached to it to the point of refusing to welcome new music from the countries they live in into their lives.

Music is also a means to transmitting a group’s cultural memories to new generations, forming new memories in the process. Private Turkish music schools in Berlin, for example, are key places where one can observe the immigrant parents’ efforts in having their children taught about their musical heritage. These teachings act as a bridge between the cultural heritage from Turkey and the younger generations. Remembering, or the transmission of remembering, provides a connection to the homeland, becoming a form of knowledge for the immigrant, one they frequently wish to pass down to future generations in order to keep ancestral culture alive within the family setting.

With this study, I examine how the older members of the migrant communities feel the need to generate this kind of cultural conservation or transmission, following what Dijck (2006: 364) refers to as the ‘intergenerational transfer of personal and collective heritage’ that forms musical memories. Ties to ethnic memory and cultural components or artefacts are often stronger in migrant communities due to one being removed from one’s own ethno-cultural environment in the homeland, and the grief that is often produced by that separation. The phenomenon of a community’s shared experience of grief over events of its past, for example, can be observed in catastrophic events like the Holocaust, terrorism, war and natural disasters (Tota 2004; Sturken 1997). Eyerman (2004: 161) states that the formation of a collective identity in direct relation to collective memory can be grounded in situations of loss, crisis and triumph. It is important to emphasize that not all migrant communities go through similar experiences; however, in the case of Turks in Germany, we are referring to individuals who left their homeland behind, perhaps not involuntarily, but often half-heartedly, frequently settling in places where they encountered unpleasant conditions and hostility.

Turks in Germany

Turkey and Germany have had solid relations since the nineteenth century, not only through historical events such as the First and Second World Wars, but through economic, social and cultural connections as well. In relation to the ties between the two countries, it is particularly important to highlight the guest worker agreements and the Turks who arrived in Germany as part of the programme.[2] After World War II the West German economy developed rapidly and labour was in short supply. To address the need for workers, the government signed bilateral agreements with Italy, Greece, Turkey, Morocco, Portugal, Tunisia and Yugoslavia for the recruitment of workers. Turkey signed its agreement in 1961. Soon after doing so, the majority of migrant workers coming to Germany were Turkish citizens, mostly men. According to the agreement, the ‘guest’ status of the workers would be valid for a short period of two years. Later it was extended due to demand from both the Turkish and German sides. Under the Guest Worker Programme, almost four million people chose to work and reside in different cities around West Germany, the majority of them Turks.

For the Turkish guest workers, the common trend was to save money that would then get invested upon returning to Turkey. They made sacrifices, from having a poor and unbalanced diet to living a socially inactive life, all in the name of accumulating as much wealth as possible. They longed for their homes and lived their lives isolated from German society. Most were only able to see their extended families and loved ones once a year, during their annual holidays. Until 1964, when Westdeutscher Rundfunk (West German Broadcasting) Cologne started broadcasting in Turkish under the name Köln Radyosu, they had no news from home other than via the limited communication maintained with their families in Turkey (AA News Agency 2001).

With unemployment in Turkey and with Germany’s image as a ‘land of opportunity’, emigration became increasingly appealing. As Turkish immigrant numbers in Germany grew, it became more difficult to find a job through legal means, so people started migrating as tourists, working without a work permit and settling down illegally (Abadan-Unat 1976: 8). Most of the Turkish women who had migrated to Germany as part of the family reunification plan never entered the public sphere; they formed a community of their own and neither needed nor endeavoured to learn the language of the country to which they had migrated to. Men, although in the public sphere, experienced a similar situation to that of the women, creating small groups of their own in the factories where they worked and in the neighbourhoods where they lived (Eryılmaz 2002). They too were, and to this day still are, criticized for not learning German. This has always been seen as the major barrier towards integration, but to them integration was not an issue of concern. As Tan and Waldhoff (1996: 143) note: ‘Since migration had been envisaged for an interim period only, the main aim was to use the time to work and to save enough money […]’. Learning German was thus seen as unnecessary.

