Cem Karaca: 'Bard of Anatolian rock'
One of Turkey’s most beloved recording artists, Karaca pioneered Turkish folk music in a Western style
By Etem Geylan
Turkey commemorated singer-songwriter Cem Karaca on Friday, 15 years since the passing of the Turkish rock icon.
Born to an Armenian-Azerbaijani family on April 5, 1945, Karaca is considered one of the most prominent musicians of Anatolian rock, along with Baris Manco, Erkin Koray, and Fikret Kizilok.
Karaca started his music education at age 6 under the guidance of his mother. He first performed in a cover band called the Dynamites, followed by an Elvis Presley tribute group called the Jaguars.
His father at first wanted him to be a diplomat or doctor, but later urged him to sing the “music of the region,” meaning Anatolia and Turkey.
Shortly after getting married to Semra Ozgur, Karaca joined the army, where he became familiar with Turkish folk songs.
“I used to see it as old and primitive, but [later] I realized that the style of music revives and expresses my feelings,” Karaca told one interviewer.
After finishing his military service, the future legend started to make music with Western instruments and joined Apaslar, a band founded by Mehmet Soyarslan.
He also covered the works of Mahsuni Serif, a Turkish folk singer.
In 1967, Karaca and Apaslar entered the Golden Microphone music competition with their cover version of the song Emrah.
The group later went to Germany and recorded songs with the Freddy Klein orchestra. Recordings from that period include one of their best-known songs, Resimdeki Gozyaslari, released in 1968.
Two years later, Karaca and bassist Serhan Karabay left Apaslar to form a new group, Kardaslar. They were recording songs in Germany in March 1971 when the military forced the Turkish government to resign, one of several coups during his lifetime.
Back to Turkey
In 1972, he returned to Turkey and joined the music group Mogollar and recorded his acknowledged masterpiece, Namus Belasi.
After clashes with the band's co-leader Cahit Berkay, Karaca formed a separate band, Dervisan. Karaca and Dervisan recorded the songs Tamirci Ciragi, Kavga and Yoksulluk Kader Olamaz.
Karaca also supported Palestine resistance with a stand at the international fair in the Aegean city of Izmir. Karaca covered the songs Mutlaka Yavrum and Adilos Bebe to raise awareness of the Palestinian issue.
The singer went to Germany again in 1979, when Turkey's political unrest reached a peak. He faced legal pressure over his records and statements, and in April 1980 was unable even to attend his father’s funeral.
A few months later, on Sept. 12, 1980, military forces under the leadership of Gen. Kenan Evren overthrew the government and took power. Karaca was ordered to return home to face charges of treason.
He refused, and on Jan. 6, 1983, his citizenship was revoked.
While in Germany, Karaca voiced his longing for home in an interview, saying: “There's no cure for homesickness.”
Finally, he was given amnesty by then-Prime Minister Turgut Ozal and returned home in 1987.
Accused by some of “selling out,” he argued that his allegiance to country was greater than his dedication to any political party.
During this period, he produced solo records like 1989's Merhaba Gencler ve Her Zaman Genc Kalanlar (Hello to the Young and the Young at Heart) and Yarim Porsiyon Aydinlik.
Karaca also worked with musicians Berkay and Ugur Dikmen, producing such standouts as Islak Islak, Rap diye rap rap, Kerkuk Zindani, and Bindik Bir Alamete.
He gave his last concert in Ankara on Jan. 17, 2004, and died just a few weeks later, on Feb. 8, age 58.
Stressing his identity as Turkish and Muslim, Karacaahmet Cemetery in Istanbul was the site of the funeral of Cem Karaca, the self-described "Bard of Anatolian rock."
Reporting by Ethem Geylan:Writing by Erdogan Cagatay Zontur