Turkish Folk Music: Mehmet Özbek


Mehmet Özbek was deemed worthy of the Aydın Doğan Award, given in the Turkish Folk Music section in 2011, for his artistic services to Turkish Folk Music as a soloist, choirmaster, compiler, and composer; for his corporate services for the İstanbul Municipality Conservatory Folklore Practice Community, for TRT İstanbul Radio and TRT Music Division Directory as Branch Manager and Music Division Director; for his administrative services as the founding chief and manager of the Ministry of Culture Turkish Folk Music Choir; for the national and international concerts given and directed by him; for the musical works he composed and scored, along with the works he contributed to the general folk music repertoire and the students educated during his academic life.

Ege University Turkish State Music Conservatory was also deemed worthy of a service award. The Conservatory has served as an educational institution to our country’s cultural and artistic life, and to Turkish Folk Music and Dance in this context since 1984. It has educated esteemed academicians in the field of folk music and complied and archived the folkloric/ethnographic works of Turkish music culture nationally and internationally through the compilation committee it created, contributing successfully to promoting our country in Turkish Folk Music and Dance with the help of the folk musicians educated at the Conservatory.

The Selection Committee for 2011’s Aydın Doğan Award included Yücel Paşmakçı (Chair), Melih Duygulu, Erdal Erzincan, Zafer Gündoğdu, Doğan Hızlan, Prof. Songül Karahasanoğlu, Arif Sağ, Hasan Saltık and Süleyman Şenel.

Mehmet Özbek’s Biography
Özbek was born in Şanlıurfa in 1945. He completed his primary and secondary education in Şanlıurfa and graduated from the Department of Turkish Literature of the İstanbul University Faculty of Literature. He completed his PhD with his thesis, “The Language and Narrative of Urfa’s Ballads,” at the Institute of Social Sciences of the same university. During his years as a student, he attended the Department of Turkish Music Theory at İstanbul Municipality Conservatory. In 1966, he passed TRT’s entrance exam and started working for the broadcaster. After working as a trainee musician of Turkish Folk Music at İstanbul Radio, he continued his work as a Professional musician from 1969 onwards. He was appointed as the Branch Director of Turkish Folk Music and Dance at İstanbul Radio in 1977, and as the Director of Turkish Folk Music and Dance at the TRT Music Division in 1982. He served as a member and chairperson of the TRT Turkish Folk Music Board of Auditors and Board of Repertoire between 1977 and 1986. He gave lectures in Turkish Folk Music at Hacettepe University between 1983 and 1995, at Gazi University between 1998 and 2000 and at the Department of Turkish Literature of the Faculty of Literature at Ankara University in the academic year of 2006-2007. He acted as a member of the Science Board of Atatürk Higher Institution of Culture, Language and History, and as the President of the Performance Arts Division between 1996 and 2002. Starting from June 1986, he worked as the chief of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism Ankara State Turkish Folk Music Choir. He retired from this institution in October 2007 at his own request.

Özbek worked professionally as a Folk Music singer and conductor, starting from 1966. He compiled the folk songs of many regions in Anatolia, his primary focus being Urfa, but also of Iraqi, Azeri, Yugoslavian, Bulgarian and Romanian Turks internationally. He contributed 300 of these, both lyric and instrumental, to the TRT repertoire.

During his spell at TRT, he prepared radio shows such as “The Poet-Singer Tradition,” “Turkish Folkloric Instruments,” “What The Ballads Say,” “The Past and The Present of Ballads,” “What We Love When We Come To Know,” and television shows such as “The Voice of The Homeland,” “From Our Hands and Our Nomads” and “Caravan”. He ensured that musical instruments such as the tar, the shepherd’s pipe, the shrill pipe, the bagpipe, that had never been used in the medium of radio be used in orchestral arrangement. Therefore, he brought forth the main elements of Turkish Folk Music with regards to instruments and repertoire, and emphasized the richness of this music and its accessibility to a global audience through his unique performances. He attempted to emphasize the sheer scope of the Turkish world and the cultural integration within this region by performing Kazakh, Kirghiz, Uzbek and Turkmen song and dance, with which we had previously been unfamiliar.

He gave national and international concerts, among others, in Japan, Saudi Arabia, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Egypt and Azerbaijan, thus introducing Turkish Folk Music to a wider audience. In 1980, he visited 10 cities of Japan as the guest of MİN-ON, that nation's largest cultural institution, and introduced the rich and authentic elements of Turkish folk music, primarily Urfa ballads and hoyrats (unmetered folk songs), by giving concerts with commentary, directed by Prof. Koizumi. Sony later recorded a number of the melodies from the concert on an LP.