With the Arab oil crisis in 1973, the recruitment process ended and some of the migrants left Germany. The majority of the Turkish workers, however, stayed and, as a result, family reunification increased. This was then preceded by a large increase in the Turkish migrant birth rate. All these factors combined lead to the exponential growth of the Turkish migrant community in Germany in the decades to come (White 1995).

Turkish music in Germany

Alongside the resistance to shifts in the lives and daily practices of Turkish immigrants, came the efforts to preserve cultural expressions, among them music forms. The first example of music production by Turks in Germany were the gurbetçi türküs (guest worker songs). These songs were in the folk music style with lyrics often about immigration issues. Anatolian folk music,[3] however, was the main genre of music played and listened to by the first Turkish migrant labourers. The workers were mostly living in big dormitories and it was here where this music would be re-created and consumed by them. Many did not have radios or any other means of listening to Turkish music, so singing and playing became a common activity. Those who had their bağlamas (the most popular and widely played long-necked lute in Turkey) would play them, often joined in by the singing of türküs (Greve 2006: 37). In its simplest form, the word türkü means folk poetry performed to a melody. Expanding on this, Jansky (1977: 57–8, as cited in Kaya 2009) describes türkü as:

One of the oldest types of Turkish folk poetry that gives voice to the pleasure and affliction of the masses in great historical events; their regard and hatred for major individuals; pathetic love stories of youths in verses that captured hearts and measured with national syllable meter and by literary and melodically essential compositions. In a narrow sense, they are qualified as a historical document.

It can be argued that this form of shared musical experience can be more profound in terms of bonding for immigrants than other forms of music consumption. The lyrics of the türküs mostly concerned homesickness. They were telling their stories, starting with their migration experiences, and singing about their daily lives through songs. As Öztürk (2001) suggests, looking at the gurbetçi türküs gives us a more intimate view of the guest workers’ experience and presenting these in a musical form permits the transmission of migrant stories to later generations. From an ethnomusicological perspective, we can say that the musical form of türkü was used in Germany the same way it was used in Turkey.

The second genre that was embraced by migrants from Turkey was that of arabesk,[4] especially from the 1980s onward. The songs had similar lyrics to the gurbetçi türküs: longing for home, being humiliated by the elites and not being able to adapt to the city life, were among the common topics. Stokes (1992: 142) explains that the context of arabesk song texts focuses on ‘… dense cluster of themes connected with the arabesk drama: gurbet (living alone as a stranger or foreigner, particularly as a worker), yalnızlık (loneliness), hicran, hüsran and özlem (sadness and yearning), gözyaşları (tears), sarhoşluk (drunkenness), zülm (oppression) and finally kader (fate)’. The highly welcoming attitude of the migrants in Germany towards arabesk music would thus lead to it becoming the most popular genre among the Turkish community. Like folk music, arabesk music had a wide audience. In the case of migrant children, whose parents were often filled with feelings of homesickness, growing up in the midst of these feelings and with arabesk playing in their homes, many would acquire similar senses of nostalgia and a love for the music, something that would get passed down from one generation to the next.[5]

Places of music

Berlin is home to a dense Turkish-speaking population and the community has gradually integrated, helping to create increased diversity in the various places where Turks reside and carry out activities throughout the city. In this section, I will present examples of places where music consumption and production takes place and the impact on the descendants of Turkish migrants.

Music schools

While figures are unknown, given that most are often licensed as ‘cultural associations’, there are many music schools in Berlin where people can learn the music genres and styles hailing from Turkey. According to the information shared by my participants, while the number of private tutors seems to have decreased in recent years, many schools still consider Turkish music to be of utmost importance. These schools have students from a wide age range, from children to adults, and the majority exclusively teach Turkish folk music styles and genres.

