With their rather parochial view of the world soundscape, New York’s music hipsters probably don’t know it, but the old Istanbul psychedelic scene was the longest lasting on earth. And the planet’s best current psych band—Replikas—was spawned in that selfsame ancient, mystical city, its skyline dotted with minarets.
Between 1967 and 1977, young Turkish musicians created a popular music that blended elements from contemporary Western rock and roll with their own Eastern musical and cultural heritage. Drawing on the rhythms of Anatolia (Asian Turkey), folk songs, and the repertoire of wandering minstrels called Ashiks, they combined traditional saz (a long-necked lute distantly related to the sitar), darbuka (an hourglass-shaped hand drum), zurna (a wooden oboe that sounds like an acoustic fuzztone), iklig (a short, vertically-held fiddle), and yayli tanbur (a long-necked classical instrument played with a bow and adapted for folk music) with standard Western electric instruments. They called their unique psychedelic hybrid Anadolu Rock—think the Middle Eastern Raga Rock of late-’60s American bands like Devil’s Anvil and Kaleidoscope.
The Turkish psych acts were not part of some small subculture; they were major stars, with numerous hits. When they toured, whole families—not just teenagers—were in attendance. Their style of music ruled for 10 years. But when left-right political strife in the mid to late 1970s resulted in a military coup, Turkey’s once vibrant rock community was destroyed, and remained moribund. Until today.
Now, two decades later, Istanbul is once again home to a small but vibrant psych scene. The scene’s leading light is Replikas—Gökçe Akçelik on guitar, saz, and lead vocals; Barkin Engin on lead guitar; Orçun Bastürk on percussion; Selçuk Artut on bass; and Erden Özer Yalçinkaya on sampler. The band initially came together in ’93 as postpunks singing in English, but by ’97 they had decided to look toward their Turkish roots and to emphasize improvisation. Among their main influences are great ’70s Kraut-rockers Can and Faust, jazz drummer Okay Temiz (particularly his album Zikir), and old Anadolu Rock musicians such as Erkin Koray, Baris Manco, Grup Bunalim, and Kurtalan Express. “They were the first to play Turkish music with guitars,” Replikas explain. “That’s what we want to do—not like English or German groups playing ‘oriental’ music, but using guitars to play like Turkish musical instruments.” Akçelik says his guitar playing is inspired not only by Syd Barrett and Erkin Koray, but also by saz players such as Neset Ertas and Ramazan Gungor.
Replikas’ sound is also informed by the two main types of Turkish Sufi music—that of the Mevlevi (whirling dervishes, a Sunni Muslim sect) and that of the Alevi (a Shia sect, but one much earthier and more life-affirming than the Shiites of Iran). Mevlevi trances are closely tied to the music of the old Ottoman court, with its roots deep in classical Arabic and Persian music (played on ud, tambur, and an end-blown flute called the ney); Alevi music stems from the ancient folk music of Central Asia and Anatolia and is played on the saz, which is considered a sacred instrument. In ritual gatherings, both the Mevlevi and the Alevi practice an ecstatic technique in which music and dance are intertwined, and participants try to achieve an altered state of consciousness.
Replikas’s first album, Köledoyuran, is a gem. In “Seyyah” and “Yol,” they augment their sound with “Arabesque” musicians (Aytac Gulsun ve Grubu) who play classical Turkish instruments—Arabesque is anguished pop music, frowned upon by the Turkish government but very popular with the disenfranchised lower classes who have flooded into the country’s urban centers from the peasant villages of Anatolia over the past 20 years. In “Yandim Çavus,” a striking instrumental dance tune, Replikas sound like Kraut-rockers playing a traditional Greek folk-pop tune; in “Hiç Ölü Zenci Yok,” the band stretches out into a kind of Turkish space rock. “Kûh,” the band’s strongest nod toward the trances of Sufi music, closes the album. “We like to play intuitively,” bassist Artut says. “For us, a concert is like a shamanistic ritual.” Replikas do not try to be ethnic, though; they don’t need to, because they have internalized their Turkish musical roots.
Replikas’ debut album is distributed by Recommended Records.