Dueling Multiculturalisms and Musical "Con-Fusion" in Modern Turkey: the Recontextualization of an Instrument of Otherness
But I also found there two phenomena that I had not expected: one a pair of apparently mutually unrecognized differences in definitions about what constitutes the traditional multicultural mix in Turkey, and the other the resurgence of the cümbüş as an instrument in "rock" and "techno-pop" genres. These genres are played both by the instrument's traditional minority players, sometimes as an explicitly expressed move to "update" their music and image, as well as by self-describing ethnic Turks, a group that had until now mainly shunned the cümbüş. This paper is an essay on the interaction of these two phenomena as interpreted by part of the current urban Turkish youth culture and indirectly mediated by state-sponsored ideals regarding ethnic identity. Using Victor Turner's ideas on "social drama" as a means by which the symbols associated with social actions may be resignified, I see these developments as currently causing a recontextualization of the Otherness of the cümbüş through the process I call con-fusion -- the combination of distinct concepts that blurs or transgresses previously understood categorical boundaries between constituent elements. 1
Polemics surrounding the idea of multiculturalism in the Republic of Turkey have been present and often prominent in Turkish social discourse since even before the 1923 founding of the Republic itself. Created, as it was, to consolidate the remains of the formerly expansive and essentially pluralistic Ottoman Empire, the formation of the Republic came complete with a socio-political ideology (termed Kemalism, after "founding father" Kemal Atatürk). This ideology called upon citizens to eschew former politico-religious social divisions (which under the term "millet" had come by then to stand for ethno-linguistic groups enjoying limited self-government) (see Shaw 1976, cf. Braude 1982, Karpat 1982) in favor of a unified cultural identity. Having freedom of religious choice in a laïc state, all citizens were to be accorded the same rights and responsibilities, speak the (reformed) Turkish language, and refer to themselves as "Turks." That this term was also the ethnonym of the majority of the population was in accord with the European model of modern nationhood to which Atatürk aspired. A great deal of effort was (and still is) spent creating and reinforcing ideals regarding society and good citizenship along these lines, and for the most part these efforts may be counted as having been successful. However, the awareness of an ethnically diverse heritage informing the actual expression of those ideals, and particularly as it relates to a desired historical continuity, has been part of the greater discourse defining the self-identity of the modern Turkish citizen since the foundation of the Republic.
Underlying this discourse are two axiomatic definitions for culture and civilization given by influential Turkish sociologist Ziya Gökalp, who was himself heavily influenced by Durkheim (see Berkes 1959). Gökalp, especially in his 1918 Turkism, Islamism and Secularism, posited that "civilization" is constituted by the traditions of social government, created by and belonging to different ethnic groups, but that are capable of being transmitted from one group to another, whereas "culture" is the specific and unique set of mores of a particular "nation." Culture, in this definition, is more basic than a civilization, which can only be developed from within a culture. The intended application was that the ideal Turkish Republic would, through universal education guided by the state, confirm a unified Turkish culture and teach it to live within the civilization that had arisen in Europe since the Enlightenment. The success of the project, though taken to be its own reward, has since those times been seen as Turkey's social, political and economic integratability with Europe, especially, and with all other nation-states that should choose to be thus "civilized" (see Stokes 1992). In both theory and practice these ideas were deeply engaged with a reforming ideology taken wholesale from European concepts of "the Orient" that posed "the East" as backward looking and retrogressive and "the West" as forward looking and progressive, an attitude that still strongly informs judgments of what ought to be considered "authentically Turkish" (ibid).
In the formative years of the Republic, the European standard of a nation-state as the political embodiment of an ethnically homogeneous group, regardless of the minorities who might live within its borders, was accepted as normative and those proponents of recognizing either the distinctiveness of ethnic and religious sub-groups or the multiculturally-created nature of late-Ottoman society were suppressed as reactionary and "oriental" (see Shaw 1977). This attitude prevailed even though it required widespread acceptance of the illusion that the previous five hundred years of their history were not part of the Turks' true heritage. Debates over the value of multiculturalism were mainly thus skewed against it until Europe itself, having experienced the mechanized ethnic genocides of the Second World War, came to reevaluate ethnic homogeneity as an undesirable expression of its sense of humanity. Since then the twin desires to reclaim a continuous sense of history and to join the European Union as integrated partners in civilization have allowed to emerge, in carefully controlled ways, polemics regarding positive values of multiculturalism in Turkey (see Stokes 1992).
Yet although such polemics thrive in Turkey today, and very often come to be expressed through musical means, in the course of these five months of field research on the cümbüş as an instrument marking Otherness, I found there to be at least two contrasting concepts of multiculturalism that are not apparently articulated as distinct in the greater discourse over something all call "multiculturalism." Each of these has its own positioning in the East/West polemic, and each is associated with physically eastern and western territories in Turkey.2 This is especially relevant given that massive numbers of internal migrants from the rural east have flooded into the large cities of the west over the last forty years in search of work, heralding in these urban centers not only stressful situations regarding infrastructure and resource development, but also a kind of culture shock for all involved.