During my visits to several Turkish music schools, it quickly came to my attention that bağlama is accepted as the traditional musical instrument of Turkey. Almost all the schools have bağlama classes, and most of the lessons and tutoring, if not dedicated to singing lessons, are dedicated to the teaching of this instrument. This was a critical discovery at the beginning of my research since the bağlama was a traditional instrument from Turkey that originally had no place in Western popular music in the classical sense. It is important to note that, as stated by music teachers commenting on the children who take bağlama lessons, in nearly every case this instrument was chosen by the parents, not the child. The music teachers argue that the reason for this is that the parents take great strides in keeping their cultural heritage alive, trying to ensure that their children learn about the culture from which they come, and of which the bağlama is symbolic. Some parents may even be a little too passionate about this cultural symbol. As Baran,[6] a Kurdish guitar teacher and music practitioner from Turkey recounts in relation to one of his students:

He was eleven years old and he had a great talent for music. I remember seeing him before at the music school where I work. He was taking bağlama lessons. He was very shy and nervous during my classes. Sometime later, his mom told me that they had recently separated from the boy’s father. His father had wanted him to play the bağlama and he used to tell him that if he touched the bağlama, angels would be with him, but if he touched a Western instrument (like a guitar or a piano) he would go to the devil’s side. I then understood why the boy was so nervous with the instrument, even though he was so good at it.

Here we see how far a parent is willing to go to convince his child to do what he believes is right. In conjunction with this, the father also passes on his values, woven with the Turkish and Muslim identity values in which he was raised in Turkey, to his son who is being raised in Germany. This vignette also shows how music can be associated with cultural factors, belief systems and desires, sometimes in unexpected ways. The father’s wish, to keep his son away from a Western instrument, originates from several motives and leaves a serious impression on the child.

The music genre taught in schools during the bağlama lessons is traditional folk music from Turkey. According to music teachers and parents, the provision of such lessons offers a bonding mechanism where, through a specific social activity (bağlama instruction), children can learn about their culture while being with other people of their ilk rather than spending time out on the streets getting into trouble and being potentially open to drugs and violence. The idea of music lessons to keep the children away from bad habits is a theme often referenced by my informants; for that reason, it is a key point when looking at a migrant community’s relationship with music and the passing it on to future generations.

At this point, I asked Baran about the interest of the children in this music:

Most of them come here because their families force them. Maybe ‘force’ is not the right word, but the families think that the children should learn to play an instrument […]. They think that it is good for their children to have a hobby, to be involved with something like sports or music, rather than staying at home. And if they choose music, they think the kid should learn to play bağlama since it is our own culture. … the kids don’t want to play at first; they find it difficult. Another thing is, you know children don’t like to stand out. When they go to school and play the bağlama … their classmates are mostly German. Bağlama doesn’t mean anything to them. This can discourage them. But sometimes their teachers at school show an interest in bağlama, so they become more enthusiastic about it.

According to Baran’s observation, parents send their children to bağlama schools with mixed intentions. On the one hand, they want their children to be out in public instead of staying at home or wandering the streets. But they want to control this public space, wanting their children to be in a familiar setting, a setting that they can relate to and in which they have confidence. This is their way of protecting their children. In terms of intention, this kind of protective behaviour is no different from that of other parents who are not migrants. However, here the context of protection is interwoven with the values acquired from the migration experience.

In addition to children’s ambivalent feelings towards the bağlama, the higher-level music education system in Germany neither encourages nor supports anyone wishing to make a career out of playing a Turkish musical instrument. Zeynep is a pedagogue who works with underprivileged immigrant women and their children. Her husband is a professional bağlama player and they run a Turkish music school. Zeynep spends most of her time at the school when she is not working. She complains:

One of the issues I consider problematic about music education here is that there are no departments for our instruments at the conservatory. So, if you want to have a degree here in your field of music, you cannot … at the entrance exam you need to be able to play at least one instrument … but our instruments are not accepted. My husband has trained great musicians in this school for twenty years now, but they have no future here. There are no professors in German conservatoires to represent us … I have been fighting to introduce bağlama to UDK (Universitat der Kunste or University of the Arts) for years, but they ignore us.

