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July 16, 2012, Monday

Music festivals and fun in the city

You have probably noticed that Turks love to relax and stroll along the Bosporus during the summer months, a season when many concerts can be heard in open-air theaters near the water.

When it comes to music, there are some strong opinions about it. A Today’s Zaman reader who lives in İstanbul wrote this to me:

Dear Charlotte: I love where I live. It is a convenient place to go anywhere in the city. Also I can sit on my balcony and hear some of the concerts performed around Maçka. One of my neighbors shared with me that she does not listen to the radio or any music because she is a devout Muslim. I have not come across this often and was surprised by this. I have been to Konya and know that music plays an important role in Sufism. Can you explain this to me? … From: Kathi

Dear Kathi: I have come across some who have expressed your neighbor’s opinion but would prefer Today’s Zaman readers provide us with some explanation and details. You are right about the concerts. Summertime is the time to enjoy the sounds and smells of the city. Who goes to the concerts? Any concert that I have gone to seems to have a sprinkling of Westerners and the majority are Turks. Thanks for the question.

Those who can afford the outdoor concerts can sit in open-air theaters under the stars with a view of the Bosporus and listen to fine music. Just last week I had a chance to hear Chris de Burgh along with at least 2,000 music lovers. Those around me all seemed to be Turks. Some of them were more familiar with the words of his songs and singing along in English. Any English teacher will tell you listening to the words of a song is a great way to learn the language.

Obviously, it was de Burgh’s second tour of İstanbul by some of the memories he shared with us of his first trip. He even wrote on his Facebook page these words: “Looking out at this extraordinary city from a high-rise hotel...remembering great times here in the past, the concerts, the trips to the amazing places like the Spice Market, the Grand Bazaar, the Blue Mosque, the boat rides down the Bosporus…”

Anyone would agree that İstanbul is a remarkable place to visit. In the months of June and July there are ample opportunities to see performances by some of your favorites -- be it opera, jazz or other contemporary genres such as pop, folk and rock. Every summer İstanbul offers you the opportunity to see some super concerts ranging from operatic works from Turkey and around the world staged in İstanbul’s historic venues to your favorite jazz artists in parks and museums and open-air theaters around the city. Erykah Badu, Tony Bennett, Carnaval Latino and Chris de Burgh are some of the stars we have seen so far this year.

Foreign tourists who visit Turkey do not come for the concerts but for the historic places, beaches and shopping experience. Foreign visitors also like to experience Turkey -- the food, the music and the people.

The majority of foreign visitors who come to Turkey are more interested in Sufi music or fasıl music, performed mostly at meyhanes. These qualify for what is considered more of a Turkish experience. In case you have not heard of meyhanes, let me explain: A meyhane is a special Turkish tavern-style restaurant with a menu focusing on typical Turkish foods such as kebabs (grilled meat) and fish. Historically, the meyhanes were for men, but nowadays, everyone is welcome. At a meyhane, you, the visitor, are bound to be introduced to the national drink, rakı, a dry Turkish version of the anisette that is common in the Mediterranean region. Waiters will encourage you to try this loaded drink with your meze (appetizers) -- so watch out! Meze can include dishes such as thick yogurt with garlic and mint, white cheese, smoked eggplant dip, marinated anchovies and more. Often my friends and I when we eat out we can make a meal of all the meze and be too full for the main dish. Turkish food has a wonderful variety of starters. Also, meyhanes usually provide live music for their diners.

Fasıl is traditional Turkish music usually performed by Roma musicians, often at meyhanes. The group usually plays violin, lyre and clarinet and sings. They play and sing a mix of well-known Turkish music and popular rock “oldies but goodies” dating from the 1950s and 1960s. The musicians will come to each table and keep playing as long as you keep tipping. İstanbul’s Kumkapı district is well known for its meyhanes. You can also visit some in Beyoğlu, especially around Taksim.

Note: Charlotte McPherson is the author of “Culture Smart: Turkey” 2005. Please keep your questions and observations coming: I want to ensure this column is a help to you, Today’s Zaman’s readers. Email: [email protected]

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