Rapping with a message in Ercis
Young arabesque rappers in Ercis balance modernity and tradition with songs that touch on the human condition and key issues in Turkey.
By Emiko Jozuka for SES Türkiye in Ercis -- 29/05/12
Pursuing a rap career in a region caught between modernity and tradition, and the sensitive Kurdish issue may not be so easy. But in Ercis, a small city in southeast Turkey better known for the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that caused widespread destruction last October, a pair of young arabesque rappers are doing just that, and kicking up a storm while they're at it.
Rap Er Msk and Mc Aykan don't look like stereotypical rappers, yet they are pioneers of a new kind of arabesque rap in Van province.
"Arabesque rap takes arabesque music as the base and overlays rap lyrics about love, pain, harmony and people's problems on top. It gives voice to poor people and those living on the margins of society," Rap Er Msk, whose real name is Mehmet Salih Kilic, told SES Türkiye.
"We turn painful events into music. We explain our feelings with music," added Aykan, who was born Emrah Aykan.
Recent years have born witness to the growing popularity of rap in southeast Turkey. Rohat Cebe, head of the Music Faculty at Batman University, attributes this to the growing ease with which youths express their thoughts and feelings with rap.
"Rap is a popular music genre and arabesque music is the genre that most children in this region grew up listening to. Both are rebellious genres, and by combining something modern with something traditional, youths are making their own music genre that fits with the tastes of their generation and region," Cebe said.
Dedication to their art and dexterous use of social media has assured the rappers of a grassroots fan base. However, they recall the challenges of starting up an urban scene in their hometown.
"Young people like what we do now, but it's generally people in their 40s and 50s who don't understand our music because we use slang and sometimes insults in our songs," Kilic said.
"Sometimes they say really wrong things about us, but it's maybe because their generation grew up on dengbej [traditional Kurdish singing] and folk music. They don't really understand this music yet," Aykan said.
Written and released shortly after the earthquake hit his hometown, Kilic's song Ercis Beton (Concrete Ercis) spoke of the feelings of those in his city and gained him wider recognition.
In the song, he provides a response from his region to two popular Turkish television presenters who spoke disrespectfully of Kurds while they were still reeling from the after effects of the devastating earthquake.
Rap is a genre sometimes associated with an openly subversive attitude to authority. However, citing the example of an imprisoned rapper friend in Diyarbakir, both Kilic and Aykan stress that they prefer to occupy a middle ground when writing their lyrics, and rap more in Turkish in order to reach a wider audience.
"I do both arabesque and critical rap music that leaves a message. I highlight both the government and the people's faults. I've also rapped about the painful events people have experienced, such as the Zilan massacre and Uludere. The things I sing about make people laugh and cry, and sometimes leaves them with a question mark. But I always occupy the middle-ground, and I don't say bad things about people," Kilic said.
Although rap music is infinitely more widespread in western Turkey, the pair is hopeful that the trend will catch on in the east.
"People in the west say that you can't be a rapper in the east. Ercis was portrayed as a village, especially after the earthquake. When I was in Istanbul, they referred to Ercis as 'your village,' but when you look around, you see that it's no different from any other neighbourhood in Istanbul. Everything reaches this region last, and we're trying our best to get somewhere with our means," Kilic said.