From this perspective, we can argue that instruments and different forms of music from Turkey are condemned to stay a part of immigrants’ nostalgia if they cannot offer a musical socialization like the other instruments and forms of music in Germany. This is the policy of the official musical institutions which creates disappointment and a feeling of ‘ill-belonging’ among migrants.

Taylan and Leyla are two siblings who have been mostly brought up in Germany. Taylan is the younger brother and his sister Leyla describes her brother as ‘more German’ than herself. Leyla has a better knowledge of Turkish music; she works as a DJ and plays at parties attended by mostly Turkish-speaking party-goers. During my interview with the siblings, they also expressed their feelings in relation to bağlama lessons:

Taylan: Bağlama is not modern enough for a kid. Today I am almost forty years old and mature enough to enjoy bağlama, but when I was young you wouldn’t see me anywhere near a bağlama’.
Leyla: ‘If kids want to learn to play the guitar, bağlama would be too old-school for them. They want to play rock music, not türkü. Today there are very popular rock bands in Turkey, like Manga, Duman, Athena, and they all come here to play concerts. So the children think that bağlama is not the only instrument of Turkey, that they can also play Turkish music with guitar, drums, bass guitar, and they want to play these. They want to have the opportunity to go beyond traditional music. But families put pressure on their children that they should learn the bağlama’.

Taylan and Leyla are in their mid- and late-thirties respectively, and draw a different picture of music consumption contrary to what is perceived by the older generations. On the one hand, they emphasize that they have been brought up listening to Turkish music, and that they are familiar with different genres. On the other, they have developed a different interest in music in connection to the immigrant group to which they can relate. They partly attribute their different attitude to their mother, who migrated to Germany on her own thinking that she would have a more liberal life in Germany after her divorce in Turkey. Taylan and Leyla are thus examples of younger people with non-traditional ideas. People like these two siblings play an important role in the transformation of values.

In the case of music schools, we see that music is used both as a pedagogic and a communal tool, as well as a method for channelling energies away from civil transgression. In March 2010, Mehmet, a social pedagogue and music teacher, organized a concert of performances by some twenty teenagers from Turkish immigrant families, aged between fourteen and seventeen, who had previously committed petty crimes. They had been taking music lessons in Turkish music schools as part of their rehabilitation. Their performance formed part of this therapy, demonstrating musical skills through a range of songs chosen from different genres: Turkish pop-arabesk music, hip-hop and the hybrid form RnBesk (essentially, rapping over traditional arabesk riffs). Having been present at this event, I observed that the audience mostly consisted of the families and friends of the performers and other teenagers who were also in rehabilitation or had been in the past. These young people were third-generation immigrants and more comfortable speaking in German than in Turkish. They were mostly using a hybrid language of their own, which was predominantly German with Turkish words and expressions. The music repertoire mainly consisted of current popular Turkish songs, arabesk music from the 80s, along with a few German rap songs sang over well-known Turkish songs. When I asked people in the audience how they knew about the current songs, they told me that they heard them on the television and radio all the time. The youth on the stage and in the audience were mostly listening to popular songs, but they still danced the traditional folk dances of Turkey to the music they heard. When asked about the dances, concert attendees pointed out how they were drawn from düğüns (Turkish wedding parties) and special dancing events held by Turkish associations called ‘halay nights’ (halay being a style of folkloric dance in Turkey) where one can learn, practice, and perform folkloric dances from Anatolia. Intriguingly, some of these dances are no longer danced in Turkey, only in the diaspora where they are no longer danced to accompanied by the original music.

