(This review originally appeared at www.spectrumculture.com)
Barış Manço’s name may not be instantly recognizable across most of the world, but he’s a legitimate superstar in Turkey. While measuring popularity through Facebook “likes” may not be an exact science, the fact that Manço’s page sports over 289,000 is ample proof that the man has a significant following. He attracted that large fan base by being part of a small group of forward-thinking Turkish musicians (including Cem Karaca, Erkin Koray and Edip Akbayram) credited with creating the genre of Anatolian rock in the late 1960s – a fusion of then-current Western rock and traditional Turkish folk. Spanish label Guerssen has reissued his first three albums on CD and LP, and they offer an interesting glimpse into his musical output from 1968-1985.
Released in 1971, Dünden Bugüne was Manço’s first full-length album, although it’s just a compilation of his singles from 1968-1971, with one previously unreleased song, “Lory,” thrown in for good measure. This was an era when music was changing rapidly, and Manço was trying hard to keep up with changes, going through no fewer than four backing bands during these years. The revolving door musicianship lead to a state of flux that is palpable in these songs, which are at times jarring in their juxtaposition of clashing styles and varying level of production value. “Dağlar Dağlar” opens the album on a folky note, with Manço’s voice accompanied by an acoustic guitar and a bowed Turkish instrument called the kemençe. It‘s a pretty if unassuming song, which was also his biggest hit, selling over two million copies. But don‘t write Barış Manço off as some hippie-dippy acoustic folkie. The man could rock out when he wanted, doing so quite well on “Derule,” a muscular garage rock number, complete with a manic fuzz-tone guitar that could have just as easily been on a Yardbirds song. Elsewhere “Seher Vakti” and “Ağlama Değmez Hayat” are poppy folk-rock numbers that sound like a Turkish take on the mid-‘60s West Coast sound of the Byrds and Monkees. The only song that falls completely flat is the previously mentioned “Lory” which is sung in English and is just a bad song by all measures.
Coming four years after Dünden Bugüne, 2023 was the first Barış Manço album that wasn’t a compilation of previously released singles. It’s also flat-out bonkers – a concept album about the future, it found Manço dipping heavily into traditional Turkish instruments and melodies, while updating the rock side of his sound with progressive rock elements. The album is loaded with long suite-styled songs, spoken narratives, and some of the era’s best whacked-out sci-fi keyboard sounds not found on a Parliament-Funkadelic album. It may be laughably dated and pretentious but it’s also utterly exotic and charming in its heady commitment to combining old world and new world sounds. Besides, you haven’t really lived until you’ve heard all 12 minutes of “Baykoca Destanı.”
Gelir Zamani was yet another singles compilation, which means that some of the long-winded proggy tendencies of 2023 have been shed, and in its place is a new found funkiness that plays nicely with the Turkish instrumentation. In fact, the tight grooves and foreign flavor make this a great album for crate-digging DJs looking for exotic beats from off the beaten path. Specifically, “Hal Hal,” “Ben Bilirim” and the ridiculously funky opening of “Gönül Dağı” are all practically begging to be turned into rap beats. (Madlib, if you’re reading this, the ball’s in your court.) Two of the album’s original songs have been left off this reissue for contractual reasons. but they’re replaced with six other tracks, a few of which come from the ‘80s.
These albums might sound goofy or dated to many – you certainly wouldn’t set out to make music that sounded like this in 2012 – but for adventurous listeners looking for something different, it’s an “em-Barış-ment” of riches.