Translation and Popular Music

Transcultural Intimacy in Turkish–Greek Relations

by Şebnem Susam-Saraeva (Author)
©2015 Monographs 194 Pages


Research on translation and music has so far focused mainly on «art music» and on issues such as quality, singability and accessibility. Studies which seek to embed translation and music within their historical and sociocultural contexts are relatively rare. This book aims to shed light on how translations of popular music contribute to fostering international relations by focusing on a case study of Turkish-Greek rapprochement in the last two decades. It provides a brief account of the thaw in relations between the two countries and then examines the ways in which translation and music have played a role in these changes. By looking at the phenomenon through the music’s various forms of materiality (on paper, in audio and through the internet) and the different forms the accompanying translations take, and by drawing on a range of disciplines (popular music studies, sociology of music, ethnomusicology, social anthropology, comparative literature and fan studies), the book aims to foreground the multifaceted nature of translation and music and their wide-ranging impact on society and international relations.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Chapter 1: Translation, popular music and transcultural intimacy
  • Chapter 2: Music for being transported: When not to translate
  • Chapter 3: Music for remembering: Nostalgia, music and translation on paper
  • Chapter 4: Music for one’s own: Sentimentalism and cover versions
  • Chapter 5: Music fandom as online activism: Translating lyrics on the net
  • Chapter 6: Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Discography
  • Index
  • Series index

← viii | ix →Acknowledgements

I would like to thank:

Arts and Humanities Research Council, UK, for generously giving support to this project through their Research Leave scheme, which enabled me to collect the majority of the data,

The Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland, UK, for the grant they awarded towards the publication of this book,

The University of Edinburgh for general academic support and the collegial atmosphere it offers,

Peter Lang series editors and commissioners for their patience with and input in the project,

St Jerome Publishing for giving permission to use some of the material which first appeared in Şebnem Susam-Sarajeva, 2006, ‘Rembetika Songs and Their “Return” to Anatolia’, Loredana Polezzi, ed., Translation, Travel, Migration, Special issue of The Translator: Studies in Intercultural Communication 12(2): 253–78; and Şebnem Susam-Sarajeva, 2008, ‘Translation and Music. Changing Perspectives, Frameworks and Significance’, Translation and Music, Special issue of The Translator: Studies in Intercultural Communication 14(2): 187–200,

Iraklis Pantopoulos for his help in locating, translating and double-checking the lyrics in Greek at the initial and final stages of this research,

And last but not least, my mother, Ferda Susam, for patiently locating and collecting the printed media reports referred to within the book.

I am also grateful to the following lyricists, musicians and poets who kindly gave their permission to quote from their work: Sezen Aksu, Yelda Karataş, Yalvaç Ural, Cengiz Onural and Murathan Mungan. Despite all my best efforts, I could not reach Ataol Behramoğlu, Şehrazat and Natalie Rassoulis, as the copyright holder of Manolis Rassoulis’s work. ← ix | x →Every effort has been made to trace copyright holders and to obtain their permission for the use of copyright material. I apologize for any errors or omissions in the above list and would be grateful for notification of any corrections that should be incorporated in future reprints or editions of this book.

← x | 1 →CHAPTER 1

Translation, popular music and transcultural intimacy

Kalbim Ege’de Kaldı My Heart’s Left Behind in the Aegean1
Cıgaramı sardım karşı sahile,
Yaktım ucunda acıları.
Ağları attım anılar doldu,
Ağlar hasretimin kıyıları.
Rolled up my cig, lit my grief, then
Onto the other shore I blew the smoke.
I cast the nets, memories were caught,
Tears shed the coasts of my longing.
Yareme tuz diye yakamoz bastım. On my wounds I rubbed, not salt, but yakamoz.
Tek şahidim aydı, aman aman! Moon as my sole witness, aman aman!
Bir elimde defne, bir elimde sevdan, Bay leaves in one hand, sevda in the other,
Kalbim Ege’de kaldı.
My heart’s left behind in the Aegean.
Lyrics: Sezen Aksu, Şehrazat and Yelda Karataş
Music: Atilla Özdemiroğlu

Sevda (sevdas),2 yakamoz (diakamós),3 aman.4 Impenetrable words for some of the readers of this book, but familiar to both Turks and Greeks, despite ← 1 | 2 →the fact that they speak mutually unintelligible languages and use different alphabets. Grief and tears, rubbing salt and light on one’s wounds – the healing sentimentality of the Aegean people. All the while smoking, with no intention of healing, really; ‘we’, from the Aegean, are usually in love with ‘our’ pain, ‘our’ melancholy. Longing and memories – the nostalgia for a highly reimagined past, for a past before the pain, before the Turkish War of Independence, before the Asia Minor Catastrophe, as it is called by the Greeks, and before the population exchange between the two nations. The other shore emerges here as an image that haunts the people who were violently uprooted from both sides of the Aegean and sent across the sea. The same image has also left its mark in almost every single work of art and literature that contributed, in its own way, to the thawing of relationships between Turkey and Greece through the rapprochement within the last two decades (more on rapprochement in section 1.2).

