It is possible to say that with the shift to a multi-party system (1946-1950), Turkey’s modernization acquired new dimensions and become more civilian in appearance. The first wave of migration into the city occurred during this period; this was accompanied by new construction attempts that had public characteristics, in particular new roads, business centers and magnificent structures. The goal behind building business centers was a reflection of the economic policies of the 1950s. In this context, the idea to bring together drapery and textile merchants, who had been gravitating towards old residential areas of Istanbul, into a modern market was in keeping with the spirit of the reconstruction activities of the 1950s. Construction of this market place started in 1954, and only completed, after a lengthy expropriation process, in 1968. The drapers however did not use the entire market solely, consisting of 1.117 shops. The economic developments that occurred while the bazaar was being constructed transformed the IMÇ (Istanbul Drapers’ Bazaar), located in the heart of Istanbul, into a business center that served several sectors. One such sector was the record industry, which had begun to grow in Sirkeci in the 1960s. More specifically, the music industry, which had been firmly established in the 1960s, had grown stronger with the widespread distribution and marketing of 45-rpm records throughout Anatolia. Later on, the expanding business volume led to an increase in the number of recording companies and a need for a new business center. This center is known as Unkapanı Plakçılar Çarşı today, and was an area that rapidly became the heart of the world of Turkish music.

1- Gramofon (İBB, Kültür A.Ş.)

2- Putting flat disc on the record player (İBB, Kültür A.Ş.)

Anatolian Pop and Revolutionary Folk Music, with political overtones, and even the typically apolitical light Western Music (also known as “pop music”) all underwent serious crises after the military coup of September 12, 1980. As for the Arabesque genre, although it had suffered due to the prohibitive attitude of the state in the 1970s, it did not experience any interruption, and its audience continued to grow through the ‘80s. The most important reason for this success was that the lyrics and musical style of the Arabesque songs spoke to the fantasies, sorrows, joys and longings of the poorest section of society. In addition, Arabesque performers embodied these cherished values with their behavior on stage; an indication of this is the common usage of the term “Baba” (father) for Arabesque singers. In terms of the industry, firms that produced records and marketing companies that knew how to secure the economic value of the records by finding the appropriate audiences in Anatolia quickly became associated with İMÇ in Unkapanı. Unkapanı was the heart of the music industry, practically the only sector in the Turkish economy able to preserve its economic success despite the severe financial bottlenecks, which followed one upon the other in the 1970s and 1980s. At this time, Unkapanı was brimming over with those, who came from Anatolia to become involved in the cassette or vinyl business, or to achieve instant success as singers. Soon the great amount of money circulating in the sector due to millions of cassette sales attracted the attention of both musicians and businessmen. Unkapanı, particularly due to the music industry in the 1980s, operated as an enormous factory, and provided a source of income for thousands of people, ranging from distributers to singers, recording company bosses to tea boys. The paths of many people who achieved fame and wealth crossed, by necessity, through the plakçılar bazaar. At this bazaar, which was crowded like a local street market, bustling with the activity of daily life, all components of the music industry could be found. Music studios, music classes, recording companies, producers, distributors and organizational firms were located inside the bazaar. The increase in trade volume over a short time led the people, who had become accustomed to experiencing financial problems, to perceive Unkapanı as a beacon of hope. The mobility in Unkapanı continued until the end of the 1990s.

The business center created its own culture over a period of almost 25 years. This was the setting for the plots of many movies and books. In fact, this was true to such an extent that it became a center famous throughout Turkey with people from all sectors. However, with the arrival and proliferation of digital music technology, the music production and consumption that had created this world in Unkapanı lost its earlier commercial attraction. Digital music, which was free and easily accessible thanks to the Internet, caused changes in the components that had created the meta-value of music. When digital technology became widespread, recording companies first lost their monopoly on music studios and then there was a rapid decrease in cassette and CD sales, displacing distributors and production firms. As a result of the decrease in cassette and CD sales, concerts became the sole means for musicians to make a living; organizational firms stopped doing business with record producers and contacted the musicians directly. Thus, recording companies started to go bankrupt, shops emptied out and Unkapanı became deserted.


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This article was translated from Turkish version of History of Istanbul with some editions to be published in a digitalized form in 2019.

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