I found this issue of dance very striking as dance is a significant part of the musical experience and an important aspect of the cultural tradition. I posed questions on this issue to Kemal, one of the musicians playing in the orchestra at this private concert. He pointed out that,

Yes, the young people here listen to arabesk music from the 80s and dance halay, but they want us to put hip-hop rhythms to traditional Anatolian songs. That is what they like, that is what they are stirred up by today.

From this example, we see that there are separate social worlds for the young generation: home and the outside world. They express themselves with a hybrid musical language (or body language, when it comes to dancing). When I had the chance to talk to Mehmet before the event, he told me the following about the preferences of these teenagers:

We don’t limit them to specific genres, but most of them are fans of arabesk music. I think it is a bit weird that a young person who is brought up in Germany is so into this music. Some of them listen to arabesk from the 70s and 80s, songs that have been forgotten in Turkey. Arabesk today is modernized in Turkey. But these kids like the old-school, depressing songs. They hear them in their homes of course. In my opinion, it would be better for them if they listened to the songs their peers here in Germany like. It would make it easier for them to adapt to life here. Hip hop is an exception in this case. They like its rhythm and they relax by releasing a lot of energy when they rap.

Asil, one of the musicians at the concert, who also works as a music teacher, explained the tastes of the young people attending this event as follows:

RnBesk takes the most popular features of both genres, arabesk and pop, and combines them, so it is very understandable that young people love it so much. They love hip hop because it is the best music for them to let off steam … You should see the weddings here. They get carried away with halay because it gives them the chance to dance to something that is from Turkey. Actually, rhythm is more important than music to young people. I am also a wedding musician. We use hip hop rhythms with traditional folk music so that young people can dance.

These third-generation youth, therefore, enjoy a hybrid music that carries the traces of their families’ legacy, as well as current musical trends similar to their German peers.

Türkü bars

Third-generation immigrants from Turkey have been constructing collective identities in connection to their homeland and traditions of the homeland through music consumption and music making. Berlin has a rich musical scene and türkü bars are inevitably a part of it.

Türkü bars are places where different forms of traditional music from Turkey are performed on a regular basis. They are musical spaces that used to be common in cities where there are dense Turkish migrant populations. Today, there are a considerable number of these bars in Berlin (I have been told by my informants that there used to be more of them in the recent past, but some were shut down), perceive as locations that create a medium that permits feelings of nostalgia to be preserved through music. For most of the migrants going to these venues, sharing the emotions being spoken about in the traditional songs with people of the same national identity satisfies their need to feel they belong to their native ‘homeland’. Türkü bars in Berlin have usually attracted second-generation immigrants who were introduced to Turkish music at home by their families, as well as those who moved to Berlin in their adult years, meaning that they were already familiar with the music.

Türkü bars started to become popular in the mid-1990s in such Turkish cities as Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara. They often became the meeting point of people who migrated to the big city, especially if the place was known for playing live music from a specific region. The owners of türkü bars in Istanbul are mostly from eastern and south-eastern regions. It is often possible to see indications of where the owner is from, in fact, from the traditional interior design of these bars. Objects that reflect the region’s culture are frequently a part of the decoration. Furthermore, the waiters and most of the performers working in these bars are often from the same region as the owners as well.

In order to elaborate on the subject of türkü bars in Berlin, I compare findings from a previous study conducted in Istanbul by a research team that I was a member of with my finding gathered in Berlin.[7] The styles of decoration are quite similar in both cities, this along with the fact that, in both cases, the bar’s clientele are most often composed of migrants – internal in Istanbul, external in Berlin. As my interviewee Koray, who had moved from Istanbul to Berlin in 2008 to study, stated:

The first time I went to a türkü bar was in Berlin. My friends from the neighbourhood invited me and I went with them. I really liked the atmosphere because it felt like I was in Turkey. Even though it’s not very often, when I feel homesick, I go to a türkü bar.