With its video clip shot on the cobblestone streets of Cunda – an iconic island for the population exchange of the early 1920s – in front of its dilapidated Orthodox church and old Rum houses, later occupied by Muslims forced out of the islands of Crete and Lesbos, and with the conspicuous use of Greek instruments like bouzouki and Anatolian-origin Greek dances like zeibekiko in its chorus sequence, this song from Aksu’s 1993 album acts as a microcosm of the issues I want to raise in this book in relation to translation, popular music and the rapprochement. The song may be opaque to ‘outsiders’, but for ‘insiders’ it tells the story of a woman who was forced to live away from her birthplace. It tells about the repercussions of an embarrassing moment (or indeed, several such moments) in the region’s history within the twentieth century, which nevertheless links the two nations’ ‘ordinary citizens’ (if not the nation-states themselves) in a bittersweet intimacy. My objective in this book will be to relate this ‘transcultural intimacy’ (Bigenho 2012, Herzfeld 1997, Stokes 2010), fed on a steady diet of nostalgia and sentimentality, arguably shared – if not in equal measures – by the peoples living on both sides of the Aegean, to an international academic audience interested in the interlinkages between translation, popular music and society.

While working on this project, I often felt I had not made my life any easier by incorporating the rapprochement element to the already ← 2 | 3 →complicated relationship between translation and popular music. I set out to cover not only the various forms of translation that could arise from the travels of music far from its birthplace, such as non-translation, translation on printed material, cover versions and translation of lyrics on the web, but I also aimed at accounting for these translations within a wide and ever-shifting context, ranging from grassroots activist movements for peace to the successful co-optation of their goals by the nation-states themselves. The deeper I have delved into the context giving rise to this music, the more translation has emerged as a lens through which the rapprochement itself could be viewed.

I believe that the project at hand is a particularly fruitful one; it underscores the implications and significance of translational activities related to music and elicits questions that go beyond the more mainstream ones asked within current research on the subject. It places translation and popular music squarely where they belong: within the intricate workings of a society and nation-state (Turkey), in this particular case vis-à-vis its immediate neighbour (Greece). The book emphasizes the often-overlooked fact that music is not only ‘cultural’ but also ‘political’, not only in the limited sense of the latter, but also in the way ‘the politics of popular music is linked to the relationships between individuals and groups in society’ (Wall 2003: 38). After all, as stated by sociologist DeNora (2000: 163), ‘music’s presence is clearly political, in every sense that the political can be conceived’. In a narrower sense of the word, though, music may also serve or clash with certain political and ideological purposes (Davies and Bentahila 2008, McMichael 2008, Meintjes 2004, Mitchell 1996, Öner 2008, Susam-Sarajeva 2006). Translation scholars are experienced in dealing with these issues in other forms of artistic production, such as literature and film; music is certainly not exempt from similar socio-political influences.

I have argued elsewhere that no other non-religious multimodal text moves people as deeply as the combination of lyrics and music, becoming an intrinsic part of their lives, acting as a shortcut to their memories and bearing witness to their life stages (Susam-Sarajeva 2008b). Music is also one way in which people form their self-identities, a ‘device for the reflexive process of remembering/constructing who one is, a technology for spinning the apparently continuous tale of who one is’ (DeNora 2000: ← 3 | 4 →63). Through this strong impact on individuals, music also exercises an enormous influence on the way societies work, nations are represented, cultures are constructed and passed on from one generation to the next. As Frith (2004: 1) rightly points out, ‘music is much more important in the emotional ordering of everyday life than is usually acknowledged’. And yet, ‘within modern societies, music’s powers are – albeit strongly “felt” – typically invisible and difficult to specify empirically’ (DeNora 2000: ix). As amply demonstrated by DeNora’s (ibid.: x) sociological study, music ‘works as an ordering material in social life’, from the level of the production of an individual’s self-identity, to organizing life experiences of groups and families, to structuring people’s environments in institutions, organizations, shops and companies. It is true that music’s links to identity and subjectivity can be seen most clearly at the level of individual practice, but ‘the project of exploring how music works as an organizing device of human social life would be incomplete without moving beyond this level to consider music’s organizing role in more impersonal and socially diffuse circumstances in public settings’ (ibid.: 130). This book hopes to add to the growing body of research in the sociology of music that argues that music can, and indeed does, work as an ordering material at the level of society at large and, even beyond that, in international relationships.

