The Yayla: Tragic Death, Immortal Song

When a popular artist meets an untimely demise, their work often assumes an even more iconic status. Whether Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Biggie, or 2Pac, the history of modern popular music in English is replete with sudden deaths that help build the legend of immortal songs. Turkish music history is no different, and in this installment of the Yayla, we present work by some of the most famous artists from past decades and explore the stories of their tragic deaths.

Some of our artists simply died young of physical ailments, like Laz rocker and Black Sea türkü singer Kazım Koyuncu or Urfa-born arabesk pioneer Seyfettin Sucu. Others, such as Sevim Tanürek of the sanat music golden age or the Alevi singer Haydar Ağbaba, died in unforeseeable accidents. Zeki Müren, one of Turkey's most recognizable music artists, gradually withdrew from the public eye only to die in the limelight. Meanwhile, Ahmet Kaya, the voice of the working class in post-1980 Turkey and one of the most famous artists of Kurdish origin, was driven from from the limelight in his prime only to die in exile.

Zeki Müren suffered a heart attack and passed away during a 1996 TRT Izmir ceremony honoring his career in music and film. Image Source: Sabah

Though each of the artists in this episode share a link to our theme of tragic death and immortal song, their lives and music also offer good overview of the various styles that have defined music in Turkey over the past decades as well as the types of lives led by celebrities and why they've mattered so much to the audiences that adore them. While the stories and the songs we've selected do contain a great deal of sadness, we also hope this episode will add to the continuous celebration of these immortal artists and their work.

"Bir Eksiğiz Ahmet Kaya," released in 2014, is one of many musical tributes to Ahmet Kaya recorded after his death in 2000.

Track list (Mixcloud link):

Kazım Koyuncu - Sarpi Moleni
Kazım Koyuncu - Denizde Kararti Var
Seyfettin Sucu - Oleceğim Bir Gün
Zeki Müren - Şimdi Uzaklardasın
Sevim Tanürek - Gözlerimden Yüzün
Haydar Ağbaba - Şahin Yuva Yapar
Davut Sulari - Haydar Ağbaba'ya Ağıt
Ahmet Kaya - Kum Gibi


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