As the week in which International Women's Day was celebrated comes to a close, it might be the perfect time to appreciate the renaissance of the Turkish musical scene and the women that are making it possible. So, check out these top 10 women to watch and listen to from Turkey’s deliciously diverse musical scene.
Gaye Su Akyol is a mystical and beautiful enigma in the world of popular Turkish music. Akyol is a singer-songwriter, composer, producer, painter and anthropologist whose melding of traditional Anatolian rock from the '70s with a futuristic surf-rock and post-punk sound, has broken barriers, sound and elsewise, for female vocalists in Turkey. Akyol hit the scene big-time in 2014 with her first self-composed album “Develerle Yaşıyorum” ("I Live with Camels"), but it is her song “Istikrarlı Hayal Hakikattir” ("Consistent Fantasy Is Reality") and its eponymous album that has truly won everyone’s heart. Beautiful to boot, the video for the hit is a true visual feast and recalls a Turkey of the past and its influences on the generations of its future, which has also been drawn upon in write-ups on Akyol in publications such as The New York Times and The Guardian.
These days and for the past two decades at least, if you were to ask anyone in Turkey who is the country’s most talented female vocalist, you would get the answer Şebnem Ferah. A true vocal prowess, Ferah is also a futuristic diva in her own right. Despite her petite stature, her hard rock love ballads are some of the most powerfully emotion-evoking renditions there ever were. Yağmurlar (The Rains) is a true breakup masterpiece, while Sil Baştan (Erase and Rewind) also plays with the heartstrings. With eight albums of her own though, there are a lot of amazing original and cover renditions of Turkish love songs to choose from. Ferah, who is a singer, songwriter, composer and guitarist, got her start as the lead vocalist of the all-female hard rock band Volvox in early 1990s.
This singer-songwriter and talented musician and guitarist paved the way for a new style of young, alternative female vocalists with something to say. A sort of Turkish answer to Joni Mitchell, Kalben, who is also a published children’s book author, shot to fame in 2014 with her Sofar video for the song “Sadece” ("Just"). Since then, Kalben has released five studio albums and her star continues to shine. Her music consists of deep words and sweet melodies sung with an angelic voice as she strums the guitar.
Ceylan Ertem is another new-wave alternative rock female Turkish singer-songwriter who got her start as the dreadlocked vocalist for the alternative group Anima, with whom she released her first album. Ertem defined her own independent style in 2010, when she released her first solo album "Soluk," which features 40 different musicians. Since then she has released seven different full-length albums and has featured in countless duets, but her performance of “Odalarda Işıksızım” ("I Am in the Rooms Without Light"), a 1992 masterpiece by late Turkish singer Kayahan, is truly mesmerizing.
Zeynep Bastık is absolutely adorable; thus, it should come as no surprise that she is originally an actress that has only recently shot to fame with her musical performances. The face for Adidas and Elidor and having starred in around half a dozen popular Turkish television series, these days Bastık is better known for her acoustic and electronic entertaining and uplifting covers of Turkish songs. Check out my personal favorite: “Felaket” ("Disaster"), an acoustic cover of rap artist Ezhel.
Alternative singer-songwriter Melis Danişmend is also a journalist and just recently a published author. Danişmend got her start fronting for the alternative rock band Üçnoktabir, whose song “Dediler Ki” ("They Said") also featured in the popular Turkish thriller “Barda.” Danişmend has always stood out for her stage presence and performance skills, which she has now honed into softer melancholic melodies that have become Norah-Jones-like anthems for ladies of the newer generations. Luckily, her recent autobiography "Büyüyemeyenler" ("Those Who Can't Grow") provides poignant guidance. Luckily, her recently released “personal non-development” memoir Büyüyemeyenler provides poignant guidance. With three solo albums, which stand out as much for their lyrics as Danişmend’s performance style being straight from the heart, her album with the band Üçnoktabir is pure rock 'n' roll.
The former vocalist for the Turkish rock group Model, Fatma Turgut was already famous for her vocals and performance style before going solo and becoming one of Turkey’s most popular pop stars. With Model, Turgut released three albums, but in 2019 her solo release “Elimde Dünya” ("The World in My Hand") made hers a household name. Her upbeat covers of classic Turkish pop songs such as “Palavra” ("Bragging") serve as the perfect backdrop to a bustling party.
This singer-songwriter and actress has many beautiful faces, including the one that performs Gülyabani, a special ethnic-rock treat with a Turkish twist. Aslım has a total of four albums that vary between rock and electronic music forming the basis for her skilled vocals. Aslım recently had a child and has relocated from Istanbul to Kaş.
With seven albums to her name, which was once synonymous with hard rock, Özlem Tekin is symbolic in Turkey for being a strong and powerful woman. She started off as the keyboardist and occasional lead singer for all-female rock band Volvox (alongside Şebnem Ferah), but since going solo, has moved on to incorporate a variety of musical styles such as house, punk and Turkish folk music. While less active these days than others, Tekin has most recently made headlines for running to be an assistant to the district official of the neighborhood she resides in Bodrum.
Deniz Sipahi first won the hearts of her devoted fans after reaching the finals of the voice competition Akademi Türkiye. She then went on to form the group Popart and was offered and starred in multiple television roles. Now, a stunning actress that just recently popped onto the musical scene with fervor, Deniz Sipahi’s fun pop rendition of the song “Leyla” has become a summer anthem along Turkey’s southern coast. But, it is her acoustic rendition of the folk-rock song “Sözlerimi Geri Alamam” ("I Can’t Take My Words Back") that tends to close out the night in pubs down south as everyone sings along and sways to the beautiful words of this touching love song.