The difference with türkü bars in Berlin, in comparison with Istanbul, is that there is regional and, therefore, linguistic diversity in the people and the türküs performed. There are songs in Turkish, Kurdish, Laz and other languages within the same performance. This is rare in Istanbul’s türkü bars, where the songs are mostly chosen from a certain region, reflecting the background of the owner and staff, and determining the profile of their clientele. Another interviewee, Okan, mentions this diversity in Berlin türkü bars:

I like going to the türkü bars and listening to the songs and singing them. They play different songs from different regions, but to me it is all my country’s music, it doesn’t matter which region it comes from. I learn different türküs here from those I have learned from my parents at home.

Thus, while the türkü repertoires in Istanbul bars determine their regular customers according to their regional homeland in Turkey, the bars in Berlin attract Turks in general by playing music from Turkey as a whole. Thus, the scale has moved from regional to national. Okan’s younger sister Sibel adds to her brother’s comments: ‘We go there with our friends and we sing and dance. Our parents don’t worry about us when we’re there because we’re with our people’. Türkü bars are identified as ‘safe’ spaces in an ‘unsafe’ environment, something that can equally be observed in relation to music schools, as previously discussed. This understanding of a safe/unsafe dichotomy correlates with similar homeland/hostland or us/them dichotomies in the way that safe is being among ‘our own’, while unsafe is being with host country elements. Once again, this is another form through which memory and culture are transmitted to the next generations.

Moreover, I also witnessed folkloric dancing taking place in türkü bars. The young people here were perfectly capable of dancing complicated Turkish folk dances, just as their peers at the previously discussed youth concert could dance the traditional halay. According to Zeynep, who I first met at a concert in a türkü bar, some folkloric dances that have been forgotten in Turkey are still danced in Germany without any change: ‘The young generation in Turkey are not interested in these dances because they don’t feel the need to preserve their traditions, but we do’. Other interviewees later explained to me that young people learned to dance these dances mostly at wedding parties and other festive gatherings where intergenerational contact is the norm.

We thus see that türkü bars act as spaces where migrants go to listen to music from their ‘homeland’, be it to be with ‘their people’, to feel safe or to simply enjoy themselves by dancing folkloric dances. Whether these bars will continue to be around in the future is a question worthy of further scrutiny and one worthy of accompaniment with future generations.

It is also key to point out that places of Turkish music are not limited to Turkish music schools or türkü bars. As mentioned, wedding parties (düğün) and other festive moments play a significant role in the transmission of music, dances and other traditions to younger generations. Concerts have equally been among the most important musical activities for young people, perceived as an opportunity for young Turks to ensconce themselves in a key Turkish cultural component. For the descendants of migrants especially, going to concerts is about more than just music consumption. My interviewees explained that going to a concert is like having your distant homeland come to you. Some went as far as saying that it often felt like they were being ‘disloyal’ if they did not go to concerts.

The home environment and new media technologies

According to Castells (2010), despite the influences of information technologies on society and their effects on the changing forms of cities, physical places will continue to play important roles in people’s everyday lives. The author advances that home villages, towns and cities will always have significant meanings for people and will never be replaced by non-places. Places are what grounds collective identifications. Once away from a certain place, a person will more likely than not, be tied to that space via memory, ancestry, culture, among other variables. Information technologies, therefore, do not help to break ties with physical places, on the contrary; the availability of technologies facilitates closeness to one’s homeland when far away from it. In migrant diasporas, they bring ethnicity and culture closer to those who are distant, thus assisting in keeping memory and ancestry alive.

