Turkish Music Styles

Toros Delights

A passive turn of the radio dial in Istanbul will inevitably prove the diversity of Turkish music tastes as well as its people. But no matter the diversity, the stamp of uniqueness is present - there is no way you could hear any of the music and not think: this is Turkish.

What accounts for this diversity? It has to do with the fact that Turkey is in fact not made of one group of people, but many diverse peoples throughout its history. From Greeks to Kurds to Armenians, to the Black Sea people and the Anatolians, wildly different histories converge on one land. And music happens to be a great conservator of old traditions.

To take only a few examples, there are whole radio stations devoted to three styles of music that are unique to Turkey that are worth highlighting - and it would be impossible to even break through to even the beginning of Turkish music without understanding these: arabesk, halk, and karadeniz.


Arabesk is the Turkish spelling of Arabesque - meaning music in an Arabic style. Given that Turkey borders Arab lands, including absorbing the Arabic-speaking region of Hatay, it makes sense that the languid, flowery style of the south would make its way into the Turkish mainstream. Relying on the same internal scale system as classical Arabic music, the makams, arabesk is sung in Turkish - with a Turkish flair. 

The most visible example of this music in the popular music world is the Turkish-Kurdish star İbrahim Tatlıses, whose hits like "Mavi Mavi" captivated Turkey from the 70's and onwards.


Halk music is literally folk music - but it means Anatolian folk music. Characterized by the Turkic lute, the Bağlama, and an aggressive tone that comes straight from Central Asia, where the Turkic peoples came from. It is remarkable music considering how isolated it is among other the types. 

As much as the music can be about sundry topics that all music is related to, there is a special genre within it that is connected to Turkish mysticism. Arif Sağ was a master of this - especially with his deeply popular "Insana Olmaya Geldim."


Karadeniz refers to the Black Sea, the northern coast of Turkey separated by the Pontic Mountains. In a cultural sense, it is contiguous with the Crimea - and perhaps not just culturally, the temperate forested landscape matches the land to the north. 

The karadeniz sound is distinct and is characterized by the keman, the violin, that punctuates the uptempo music. It has a certain sonic relationship with nordic and celtic music. Here, the modern group Imera sings the song Kalandar.

It's impressive to consider that these three styles have their own radio stations and dedicated groups, while not nearly representing the full range of Turkish musical styles. Nonetheless, their diversity and richness should give you a meaningful glimpse into the tapestry of Turkish culture.