A Rough Guide to the Best Music in Istanbul
I flew to Istanbul specifically for the soundscapes, and so ended up in the Beyoglu district, known to be the most artistically dynamic area of the city. Also one of the oldest areas of Istanbul, Beyoglu lives up to its reputation, and is a musical paradise. On most evenings, just before dusk, fill your pockets with Lira coins and hit the grand boulevard called Istiklal Caddesi, which ends at the famous Taksim Square. On one main street, you can spend the whole night huddled with a warm crowd, completely enchanted by a Baltic melody on the clarinet, a woman playing violin, and an old man on Baglama (Turkish lute/guitar); all while a little boy taps away alongside on the Tef (tambourine). The sheer experience of intimacy that these street encounters offer is worth forgoing the bars for at least one night (and generously tossing the cover charge into a hat).
There are, however, tons of great live music shows in Beyoglu, and the best venues are the Ghetto and Babylon night clubs. Drinks are pricey, so grab a pint of Efes (Turkey's national brew) for 5 Lira at one of the dozens of bars lining the narrow alleyways to the club. Admission is pretty standard, about 20 Lira, or $16 CAD. Here you can find the best contemporary music Istanbul has to offer, with genres ranging from rockabilly to rhythm and blues. You can also find internationally touring bands, or, my personal favourite, innovative Turkish musicians playing traditional tunes with modern melodic twists. One night I happened upon the impressive “Kolektif Istanbul” at Babylon nightclub, and danced off the soles of my shoes to jazz-infused classic Kurdish tunes.
If you want to stick with Turkish classics, there are also tons of meyhane (Turkish Taverns). Meyhane are usually small and cozy, and on weekends, you will find musicians playing fasil (a local form of gypsy music). I happened upon one along Istiklal, and I saw a terrific singer with a Tef, accompanied by two guitarists, one of whom was keeping an accompanying beat on the body of his guitar. Drinks can be expensive, but worth the experience as long as you don't let them serve you “free nuts”. They aren't! Also, if you eat there, make sure to tip the musicians if they come over to play at your table.
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