Lesser-Known Gem: Barış Manço – 2023

Artist: Barış Manço | Album: 2023 | Genre: Anatolian rock, Progressive rock | Year: 1975

From: Istanbul, Turkey | Label: Yavuz Plak

For fans of: Pink Floyd, The Moody Blues

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Barış Manço (pronounced roughly BAR-ish MAHN-cho) was a Turkish composer and musician. He was one of the founders of the Anatolian rock movement, along with guitarist Erkin Koray and the bands 3 Hür-El and Moğollar. I’ve mentioned Anatolian rock a few times on this site, but I haven’t given it its own entry before now.

Anatolian rock blends the sounds of psychedelic and space rock with Turkish folk melodies and instrumentation. There was a lot of variation in this field, with Moğollar being on the folkier end of things and 3 Hür-El remaining rooted in fuzzy psychedelia. To this day, Anatolian rock persists as a micro-genre, though it had its heyday in the late ‘60s and through the ‘70s.

I’ll be the first to admit that 2023 isn’t exactly the least-known entry in this series, but it’s an opportunity I couldn’t pass up! (For those of you reading this in the future, check the date this review was published.) Manço was the spaciest and most overtly proggy of the major Anatolian acts. His lush keyboards and wind instruments call to mind acts like The Moody Blues and late-’60s Pink Floyd.

2023 was Manço’s first proper full-length album. He did release a compilation of earlier singles in 1974, though those were more beat or old-school rock ‘n’ roll in style.

This album opens on “Achı’da Bağa Vir” (“Vineyard in Achi). The melody is immediately recognizable as Eastern Mediterranean, with lute, guitar, and synthesizer harmonizing in unique ways. The percussion is also notably un-rock-like for the most part. The synth has a strange, quacking quality to it, and Manço’s vocals are both delicate and strong.

“Kayaların Oğlu” (“Son of the Rocks”) follows. Gentle sounds of splashing and synth strings open this song under Manço’s narration. Hints of krautrock show up in the form of some electronic percussion and wildly wobbling synthesizer lines, but things soon refocus on the narration. I don’t speak Turkish, and I’m often not a fan of narration, but Manço makes this engaging.

The album’s title track comes next, and it starts with a similar sound palette. Lush synth strings kick things off, though it has a more urgent feel than one might expect. Hints of blues mingle with prog and Anatolian folk in the languid melody. Around the midpoint, this instrumental shifts gears. While remaining rich and astral, a saxophone enters to lend a jazzy touch. The earlier theme is eventually reincorporated in a satisfying way.

After the deliberate pace of “2023”, “Yolverin Ağalar Beyler” (Google failed to give a coherent translation here) has a peppy, funky opening to it. Saxophone, hand percussion, and light, wah-wahed guitar makes this piece feel like a Turkish version of a blaxploitation film soundtrack. The verse, though, feels more like a traditional Turkish ballad.

“Uzun İnce Bir Yoldayım” (“I’m on a Long and Narrow Road”) continues with the slow pace, but it’s relaxing and not tedious. The flute line here is especially pretty. Despite my usual aversion to balladry, Manço manages to make it compelling. Creative compositional choices, wonderful instrumental tones, and his sonorous voice go a long way toward making tracks like this one feel engaging.

Side B opens with some psychedelic Turkish country music. “Yine Yol Göründü Gurbete” (“The Road Home Appeared Again”) has an upbeat feel that draws heavily from acts like The Grateful Dead and Moby Grape. It seems that the Turkish folk melodies work wonderfully within the template of country music.

Up next is the 13-minute, five-part suite “Baykoca Destanı” (“Baykoca Epic”). (Saruhan Baykoca (more often called Bayhoca) was a nephew of the founder of the Ottoman Empire, who died heroically in battle.) Part one (“Gülme Ha, Gülme” – “Don’t Laugh, Ha, Don’t Laugh”) has a laid-back, funky feel. Turkish string instruments, psychedelic guitar, and proggy keyboard arrangements mingle well with one another.

“Gelinlik Kızların Dansı” (“Dance of the Bridesmaids”) continues with the energetic Turco-prog. Saz and synthesizer share the lead melody in this short instrumental passage. “Kara Haber – Turnanın Ölümü” (“Black News – Death of Crane”) is a brief, somber organ drone with guitar, wind instruments, and synth embellishments.

The pace picks up again as this epic moves into “Vur Ha, Vur” (“Shoot, Ha, Shoot”). I’m especially fond of the synthesizer line on this song. It buzzes over the top of the bouncy, funky, folky backing track. The final movement (“Durma Ha, Durma” – “Don’t Stop, Don’t Stop”) opens on a more morose note. It has an upward trajectory, though, and the vocal performance here is as strong as ever.

“Tavuklara Kişşşt De” (“Say ‘Kisshht’ to the Chickens) is possibly the folkiest piece on the whole album. An insistent saz theme holds the piece together as other folk instruments pop in and out. There’s a sense of fun and playfulness to this short cut that I like a lot.

2023 closes with “Kol Bastı” (“Arm Pressed”). This is one of the more guitar-forward songs on the album. However, this is the one point on the album where I feel there’s any bloat. The first five minutes of the song could have been trimmed down a bit, but it still manages to end strong. 

Barış Manço’s debut LP is a rich, interesting release. It’s one of the highpoints of the Anatolian rock movement. Psychedelic rock, space rock, progressive rock, and funk all mix with Turkish folk music in rewarding, natural ways.

Score: 96/100

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