What I'm calling the Western Turkish-type of multiculturalism is prevalent in Thrace and the Aegean coast (where the larger cities and other endpoints of internal migration are). As expressed to me by informants native to the west of the country, it is envisioned as a core group of "Turks," living throughout the country and for practical purposes including Laz and other Muslims of the Caucasus, in relation to the small but historically important non-Muslim minorities (that is, Greeks, Armenians, Jews, et al.), and thirdly, Kurds. This version is generally espoused by urban, cosmopolitan persons who broadly speaking express favor for "modernism" (and center-left Kemalism) over "tradition," though not usually to the point of exclusion. Musically, this point of view is represented in nostalgic recorded reproductions of Greek, Armenian and Sephardic Jewish urban folk musics, fasιl performance in bars and restaurants (usually played by Román musicians), classical Turkish music -- particularly that which celebrates composers from the non-Muslim populations -- and pop music other than arabesk, a genre popular with working class migrants to the large western cities but at times officially disparaged as irremediably "oriental." Debates occur within this sub-discourse as to the value and extent of Turk-Others relationships, but the above parameters are conceived limits around it.
What I call the South-Eastern-Turkish type concept of multiculturalism, as expressed to me by informants from the southeast of the country, instead posits a core of rural or small town Muslims (Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Laz, etc.) in relation to a secular urban culture in the west of the country that has long been a genetic as well as cultural mix of Turks and the non-Muslims of the old Ottoman system (who, aside from rural Armenians, were never present in great numbers -- nor thought important -- in the east of the country), and thirdly various Anatolian Christian communities. This version of multiculturalism is generally espoused by self-described culturally and politically more conservative persons who broadly speaking express favor for "tradition" over "modernism," though, again, not usually to the point of exclusion. Musically it is well represented in the sιra gecesi-type folk musics of certain southeastern provinces, although arabesk is a more popular and widespread genre favored by people using this conception of multiculturalism. Again, much debate occurs within the framework of this sub-discourse.
These two ideas of what multiculturalism means, though unarticulated as differing even while both "sides" participate in debates over the value and extent of something both call "multiculturalism," have met and clashed in various ways in the western cities where easterners have been flocking for the last forty years, and have thus invited what I have called "con-fusions" -- conceptual combinations that blur or transgress previously understood categorical boundaries between constituent elements. One "place" where they meet to do so is in the market for fusions of traditional music and "techno pop," where young consumers of fresh popular music are both the arbiters of taste and the next-generation interpreters of the discourses mentioned above.
Turkey is often described as a "young country" and demographic statistics by age distribution bear this out: 57% of the population is under the age of 30 (Devlet Istatistik Enstitüsü 2005). As the primary consumers of continually newly-produced music, the 15-30 year old demographic niche (at around 28% of the overall population) (ibid.) appears to be generally eclectic in taste, but favoring a variety of "pop" musics from America and Europe, and Turkish pop music in a Western style. Among my informants there was a definite sense of national pride in Turkish popular music, especially if it sounded to them both "authentically Turkish" and "modern" in a Western (consumer culture) sense. In interviewing people in this age group about their impressions of the cümbüş I brought up the earlier-mentioned "techno pop" pieces and bands that feature the instrument, and they were generally aware of them, and most had at least one CD from among the recordings. The most popular (or at least best known) were the anti-Bush Cambaz by the rock band Mor ve Ötesi (meaning "Purple and Beyond," whose members are ethnically Turkish), various tunes by the (Sephardi Jewish) band Sefarad, (Armenian-American jazz artist) Ara Dinkjian and the Kurdish singer Aynur. The current, and also well-marketed, Kardeş Türküler album Bahar (or "Spring"), with songs in Turkish, Kurdish, Romanés, Armenian and Circassian languages, was also very popular.
Answers to questions about the "meaning" of the cümbüş in these pieces and repertoires (for instance, "why do you think they chose to include the cümbüş there?") fell broadly into two categories, depending on whether or not the respondent was him/herself a practicing musician. Musicians, especially those studying Turkish classical or Turkish folk music, tended to think that the instrument was chosen for the novelty of its (little heard) sound and/or because its sound is "interior" (içli) or emotional in a nostalgic sense, even cloyingly so, which in their minds has always suited a certain strain of popular music in Turkey. Non-musicians, however, had a less technical take on it; to them the cümbüş is a marker of both Turkishness (in a broad, Kemalist, "national citizenship" sense) and of "old fashioned" musical taste -- most were not aware that it was invented in Republican times and thought of it as a traditional if rare Ottoman instrument. The mixture of old and new was described as "cool" (revaçta), and one respondent even proclaimed it "post-modern."
