Department of social anthropology seminar with Thomas Solomon
"The Girl’s Voice in Turkish Rap". Vocality and the Patriarchal Bargain in the Life and Music of Ayben
Ayben is a Turkish rapper from the neighborhood of Üsküdar in Istanbul. She made her first professional recording at the age of 17 in 1999. After a hiatus of several years during which she worked her rapping technique, she re-emerged on the Turkish hip-hop scene in 2004, and since then her career has steadily developed.
While women’s issues (such as the sexual harassment of women on the street by men, and the double standard applied to Turkish women’s behavior as opposed to men’s) is only one of the many subjects she raps about, Ayben is very aware of her status as the most visible female rapper in Turkey, and the potential this visibility has for making alternative subjectivities available to her audience, especially her female fans. Her overall artistic project specifically includes the goal of making space for women within the very male-dominated Turkish hip-hop scene. This goal is made explicit in the slogan “Türkçe rapin kız sesi” (“The girl’s voice in Turkish rap”), which she has used in several songs, and which also has appeared on posters and other promotional material. While Ayben has used thus rap music as a vehicle for exploring alternative conceptions of what female vocality can be in a Turkish context, she has also paradoxically embraced aspects of masculinist hip-hop practice (e.g. aiming in her song texts homophobic insults and sexual slurs at other male and female rappers) that can be read as re-inscribing the patriarchal tendencies found both within hip-hop as cultural practice and within Turkish society historically.
This paper draws on ethnographic research on Turkish rap in Istanbul between 2000 and the present to explore issues of gender and subjectivity in Ayben’s life and her music. The paper makes particular use of material from an interview I conducted with Ayben in November 2006, quoting extensively her own words on issues such as her experiences in negotiating, on the one hand, expectations that others in her community (including her family and people in her Istanbul neighborhood) have of her as a young, Turkish, Muslim woman and, on the other hand, her choice to be a rapper and performer on stage in public. I also consider the development of Ayben’s rapping style between 1999 and 2006 through brief discussion of some of her songs, showing how she developed her particular rapping technique, characterized by high-speed delivery, dense rhyme structures, rhythmic play, and complex relationships between the poetic lines of her text and the musical phrases in the instrumental backing tracks over which she raps.
I use feminist Turkish social scientist Deniz Kandiyoti’s concept of “bargaining with patriarchy” as a theoretical tool to explore the apparent contradictions within Ayben’s subject position as a female Turkish rapper, and argue that Ayben’s own personal “patriarchal bargain” is a strategy for negotiating what feminist musicologist Susan Cusick calls “the social space in which to have a musical voice.”
Thomas Solomon is Associate Professor in the Grieg Academy-Department of Music. He has previously taught at New York University, University of Minnesota and Istanbul Technical University. He has done field research in Bolivia on musical imaginations of ecology, place and identity, and in Istanbul on place and identity in Turkish hip-hop. His publications include articles in the journals Ethnomusicology, Popular Music, European Journal of Cultural Studies, and Yearbook for Traditional Music, as well numerous papers in edited volumes. He is also editor of Music and Identity in Norway and Beyond: Essays Commemorating Edvard Grieg the Humanist (Fagbokforlaget, Bergen 2011).
All interested are welcome!