Turkey’s Forgotten Funk: The Lost Albums of the Turkish Cassette Heyday Return on Uzelli Psychedelic Anadolu
In the early 70s, a little shop opened in Frankfurt. It sold the small comforts many Turkish guest workers missed in Germany: tea glasses, carpets, art for their walls. It also sold music. The shop became a hub for Turkish migrants, and the cassettes it sold morphed into a label, named for the its founders, the Uzelli brothers.
Now the label is starting a new chapter, uncovering forgotten gems and funky classics in its vaults on Uzelli Psychedelic Anadolu (release: March 17, 2017 / digital and vinyl). This compilation spans the label’s heyday: the period between 1975, the high point of vinyl culture, and 1984, the culmination of the cassette industry.
The time is ripe to reconsider this music, as new migrants are seeking homes across Europe and as Turkey experiences its own complicated times. Uzelli’s artists feel charmingly retro, yet undeniably timely. “Vintage Turkish music is undergoing something of a revival,” notes compilation curator Kornelia Binicewiczj. Uzelli’s massive, 1,300+ album catalog, slated for digital re-release, will certainly help fuel this new interest.
The ten years of Turkish history covered on Psychedelic Anadolu were times of political chaos, divided into two periods by the military coup in 1980. After the coup d’etat, those citizens who felt ignored and underappreciated, for whom politics had never been the most important part of their daily lives, became more and more visible. They demanded their music be heard in their new urban environment.
The political circumstances transformed everyday routines, culture and music. Rock was expanded to make a place for new musical genres that more accurately reflected people’s social and economic positions, their innermost feelings and moods. Psychedelic music of the 1970s combined hip instruments such as electrified baglama, moog and synthesizers with sweet melodies and heart-braking lyrics, and these sounds became even more radical and edgy in the 1980s.
“The design of Uzelli cassette tapes also set them apart,” Uzelli notes. “It was Armagan Konrat – a left-wing painter from Istanbul – who took Uzelli to another level. His unique style of graphic design is a great example of Turkish pop art from the late 1970s to the early 1980s.”
Uzelli’s releases might have faded into obscurity, had it not been for Metin Uzelli, son of one of the label’s founders. Born right as the label launched in the mid-70s, Metin saw its rise and transition, from LPs to cassettes, from family shop to international enterprise, with warehouses and manufacturing plants in Turkey.
The tracks on Psychedelic Anadolu are selected from the best psychedelic arrangements of rock, pop, and folk songs. They also represent a unique combination of personalities and characters, from giants of the Turkish Psychedelic scene like Erkin Koray and Ünol Büyükgönenç of Kardaslar, to unknown and undiscovered Kerem Güney; the ephemeral band Zor Beyler with Ayzer Danga from Mavi Isiklar and Mogollar on drums; Ali Ayhan from Urfa with his unquestionably unique voice from the folk scene; and Akbaba, the extreme wedding duo. This compilation would not hit so hard without two ladies: the mysterious Elvan Sevil and Nese Alkan, accompanied by Zafer Dilek Orchestra, whose amazing voices bring down the tempo and melt your heart.
After its 1980s heyday of cassettes, however, the industry declined. Most Turkish labels found themselves sidelined. Uzelli, now guided by Metin, took a different tack. When CDs started to replace cassettes, Uzelli opened its first modern music shops in Turkey. When the world started to move into digital music, Metin became the exclusive representative of The Orchard, the US digital content distribution company, in Turkey.
Up until the late 1990s, Uzelli continued to make records. The label produced major stars, as well as less well-known musicians and undiscovered talent in Turkey, such as Esengul, Ferdi Tayfur, Gulcan Opel, Erkin Koray, Gonul Akkor, Gulden Karabocek, Mustafa Kand?ral? and Muslum Gurses.
“The original album cassettes from Uzelli, however, have yet to be re-released,” says Metin Uzelli. “These albums are still undiscovered by contemporary audiences, while there are many hidden or bonus tracks and can still be found on sale at some old record stores, a musical window on a period of social upheaval in Turkey’s history.” This stands to change, as Uzelli opens up its treasures to listeners worldwide.