Ibrahim Tatlises

Sharing is caring!

When I travelled through Turkey in 1996, Arabesque music was everywhere. On jukebox cafes, in crowded minibuses full of toothless farmers dressed in wool and smelling of sheep and damp, at bus stations and on stretched tapes in car stereo cassette players. Enormously popular, Arabesque could be heard everywhere but on the radio. As happened in Turkey in the 1920s and 1930s when all music was banned from the airwaves, it was forbidden to broadcast Arabesque in the 1990s.

The Arabesque style of music is a uniquely Turkish creation, with influences from Arabic, Ottoman and even Balkan music. The lyrics are concerned with loss and longing and when I first heard it, was highly popular with lovesick young men. They related to the age-old themes of boy loves girl, parents disapprove of boy, boy loses girl, girl marries another, boy’s heart is broken, ad infinitum.

I bought this Ibrahim Tatlises album on cassette!

Of all the Arabesque singers, Ibrahim Tatlises was the king. Born in 1952 in Şanlıurfa to a Kurdish mother and an Arab father, he never went to school when he was a child. Although his fame is legendary, quite how he rose from such humble beginnings is unclear.  I’ve heard tales of Tatlises singing to his flock when he was a shepherd, and being discovered by chance out in the fields. The impossibility of such a story being true was never questioned by the many people who told it to me. It clearly had an influence, because in 2000, when I lived in Istanbul, young men often stood on corners and sang beautifully to passing girls, while gypsies fossicking through the rubbish sang soulfully of heartache and loss, all the while hoping to be discovered too.

According to another story, he was working on a building site, singing as usual, and a cinema owner heard him. He put Ibrahim Tatlises on stage in Adana, and from there he burst onto the Turkish music stage when he performed at a casino, a type of Turkish night club, in Ankara, the country’s capital city. In yet another version he sang at restaurants and weddings, selling cassettes of his music. A record producer heard him in 1976 and started Tatlises on the road to fame. What is known to be true is that his 1978 album Doldur Kardeş İçelim (Fill it Brothers, Let’s Drink!) broke all previous Turkish sales figures and cemented his place in Arabesque royalty.

I love lahmacun - what about you?

Affectionately known as Ibo, Ibrahim Tatlises’ popularity grew in leaps and bounds, as did his business empire. At one point he owned a busy bus company named for him, of course, and there were a string of Tatlises lahmacun restaurants across the country. Established stars and up-and-coming talent appeared on his television chat program the Ibo Show, and he appeared in numerous films. A not uncontroversial figure, he’s survived numerous attempts on his life. He was shot in the leg in 1990, and in 1998 he narrowly escaped death in an assassination attempt. In March 2011, he was shot in the head but miraculously survived. He was taken to Germany for treatment and little has been heard of him since.

Much maligned by the Turkish secular elite for its formulaic style, nonetheless Arabesque and in particular Ibrahim Tatlises, still have a special place in my heart. When I first heard this music, I couldn’t understand the lyrics, but the sweet sound of Tatlises voice was an essential back drop to bumpy rides across the Anatolian plateau. Out in the north east of the country, spectacular rust coloured rocky outcrops, formed by ancient volcanic eruptions, were imbued with a special melancholy due to the constant soundtrack of Arabesque in the minor key. For me, it will always form part of my inner Turkish landscape.

You can learn more about Turkish music (and my particular favourites), here.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.