It is worth noting here that the book does not intend to emphasize the role of translation within this rapprochement between Greece and Turkey in terms of direct consequences or deterministic cause–effect relations. Nor would the oft-repeated and rosy metaphor of translation as ‘building bridges’ across cultures be appropriate. The links between popular music production, social change, technological advances and economics of the music industry are too complex to yield a simplistic picture of ‘translation and music for peace’. People choose the music they listen to at any particular time in history not only because of their own individual preferences but also because of ‘what is available to [them] and what [they] make it mean’ (Wall 2003: 37). In order to understand how and why these particular choices are made, one needs to have access to the full picture, and examine those social, economic and technical factors and how they interlink with musical (re)production, distribution, promotion and consumption. Coming from a socio-cultural approach to translation, this book will limit its scope to ← 4 | 5 →the first of these factors, i.e. the social, and will inevitably present a partial picture, often probably only scratching the surface. Yet within popular music studies, changes in the wider society have always been regarded as the first and most important factor in explaining changes in musical taste and styles (ibid.: 37), possibly because it is much easier to access relevant sociological data, compared to the economic and technical. In the Turkish case, it is even more difficult to access information on the economic and technical developments in music industry (for a notable exception, see Dilmener 2003: 17–33).

The other reason why the book tries not to fall into the trap of a utopian take on ‘translation and music for peace’, is because the détente in question is taken with more than a pinch of salt on the Greek side, as well as on the international platform, so as not to be trusted fully or to be seen as long-term, let alone permanent. However, there is no reason why we should be throwing the fledgling efforts, hopes and wishes of a multitude of musicians, lyricists, producers, translators, as well as ordinary citizens, out with the murky waters of political indeterminacy. I hope that the book finds the right balance between a healthy dose of scepticism and a genuine awe for people’s struggles for lasting peace.

1.1 Objectives and background of research

My interest in this project initially arose out of personal curiosity and a certain degree of wonder. As someone who grew up in the 1980s in İzmir, a city along the Western coast of Turkey, with access to only two TV channels by two different national public broadcasters – the TRT (Türkiye Radyo ve Televizyon Kurumu, Turkish Radio and Television Corporation), and the ERT (Ellinikí Radiofonía Tileórasi, Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation), whose broadcast frequencies were strong enough to reach İzmir – I was familiar with the music of both shores of the Aegean. After moving to Istanbul in the early 1990s, however, that link was severed, until – to my surprise – music in Greek slowly became part of urbanite Turks’ daily lives ← 5 | 6 →towards the end of that decade. The proliferation of recordings in Greek distributed in Turkey, of joint concerts and duet songs by Turkish and Greek musicians, of archival compilations of rembetiko music,5 which I shall come back to in more detail in Chapters 2 and 3, and the increased visibility of Turkish cover versions of contemporary and historical Greek music seemed to have followed a from-the-political-margins-to-the-commercial-mainstream trajectory, all along embedded within a discourse of détente, friendship, fraternity, co-operation and peace. I began to wonder why music, along with literature and film, had become so prominent in the hitherto taboo Turkish–Greek friendship. How could literary and artistic outputs reflect a détente between two countries which had been in long-term conflict? How could such outputs, in turn, influence this process? Most importantly, from my disciplinary point of view, what was the role and boundaries of translation in these exchanges? And who were the intercultural mediators? Why were some of them more conspicuously present (such as megastars like Aksu, popular bands like Yeni Türkü, and lyricists like the renowned poet Murathan Mungan) than others who preferred to remain relatively on the margins (such as Muammer Ketencoğlu, Bosphorus and Anadolu Feneri, and Cengiz Onural, respectively)? Answering these questions would hopefully help me and my readers understand how translation and popular music could be interwoven into the socio-political fabric of a society, how they could then be linked to intercultural relations beyond borders and why they bear the importance they do.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (November)
Translation and music popular music Turkish-Greek relations international relations
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2015. 194 pp.

Biographical notes

Şebnem Susam-Saraeva (Author)

Şebnem Susam-Saraeva is Senior Lecturer in Translation Studies at the University of Edinburgh. She has published extensively on gender and translation, retranslations, translation of literary and cultural theories, research methodology in translation studies, and translation and social movements on the internet. She is also the co-vice president of the International Association for Translation and Intercultural Studies (IATIS) and serves on the Steering Committee of the ARTIS initiative (Advancing Research in Translation and Interpreting Studies).


Title: Translation and Popular Music