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How Do Cultural Elements Help Musicians to Produce?

Music is a very powerful tool for expressing various emotions that we can’t explain using only words. It has always helped people feel the deeper meaning and connect without boundaries such as color, geography, ethnicity, or nation.


At the very beginning of music history, every culture, ethnicity, or geography created their instruments and music influenced by their unique life experiences. Therefore, the music of a nation can say a lot about its history and identity. For example, in Turkish folk music, fun and fast songs generally belong to the Western side while in the Eastern side, there exists very impressive melodies to express sadness or religious topics. Recent research has shown that even a nation’s eating habits can have an impact on its traditional instruments, so, understandably, music diversely adapts to a nation’s traditions more than any other type of art.


During a TEDx Talk, Martin Gohary, a jazz musician, expresses how his Persian culture

affected his identity. He grew up with his Iranian dad and his mom who was born in Massachusetts, therefore he was exposed to both Persian classical music and American popular music from the radio. He realized that his understanding of life was not the same as his friends, yet he was only able to discover the reason for this when he found a way to differentiate himself from and elevate himself compared to other musicians. Influenced by John Zorn, a Jewish jazz musician who used Jewish elements in his music, Gohary started using Persian elements in his compositions. He then realized his difference was the outcome of his culturally diverse environment because his environment showed him many perspectives to understand life. Since life and music were deeply related, his culture has helped him to find the uniqueness that makes his music more successful.


Musicians don’t only use their own cultures in songs but also commonly use other cultures’ elements as well. One of the most popular groups in the world, The Beatles, frequently used traditional Indian instruments and melodies because of their member George Harrison’s deep curiosity for Eastern spirituality and Indian philosophy. Some of their songs influenced by Indian music are Love You To, Within You Without You, The Inner Light, Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds, and Blue Jay Way.

Thanks to George Harrison, Indian sounds were introduced to Western listeners and his curiosity encouraged many artists to use traditional sounds around the world in their music. KSHMR is an Indian American composer who merges Eastern and electronic dance music in his compositions and his music is frequently sampled in K-Pop songs. Artists using different and uncommon traditional elements in contemporary music certainly gives listeners a refreshing and unforgettable experience.


In Turkish music, Barış Manço is the best example of using cultural lyrics, melodies, harmonies, and rhythms in modern music. He is one of the founders of Anatolian Rock Music. Anatolian Rock Music includes rock instruments, however, when it comes to lyrics, it sounds as if telling a story from Anatolia. Barış Manço states his vision by saying “I try to keep my music above doctrines and ideologies. I try to endear my music to Westerners by saying, 'This is one of the Turkish music'. If it's a mission, that's my mission.”


There are some young Turkish musicians that are known to remake the traditional songs such as Karsu and Cem Adrian. Generally, Turkish folk songs aren’t popular among young people, however, these remakes have helped to introduce folk songs that were mostly inspired by Turkish history and social life to young people. Another young artist, Mabel Matiz, uses both traditional instrumental sounds and clothing, customizing them himself. For example, on the cover of his album, Maya, he wears a suit made of traditional fabric that Anatolian women wear. While on the subject, we can’t not mention Fazıl Say who has a whole album of compositions of Turkish and Ottoman poets’ poems.

In his album “İlk Şarkılar”, he introduces the words of Metin Altıok, Ömer Hayyam, Cemal Süreya, Can Yücel, Pir Sultan Abdal, Orhan Veli Kanık, Nazım Hikmet, and Muhyiddin Abdal to his listeners. He remakes a piano version of Aşık Veysel’s song loved by Turkish folk music listeners as “Black Earth”. In his other album called “Say Plays Say”, some of his pieces are named Nasreddin Hodja who is a character in Islamic folklore and a hero of many humorous short stories and satirical anecdotes.


In conclusion, musicians who successfully bring traditional elements into modern music without disrespecting the original pieces are admired worldwide for remembering their roots, making their identity special, and promoting their culture as gratitude. In addition, the ones who use various cultural sounds in their music push the boundaries of artistic expression which makes them respected figures in the music world with their new style. The unique combination continues to be useful for musicians to find their identity as well as for listeners to explore stories of various nations and understand one another.


Works Cited:

Aksu, Leyla. “Doğu ve Batı Müziğini Sentezleyen Türk Müzisyenler.” RedBull.com, 25 March 2017, https://www.redbull.com/tr-tr/dogu-ve-bati-muzigini-sentezleyen-turk-muzisyenler


“How The Beatles used Indian music theory.” Youtube, David Bennet Piano, 30 November 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y2GmTD9Q4iM&list=WL&index=20&t=164s


Lui, Dimple. “Music and Culture.” Youtube, TEDx Talks, 27 October 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-ninr_1mUA&list=WL&index=31


Science Magazine. “What does traditional music around the world have in common?” Youtube, 22 January 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMFVo0X9HPE&list=WL&index=34


The School of Life. “POP CULTURE: Why Music Works.” Youtube, 21 September 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6GeM-E8gMzk&list=WL&index=36


Gohary, Martin. “Making Unique Music by Gathering Cultural Elements from Around the World.” Youtube, TEDx Talks, 2 November 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L8WDd4v1Mas&list=WL&index=37


Figueria, Elliot. “7 Interesting Psychological Facts About Music.” Youtube, Psych2Go, 27 April 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HcFFwK4ot1k&list=WL&index=25


Images By:

Say, Fazıl. “İlk Şarkılar.” Spotify, ACM Production, 11 June 2013, https://open.spotify.com/album/7apRIODCAwfYPNlBxR725x


“George Harrison & Ravi Shankar.” Pinterest, https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/612982199251795394/


Matiz, Mabel. Spotify, Zoom Music, 20 June 2018, https://open.spotify.com/album/1SjI5mOEGsnrfHRR4zY88f


“Barış Manço: Live in Japan - Plak.” Opus3a, 25 November 2019, https://www.opus3a.com/u/baris-manco-live-in-japan-plak/b25759ababc682d1dbe158d03ed2492a


“The story of classical music of Iran - German-Iranian Tour Operator.” Gate of Nations - German-Iranian Tour Operator & Travel Agency, 4 September 2020, https://gate-of-nations.org/the-story-of-classical-music-of-iran/


“The Evolution Of Music Culture Over Generations.” Thesocialtalks, 30 May 2021, https://thesocialtalks.com/blog/the-evolution-of-music-culture-over-generations/?expand_article=1


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