Music consumption is a good subject of analysis when it comes to tying technologies, homeland and any thought of a generational breaking point in today’s world. All around the world, numerous television channels dedicated to music have been established to cater to differing audience tastes. In addition, the Internet has come to allow us to watch popular television programmes online or listen to audio streams from radio stations whenever and wherever one wishes. In the case of Turks in Germany, with the surgence of Turkish media and with the popularization of satellite television in the 1990s, this followed by the Internet more or less a decade later, Turkish music now has never before seen platforms that serve to quench the musical thirsts of diaspora community members. The prolific entrance into people’s daily lives helps to form smaller and more specific Turkish-speaking communities in terms of musical tastes. Unlike the first generation, who mostly enjoyed folk music from Turkey, the offspring have come to demonstrate greater diversity in their choices of musical genres, from arabesk to rap to rock, mixing in music sang in English in addition to German. This was an expected development, similar and parallel to the music scene in Turkey. With the media boom in Turkey, coming in the form of private radio stations and music television channels like Kral TV and Number One, and with the addition of European and American television channels such as MTV, MCM and VH1, people were introduced to a variety of music styles that lead to the development of different music tastes, leading to Western music becoming more influential in Turkish music production as well. As this happened, the Turkish music audiences in Germany went through similar experiences. After thirty years of limited access to music, from the 1990s onward, Turks in Germany started having access to the same broadcasts their relatives had back in Turkey via satellite. This made a drastic difference in the diversity of music they could access.

Furthermore, this new diversity was now in the hands of the descendants of Turkish migrants. As Sardinha (2014; see Chapter 8 of this volume) points out with the case of Portuguese immigrants in Canada, the information ‘gatekeeper’ role, once possessed by elder family members, shifts to the younger generations with the introduction of modern technologies and other media tools. This is owed to the fact that young generations acquire knowledge over modern technologies at a faster rate, while older generations will stay passive to newness. Younger generations, therefore, now have greater access to what is happening in Turkey, music-wise, while their parents either stay unaware or simply are not interested in musical newness. This is a pattern observed in the Turkish migrant community where youngsters now know what is being listened to in Turkey as it happens, thus acquiring knowledge over a modern Turkey, this while their parents stay blind to it all.

When comparing first-generation immigrant lives to the collected narratives and life pattern observations of the second and third generations, I am able to see that the timing of my study coincides with an important era in which we find a generational breaking point. Looking at my older respondents’ comments – those who have teenage offspring of their own or even older sons and daughters beyond their teenage years – it is possible to observe how musical practices are among the most important shared activities within families and the Turkish community. Most younger second- and third-generation migrants expressed similar musical knowledge and tastes acquired via modern technological means, as for their parents, it’s the memories around music-oriented activities that musically tie them to Turkey. An inter-generational commonality, however, lies in the fact that these diasporics value music very deeply and attribute larger meanings to songs compared to their peers in Turkey. Migrants and their offspring make great efforts to try to protect everything that is related to Turkey, aiming to maintain the perceived authenticity of their music.

Concerning a generational musical breaking point, according to most of my interviewees and observations, the younger second- and third-generations’ diverging musical interests, moving in a different direction from the elder members of their families, have come to be a point of inter-generational conflict. The disagreement here arises from the attitude of the elder generations, expecting their children and grandchildren to have a similar kind of admiration for the music they themselves value and enjoy. In a way, they perceive this as a kind of loyalty and when they observe this lack of loyalty in the offspring, the offspring get perceived as a ‘lost generation’, not because of their distancing from Turkish music, but because of their distancing from traditions of Turkey, musical or otherwise. I therefore see this generational breaking point as a mutual experience: it is not only the young people opening a gap between themselves and the older generation migrants with their changing musical tastes, but, as well, parents contributing to creating this gap with their expectancy of traditional, cultural continuity, which mostly results from the fear of seeing the family become alienated from the familiar culture and traditions of their own past and their own memories.