I note as significant that in no case did informants from this age group attribute specifically ethnic associations to the cümbüş, whereas informants roughly 35 to 70 years of age often referred to it as a "Gypsy," Armenian or Greek instrument. To the "young and hip" -- raised in the western cities but many of whose parents had come from the rural east -- the con-fusion of ideas about multiculturalism seem to have been subsumed into the larger Kemalist vision of Turkishness-as-national citizenship (a concept drilled continuously throughout the state-run education system and, for males, compulsory military service), with the cümbüş being brought along for the ride and recontextualized out of its associations with Otherness along the way -- or rather the Otherness of the cümbüş is being transferred from "traditional minorities," alive in both versions of multiculturalism, onto a newly con-fused sense of Turkishness itself, as a marker of distinction from amongst American and European versions of a "modern" pop music in an international consumer culture.
This process is oddly fulfilling of the Kemalist dream, at least symbolically; the international (but Western-shaped) pop culture market has become a primary forum in which to advertise the "modernity level" of a culture while participating in a Western or "international" civilization. It functions as an indicator of "democratic values" such as freedom of speech and the rights of women and minorities, and implies an economy fit to participate in the consumer capitalist model considered integral to Western-ness and modernity. Atatürk had supported familiarity with and participation in Western classical music for the same reason, at a time when it was considered the height of sophistication on an international level (see And 1991), but "global" popular culture has far superseded that genre's reach, and has done so in a populist rather than an elitist format. Under the rubric of "Turkish" pop music are now available CDs, videos and international concerts of Kurdish, Sephardic, Román et al., players, as well as those by ethnic Turks from all regions of the country, crossing the bridged multiculturalisms, sidestepping the East/West ideological bear trap into which arabesk fell forty years ago, and participating, at least at a symbolic level, in the kind of ideal Turkish society consistent with what the Kemalists propose as the European standard for a "culture" favorably positioned to join the EU "civilization."
In a Turnerian language of symbolic anthropology we can describe this recontextualization as the maintenance of the cümbüş as a sign of Otherness, but its resignification in terms of which Others are signified. This change is being affected by the communitas here referred to as part of a "Turkish youth culture," which is resolving, at least for itself, the social drama of a nation-wide, multigenerational crisis of identity. It appears to be doing so by taking advantage of the liminality inherent in the crisis to con-fuse ideas about multiculturalism and Turkish national identity, and by expressing their solution (among other ways, surely) by employing the newly resignified cümbüş in publicly communicated messages to itself and to the world through the medium of nationally-marked (but internationally heard) popular music.
This recontextualization of the cümbüş's Otherness leaves open the question of whether the minority musicians' efforts to "update their image" by performing traditional pieces in pop-fusion formats are intended to be taken as an integrative move or a distinguishing one (or both), and how, regardless of their intent, the fusions are received by the general public in these terms. But given the decline in traditional uses of the cümbüş by most of these minority groups, the newly con-fused sense of Turkishness-as-multicultural nationality, and the acceptance of the instrument as a marker of Turkish Otherness vis à vis Europe in the marketplace of international pop culture, the cümbüş appears secure in its position as an "instrument of Otherness" in modern Turkey.
: This term is intended to illuminate the process by which discursive syncretisms come into being, and the conditions
under which they may do so, the term "syncretism" being agentless and non-indicative of the origins of that which it
signifies. "Con-fusion" as a neologism, as far as I am aware, was invented by fiction author Neal Stephenson (2004), by
deconstructing the word "confusion" (i.e., bewilderment) and reconstructing it with its original meaning (i.e., simply
"fusion"-the inextricable mixing of two or more elements). The meaning I give it here differs from his (and I assume it to
be unique), but I give thanks to Mr. Stephenson for pointing out the word's expanded possibilities.
: I say "at least two" such concepts because I have only examined those of the western and southeastern regions, there
being little cümbüş use in the north and northeast of Turkey. "Eastern" probably would be an accurate and sufficient
qualifier for what I here call the southeastern type of multiculturalism, but not having information on the northeast in
this regard, I have chosen to use the more restrictive term. Andrews, without referring to specific regions, succinctly
elucidates the histories of two such concepts of multicultural identity discourse, referring to them as "Westernized
Mediterranean" and "Muslim fundamentalist" (1989: 41-2).
: I say "at least two" such concepts because I have only examined those of the western and southeastern regions, there being little cümbüş use in the north and northeast of Turkey. "Eastern" probably would be an accurate and sufficient qualifier for what I here call the southeastern type of multiculturalism, but not having information on the northeast in this regard, I have chosen to use the more restrictive term. Andrews, without referring to specific regions, succinctly elucidates the histories of two such concepts of multicultural identity discourse, referring to them as "Westernized Mediterranean" and "Muslim fundamentalist" (1989: 41-2).
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