Arabesque and
the Pain


Photo: Mehmet Uyargil

Agony is the motto of arabesque music. One of its most famous hook lines, a song composed by Orhan Gencebay, is “I have become addicted to pain”.

Except for Gencebay, the undisputed king of the genre, this film features almost all other arabesque artists of Turkey: Ferdi Tayfur, Hakkı Bulut, Ümit Besen, Kibariye, Emrah etc. Orhan Gencebay, director Nedim Hazar’s friend, declined an interview due to private reasons. And Müslim Gürses’ fee for an interview went beyond the financial scope of this project. But his fans are featured. They are those who cut their arms and wrists with razor blades during their idols’ concerts - a unique phenomenon worldwide.

Invite me to your wedding, darling
I can be your witness if you want.

These lines from a chart breaking hit by Ümit Besen are not supposed to be funny. They describe a sad and dark story. The majority of this genre’s songs tell about unfulfilled loves, unresolvable troubles of everyday life and yet agony, again and again.

This music genre originated in the 1970s, at the same time as slums began appearing on the outskirts of larger Turkish cities, as a result of mass migrations from rural areas. Arabesque addressed these uprooted people not only emotionally but also musically. It is a mixture of traditional and Arabic elements with the sound of the big city. Academics, critics and radio and television programmers initially disparaged it as an “unclean “and decadent type of music, unworthy of Turkish culture and music. But this only helped to spread it further.

Ferdi Tayfur, one of the most popular arabesque interpreters, mocks intellectuals who put down his music. “Secretly, they listen to our songs when they have smoked pot.” He is not mistaken. From the mid-’80s on, this music found its way into the mainstream. Even some songs of pop singer Sezen Aksu are affected by arabesque music. 

Filmed in Istanbul, Gaziantep, Urfa and Edirne, this movie also features younger interpreters of the genre, arabesque rock and a capella-arabesque.

Available here only in Turkish, this film was initially intended to be part of the NTV series “Our Background Music”, but has evolved into a movie standing for itself. Before being broadcast on television, it premiered at the Istanbul Film Festival in 2007.


Nedim Hazar Bora


Bahattin Demir




Naim Dilmener,
Serkan Seymen,
Can Kozanoğlu,
Ömer Özgüner


NTV Turkey


Istanbul Film Festival

© 2021 NEDIM HAZAR | designed by aristotheme

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