On the personal and community level, music has been an element that frequently serves to set the boundaries of migrants’ spaces. According to Stokes (1997: 3): ‘The “places” constructed through music involve notions of difference and social boundary’. At a personal level, we have seen through many of my participants that people use music as an enclave in which to take shelter from the difficulties of the outer world, providing them what emotional support they may need, often acting as a self-caring mechanism. Besides constructing differences and boundaries, as Stokes suggests, migrants and their descendants use music to present and express their social attitudes. Music from Turkey is not just music to these individuals; it also acts as a means of keeping memories alive, a nostalgic agent, an emotional shelter and a narrator of identity. As Ayda, a native of Istanbul who migrated to Germany to study for her master’s degree, made it known:

I had two roommates; they were both German-Turks. We were the same age, and going to the same school studying law … But they were listening to pop music from the nineties like Of Aman Nalan, a style that has long disappeared in Turkey. I guess these songs have always been valuable for them in a way we don’t understand … That’s why they keep listening to the songs that are forgotten in Turkey.

We can thus see that, for immigrant descendants, be it new music or old music, often perceived as ‘old-fashion’ or ‘forgotten’ by people in Turkey, in the diasporic setting both are perceived to be equally important to one’s ethnic identification. Through the outcome of being in a cultural cluster transcending time and space, where memory is transmitted between generations, through public and private musical activities and manifestations, we see how the Turkish immigrant descendants continue tied to the past and past generations through music. In parallel to this, we also observe this generation’s own search for identity (often taking on hyphenated contours) through new musical discoveries aided by new technologies.

At a community level, the history of musical presence and the investments of having it preserved, right from the onset of Turkish migration to Germany, stands as episodes and resources that greatly contribute to preserving and transmitting cultural memory. Düğüns and bağlama courses have provided a space parents consider safe for their children, in which they can meet like-minded people from Turkey or with a connection to Turkey, but not Germans. As well, people would go to türkü bars to feel relief from homesickness. My respondents expressed the feeling of ‘being at home’ there, showing how these musical settings change their sense of place. At the same time, younger generations in their homes try to be in touch with the present and the future by listening to the same music as their peers in Turkey. These three settings are expression of the place in which the young want to exist.

In these differing examples we see how music provides spaces or places where one can go in various directions. These created places directly affect the cultural memories formed or constructed. The experience of being a migrant has an organic relation with places in connection to the contexts of homelands and hostlands. From my interviews, we learned that most immigrant memories are directly related to these places. People give music even more importance and meaning because of its relation with place. The older generations in particular use music to imagine themselves in the place(s) they loved. Along with that, while shared experiences of musicking has helped to provide a cultural memory for this community, at the same time, musical newness brought into the community by descendant generations is determining how cultural memories are being re-shaped. Changing musical tastes and musicking activities reduces shared music listening rituals between generations, which, in turn, has an impact on the cultural memory created and transmitted by generations. The Turkish diaspora in Germany presents a good example of how memories, and the way they are formed, are ever changing and never constant.

Lastly, at the current stage, we see music consumption and production habits blended with yesterday’s musical modes of experience. We can understand this to be a result of the establishment of the Turkish diaspora in Germany over time, as well as a consequence of the changing means of accessing music with the development of the Internet and the proliferation of technology. These two facts, one of them occurring slowly and naturally in time, the other more rapidly and in an artificially constructed manner, define the breaking points within generations in terms of music consumption habits and the migrants’ ever-changing music scene.


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[1] This data was collected for my PhD thesis entitled Music and Cultural Memory: A Case Study with the Diaspora from Turkey in Berlin carried out at the University of Exeter, UK.

[2] I point out that at the time of the Guest Worker Programme, other Turks entered Germany without being a part of this programme, with some coming to pursue their education or livelihoods in the arts and sciences, for example.

[3] Anatolian folk music originates in the different regions of Asia Minor.

[4] Arabesk is a hybrid genre of Turkish and Arabic music.

[5] A third genre considered very important for the German-Turk youth is hip-hop. For studies on Turkish hip-hop in Germany, see Kaya 1997; Solomon 2005, 2009; among others.

[6] All participants interviewed have been given pseudonyms in order to preserve their privacy as agreed on before the interviews.

[7] The project, jointly coordinated by the Istanbul Technical University and Kocaeli University in Turkey, was entitled Türkü bars in Istanbul as social and musical identity spheres, 2007–8.