Istanbul is not just about historic and natural beauties. It’s also an assembly of natural sounds accumulated by intertwined cultures. The pieces of this sum range from the whistles of Bosphorus ferries to the sounds of waves. You hear the chirping of a canary in a cage in front of a barber’s shop, the oud played by an old man on his balcony, or the woman calling for her neighbor in the building across. Istanbul’s past is laden with songs and melodies. The city’s musical culture dates back to the songs of Sephardic Jews, the fasil (suites) of classical Turkish music, and modern pop stars. Istanbul, whose population gradually increases with domestic migration, also embraces Anatolian folk songs. Over time, the locals have met with music clubs called gazino, Anatolian rock, independent music, and arabesque. All music genres in Istanbul not only keep up with the city’s ceaseless movement but also occasionally shape it.
We see a rebirth of the record culture, which held an important place in the musical culture a few decades ago but was replaced first by cassettes and CDs and then by computers and the Internet. Always in pursuit of natural and genuine melodies, Istanbul hosts record nights and opens vinyl record shops. How about a tour around these stores and the songs that fill them? We should start our exploration among notes from Kadıköy, a young and dynamic district filled with lively conversation and love for art. Here, secondhand bookstores, herbalists, and fishermen wish each other good luck every morning. Kadıköy, one of the meeting places of record enthusiasts in Istanbul, is also the “hometown” of legendary representatives of the Anatolian rock genre such as Barış Manço and Moğollar. Rainbow45 on Sakız Street is bright with progressive, classic rock, and blues records. The owner of the store, which also releases records by Bülent Ortaçgil and MFÖ, Salih Karagöz says, “When a customer buys a record here, s/he also receives a spiritual treatment through musical friendships, conversation, and songs. Record sellers care greatly about customers who know about music and values it. "And, in turn, they are loyal to their record sellers.” In this profession, people do not compete; instead, they care about and look out for each other. They even have a WhatsApp chat which enables them to help and talk to one another. This must be the power of music which unites people with an unconditional love. “If my customers are looking for a record, they come directly to me; they don’t visit store after store. They ask me to find it. There’s no bargaining while purchasing a record because what’s important is not the money; it’s music, hobby, and an exchange based on trust.” Every fall since 2017, Kadıköy hosts record shop days called "PlaKadıköy." Record sellers and collectors meet around stalls to exchange records and attend Q&A sessions or record readings. The event is very popular and aims to rekindle the musical heritage of Istanbul and to bring together record enthusiasts. I hop on a ferry to the European side of the city and make a mental note to attend the next PlaKadıköy! I see a man and his little daughter throwing simit (Turkish bagel with sesame seeds) to the seagulls soaring close to the ferry and remember the song by Yeni Türkü: “Tell me a story, daddy / Which has all the people I love and Istanbul.”
I get off the ferry and head to Beyoğlu. I stroll along İstiklal Street and enter one of the smaller alleys parallel to Galatasaray High School. Kontra Plak is a stylish store with its black-and-white flooring that resembles a chessboard. Okan Aydın, the owner, changed the direction of his career of many years and opened this place. He regards his favorite records as the “shahs of his life.” In this store, which helps him turn his passion into a profession, he mostly focuses on electronic and lesser-known genres. As he talks about occasional record promotions and DJ performances, I learn that they celebrate the third Saturday in April as “Record Store Day” every year. His customer profile is quite mixed due to the cosmopolitan and touristic texture of the district of Beyoğlu. “We used to have more in the past, but there’s still the possibility to welcome music fans of all nationalities to this store.” Soon after, as if to prove him right, a group of young people, who are from Singapore we learn later, come into the store speaking a melodic language. As they listen to various Turkish records, I am curious about how our music sounds to them.
Walking around the cosmopolitan streets of Beyoğlu which resemble a polyphonic music album, I remember the song “Boğaziçi” written by Sezen Cumhur Önal and performed by French pop singer Patricia Carli with a broken Turkish in 1963. “I always long for Istanbul / I ask the wind and the stars / The beautiful shores and the Bosphorus / I sing its name in songs.” I visit Feriköy Antiques Market on a sunny Sunday morning, hidden in one corner of the district like a veteran gramophone. I wonder what its vases, books, accessories and clothes have witnessed! Göksel Alkan, who has been opening a stall here for five years, says the word“rare” is very valuable for record sellers. “There’s nothing like finding a record which is a first release or a rare one with clean sounds.” He still uses the record player and sound system his father brought from the U.S. 40 years ago. He says that LPs and 45 RPM records are immortal due to the durability of vinyl and that they could be passed down to younger generations if they’re well kept. Records and record players are like members of the family because they require care, patience, budget, and maintenance. They should not be exposed to heat or sun and should be frequently dusted with a special solution or pure water. They should always be stored vertically, encased by the protective sleeve inside the album cover. Known as Mavi Plak at the market, Erhan Demir only sells 45 RPM Turkish records. I ask him how he fell in love with them. As the begins to tell me, he smiles as if to say, “Those were the times.” When he was a kid, his attention was caught by a record by Erol Büyükburç, standing out like a white swan among black record cases. He fell in love with it at the first listen and collected many others until he went away for military service. The day he was released from the army, he rushed back home to unite with his records, but bad news was waiting for him. The household had given away his records to friends and acquaintances. He remembers crying his heart out, and I see his eyes getting misty. He tries to change the subject in a light-hearted way, “Once you listen to uncompressed, hormone-free music, you can never give up on records. Because they are analogue, you feel as if the singer and the orchestra are performing all the songs only for you.” We smile at each other. As I leave the market likening record sellers to music mines and melody libraries of the city, I hear an old record player bidding me farewell with a song written by Yahya Kemal and composed by Münir Nurettin Selçuk. “I looked at you from another hill, dear Istanbul / There isn’t one corner I haven’t seen / Come and sit on my heart´s throne as long as I live / Loving even a district is worth a lifetime.”