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Orhan Gencebay

Orhan Gencebay is a Turkish musician born in Samsun in 1944 and was originally known as Orhan Kencebay. Orhan could be referred to as a jack of all as far as music is concerned this is so because today he is a composer, arranger, singer, actor, director and producer of songs and movies which is a true reflection of his perfection in the art. He is said to be the founder of Arabesque music genre and thus we cannot talk of this genre without mentioning his name. Arabesque as referred by the Turkish musicologists is a Turkish music genre that was very popular in the 1960s-1990s periods.

Orhan’s contributions and the role he played in making Arabesque what it is cannot be by any means be underscored and it is for this reason that this paper will specifically focus on his life and the contributions he has made towards arabesque music genre. It could be said that Orhan was born as a musician because as early as when he was six years old he had already started showing some interest in music and would enthusiastically learn how to play violin, mandolin among other Turkish musical instruments.

By the time he was ten years old, he had already composed his first song and his interest in music never waned as when he joined high school he would perform both Turkish folk music and other classical songs not forgetting to mention that he would teach others his own type of music course and would even organize community music centers particularly in his home village, Samsun and in Istanbul (Bozdogan. and Kasaba 212).

Later as he progressed, his interest in the type of music he adored changed a bit when he started to shift his interest from classical and traditional Turkish music and leant more towards rock and jazz music and especially when he joined the Turkish Conservatory in the 1960s. This is perhaps what made him whom he is in the music industry and in Arabesque to be particular. Arabesque as a music genre has been very popular in Turkey and especially to the squatters who lived in the suburbs of the big cities and those who worked in the informal sectors of the economy since a self taught musician Orhan Gencebay made his first release.

Originally the term Arabesque was vaguely used by musicians to refer to the new cultures that were introduced in the 1930s by music composers such as Kaynak and Sayin who were said to have been exposed to the Egyptian film industries but as from 1969 the term came to firmly refer to the popular music of the time with the coming of musicians such as Orhan Gencebay and Ahmet Sezgin (Bozdogan 213)

This popular culture came to be after Orhan released his first single, ‘Bir Teselli Ver’ in the late 1960s although he later contradicted this fact by denying having any association with Arabesque. “Orhan Gencebay’s 45rpm single Bir Teselli Ver was released in 1968, achieving mass sales by the standard of the time, and is conventionally thought of as the first Arabesque recording…” (Wilson and Donnan 270).

This Arabesque genre comprised of mixed elements such as folk, Turkish art, some Arab music styles and also some Western Rock and continued to dominate in the music industry all the way up to the 1970s. Though Arabesque as a music genre was a hybrid in its nature its form, patterns, content, production and social significance has since then seemed to change starting from mid 1960s, the genre has reflected much of the day’s politics such as Turkish capitalism and national development politics as well as the 1980s transnational market orientation politics.

(Wilson and Donnan 270) Just like it is the case with other musicians, Orhan Gencebay is not an exception as his work is as a result of the influence he got from other musicians in the Turkish folk music and from the official media and this is something that is attested by his 1966’s popular song ‘No Raft in the Ocean to Hold Onto’ which integrated various classical and folk instruments with strings from the western regions (Bozdogan 213).

Various studies that have been done about arabesque have failed to recognize the connection between the genre’s emergence and the Turkish cultural renaissance that continued up to the 1970s. This renaissance in culture was a product of constant struggles towards the strengthening of democratic principles and human rights. One good thing about this renaissance is that it gave this genre a new impetus and appreciation and with the introduction of a long- necked lute or ‘baglama’ that gave it its new identity.

“Folk elements began to be blended into rock music, culminating in a new musical genre called Anatolian rock music…” (Bozdogan 214). The integration of folk elements into the Turkish lush Sayin style is what gave birth to Gencebay’s true identity in Arabesque. Indeed Orhan Gencebay is the founder of the Arabesque genre and it is through his efforts that this genre acquired its unique identity and we can not talk of it without talking about him. Other achievements attributed to him are the Kervan Record Company which he founded in 1972.

He has up to now directed over 39 movies, composed more than 90 movies and released more than 35 singles. He has established himself well in this industry making him one of the most prominent 20th century musicians in the Turkish music industry. Works Cited: Bozdogan, S. and Kasaba, R. Rethinking Modernity and National Identity in Turkey. University of Washington Press, 1997 Wilson, T. M. and Donnan H. Border Identities: Nation and State at International Frontiers. Cambridge University Press, 1998

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