Turkish culture is varied and infused with multiple influences from both the East and the West.
Similarly, the country’s music industry is a melting pot of genres and musical influences from various backgrounds, like the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East.
From all these influences, you get a range of singers, from the much-loved Tarkan, loved by all generations, to Serhat Durmuş, popular with Gen Z for his contemporary R&B and arabesque rap.
We moved to Turkey at the beginning of 2023 and found there is plenty of variety here for every taste, whether you like Anatolian rock, Turkish pop, hip-hop, rap, or the classics.
Although it’s been several years since his latest album, pop artist Tarkan continues to top the charts, with his song Şımarık getting 313 million plays on Youtube in 2023.
Born in 1972, this platinum-album singer has sold over 30 million CD copies.
If you enjoy a good break up song, you’ll want to listen to one of Tarkan’s many hit love singles like Dudu and Beni Çok Sev.
You can hear his songs everywhere in Turkey, so much so that some of the songs included in his Metamorfoz album gained recognition from the Turkish Language Association.
During his career, he collected over four Turkey Music Awards and one World Music Award.
He has managed to become popular worldwide without singing in English. Some compare his influence on Turkey to that of Elvis Presley in the US. So a good first listen if you are new to the Turkish music scene.
Mert Demir is well known for his stage performances and his wide variety in Turkish pop, ranging from R&B to arabesque. Born in Istanbul in 1993, he started his musical career in 2017 and released his first album Bak Kollarım Burada 2 years later.
He worked with Mabel Matiz on “Antidepressant”, which was one of the most played Turkish songs in 2023, coming just short of Tarkan.
Serhat Durmuş, born in Izmir in 1998, is one of the most listened to Turkish artists in the world. In 2023, his song “Hislerim” received 288 million views on Youtube.
To give you an idea of his popularity, he was part of the opening ceremony for the Formula E races in 2022.
Another contemporary artist is Ahsen Almaz who also topped the charts in 2023. Her song “Yandirdin Kalbimi” recieved 159 million plays on Youtube.
Unlike some of the self-made stars mentioned, Kenan Doğulu was born into fame. His father, Yurdaer Doğulu, was a Turkish composer. Kenan has earned several achievements in the industry, including winning fourth place at the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest in Helsinki.
With a family name to live up to, Doğulu pursued music from the young age of five. After countless piano, flute, guitar, and drama lessons, the multi-talented musician finally released his first album in 1993 titled “Yaparim Bilirsin.” The following year, Doğulu produced his second album, “Simsiki Siki Siki.”
Besides garnering fame from his music career, Doğulu is married to the popular Turkish actress Beren Saat. Together with Trakan, he’s probably one of the most popular male pop singers in Turkey.
Sertab Erener’s career began as a vocal support to Sezen Aksu. Thanks to the latter’s help, Erener produced her first album, “Sakin Ol!” in 1992.
Since Erener’s prior knowledge primarily focused on the classical genre, it took her some time to transition into the pop music industry. Nonetheless, she was able to experiment to create nuanced music with mixtures of classical, eastern, western, and Turkish pop elements.
Hande Yener, like Sertab Erener, kickstarted her music career by being a backup vocalist for Sezen Aksu.
She rose to fame in the Turkish pop industry in the 2000’s.
Throughout Yener’s career, she experimented with genres like electronic music. But that experimental trial was short-lived because it didn’t award her as much commercial success as her other pop albums.
By 2013, Yener’s music videos had reached more views than any other Turkish musician. She expanded her career scope and began operating nightclubs by the late 2010s. Overall, she won four Kral Turkey Music Awards and four Golden Butterfly Awards.
Demet Akalın’s career is one artist who didn’t begin in the entertainment industry. Instead, she started as a model under Nese Erberk’s agency. While modeling, Akalın cultivated an interest in singing.
In 1996, she sang in casinos before producing her first albums. Once her second album, “Banane” was released, Akalın become one of the most recognized names in Turkish pop music.
In 2015, Akalın’s “Pirlanta” album became a best-seller. Throughout her music career, she also earned a couple of Golden Butterfly Awards and an impressive four Kral Turkey Music Awards.
Some of these singers haven’t released albums for decades and so are not as popular with the younger generations in Turkey. However, you’ll hear their names regularly with Turks over 30.
Sezen Aksu was born in 1954. When it comes to the Turkish pop music industry, she’s vintage. She’s had many titles, including the queen of Turkish pop. Her rise to fame came in 1975 as she debuted with the song, “Haydi Şansım/Gel Bana.”
In her career, she sold an impressive 40 million CD copies globally. Aside from her singing talent, Aksu is also a gifted songwriter. She worked with multiple other artists, including collaborations with Tarkan and Goran Bregović, boosting her worldwide popularity.
She toured worldwide in the U.S. and countries all over Europe. She’s produced an impressive 25 albums and 11 remixes. Her talents have also gone further into acting, as she was featured in several movies and TV shows, including Avrupa Yakasi and Delibal.
Born in 1952, İbrahim Tatlıses occupies a unique genre in the Turkish entertainment industry. He produces Arabesk and pop-folk music. In 1970, Tatlıses started singing at the young age of 18. His fame took off seven years later as his folk music garnered a larger audience.
The Arab-Kurdish singer produced over 42 albums, including Ayağında Kundura and Aramam. Tatlıses didn’t restrict his reach to the music industry alone. He became a TV show host for the İbo Show. Plus, he acted in multiple films, such as Mavi Mavi and Sarhoş.
If you’re looking for something relaxing to listen to, we recommend the Anatolian rock band Altin Gun for chilled vibes.
Anatolian rock is a fusion of rock and folk music which became popular in the 60’s. Nowadays any type of Turkish rock music goes under the umbrella title of Anatolian rock.
What is unique about Turkish music?
One style of music unique to Turkey is Arabesque (Arabesk) which goes back to Ottoman times and often includes stringed instruments like the bağlama – a long necked lute.
Arabesque Rap is very popular in Turkey. This genre emerged in the late 2000’s and generally deals with themes like break ups, teenage strife and heartbreak.
Despite Western influence and modern genres taking over, Turkey has managed to retain its cultural roots in its music. Today it still holds influences from Byzantine, Persian, and Arab music, giving it a unique style.
What we appreciate about Turkish music is that every Turkish artist has curated their own spin on a genre or music style. One example of this is the vintage pop and rock band MFÖ who became known for successfully blending Turkish and western elements in their music.
I’m a teacher and writer living abroad. I love languages, drinking lots of çay (tea) with friends, experiencing different cultures and going on adventures with my family.