Finding Music and Dance

Dancers and musicians are often asking us where they can find a teacher in Istanbul.
For dancers, there is a new studio that fills this need. You can check out their site by clicking here. We have not visited this place ourselves yet, and cannot give you a review. They do offer both Turkish and Rom styles. We would like to hear from any dancers that go there. Please let us know how your experience was. They list a few different teachers on their site. We definately recommend Reyhan Tuzsuz; but we suggest that you check out the teacher that you will be working with before you commit.

I also found a website for a little Turkish village that has classes in dance and cooking and rug weaving, Gokpinar. It looks just idyllic! Check it out here.
(Haven't been there, either, but it's on my list!)

Fazil Studio is located off Isteklal. If you're facing Çiçek Pasaji, it's down the first real street to your left. It's not easy to spot, there's just a little sign just above eye level on your right.

Sema Yıldız (also teaches at Gokpinar sometimes)

Tayyar Akdeniz lives in Ankara, but often teaches elsewhere, often in connection with Folk Tours. They offer tours and events in Turkey especially for dancers and musicians.

Hale Sultan

Here's a page of links for more teachers

And for musicians, there is a new studio in the Tunel area that offers lodging and private instruction. One of it's founding members is an American that understands well the frustration of finding a teacher in Turkey. That was part of his motivation for beginning this studio; to help us hook up with good teachers while visiting Istanbul. It looks like a good situation; lodging in the most fun, musical area of Istanbul, lessons, breakfast, and a practice room. Click here to learn more.

There are so many wonderful drummers in Istanbul. You might inquire about lessons from one of the drum sellers on Galipdede Caddesi at the end of Isteklal.

You may have heard of the Rom Festival in Istanbul. It's held in May in the neighborhood of Ahirkapi, which is down the hill towards the sea of Marmara from Sultanahmet. A google search for "Gypsy Festival" Istanbul turns up alot of info about it. Many of these sites are looking to sell you classes and tours that tie in with the festival. The festival is easy to find, you will hear the davul from far away.

We've added a new resource to the guide called the Turku Guide Library.
You can find useful info on Music and Dance there.
Check out a movie called Crossing the Bridge, all about the music scene in Istanbul.

People have asked us, "I've heard so much about Sulukule, the Gypsy (Rom) neighborhood. Did you go there?".  Sadly, no. It used to be much visited by tourists. The cafes were full of music and dance. This neighborhood was the first sedentary settlement of Roma. A Byzantine scribe first wrote in 1054 of “Egyptians” living in black tents pitched along the fortress walls and making a living belly dancing and telling fortunes. After Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453, Sulukule's dancers and musicians became fixtures of the Ottoman court. This makes it an historic and cultural treasure. But, in 1992, the municipality closed the cafes and Sulukule began it's decline. The Rom lost their means of support. Now, at the end of 2007, the city plans to demolish the Roma neighborhood to gentrify the area. A community almost 1000 years old will be lost. UNESCO, the branch of the UN concerned with ethnic cultures, is trying to stop the demolition, along with the Rom and other sympathetic Turks. It seems to me that the money that is being put towards gentrification would be better spent renovating the historic area and re-opening cafes.

Beyoğlu is the place to be at night. We just wander up and down Isteklal Caddesi, a street that is mostly restricted to pedestrian traffic between the Tunel and Taksim Square. There is a trolley that runs back and forth, Stopping a couple of times. On this street you will find embassies, the Sufi Mosque, a beautiful old church, trendy shops, restaraunts, and Çiçek Pasaji. The "flower passage" is famous; a collection of restaraunts, some with musicians. More interesting is the little alley beside it with it's fish and produce market. We go there for midye tava, little wooden skewers of fried mussels served with a simple dipping sauce on the side. That's where we met the 'squat hole witch'; the woman who attends the worst toilet in Istanbul. Make sure you've got a tip for her, or she'll turn nasty. (We've made a point of knowing where all the best toilets are, after that first trip. Most do not have attendants.) There are alot of CD, video, and book shops on Isteklal, in case you can't make it down to Unkapani to shop for your music. We have often bought CD's that we heard playing in the shops, and have rarely been disappointed. Our favorite restaraunts are to be found on the side streets radiating out from Isteklal. We really recommend exploring those side streets, but be carefull. Don't go more than a block or two off Isteklal at night if you don't know the area, or it is not a well lit commercial area. These side streets also offer ALOT of live music. (video clip from a saz bar) You will get the hang of finding it quickly. Watch for signs outside the bars. There is often a photo of the musician holding his instrument. If it's after 9pm, you can just walk until you hear the type of music you are looking for. There are alot of saz bars. On our last trip, we heard zurnas, a sure sign of a good party. (clarinets are a good sign, too.) We went in and found a band that had saz, zurna, kaval, davul, and a singer. They had great energy, and we were soon up dancing with the Turks. They could tell we were foreign, but were pleased by our interest in Turkish culture. The band came down from the stage to meet us, and we made many friends that night. We like to hit one of the sweet shops during our evening. You can't miss them. Most display some of the treats in the window, like the baklava type pastries that drip honey all day. In general, chocolate is not the Turk's forte. In colder weather, I like the sahlep drink that's made from orchid root and is halfway between a milky chai and a custard. Ted does not like it, though. I wouldn't order it with a dessert unless a diabetic coma is your idea of a good time. It is a dessert in itself.
We really just enjoy strolling up and down Istiklal with all the folk out to have a fun time. You will find several street musicians on any evening. Click here for a 3 minute video of a santur player there.
When your evening on Isteklal is over, if you have to get back across the bridge, you can forget the tunel. I believe it closes around 9pm. We go up to Taksim Square and get a taxi.

When you're considering a hotel in Istanbul, does it matter if there's a t.v.?
As little time as we spent in our room, we loved having t.v. We only had a few channels, though we were right in the middle of Istanbul. Still, it was good to be able to watch BBC news, and there is SO much good music on! In fact, there are so many good music shows on t.v. that we bought a satellite dish that receives foriegn t.v. when we got home. There are Turkish pop shows that are really fun; but the best are the traditional musicians that are constantly being showcased. We also saw many shows that went to places like Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan that featured wonderful scenery and footage of traditional costume and decor.

If you are looking for a dance costume, they are not hard to find...usually. We did have trouble finding one shop. We had an address right near the Hagia Sophia and walked right past the entrance a couple times before we spotted it. There is a pedestrian walk along the far side of the little park across from the Hagia Sophia. Turn down the side street that goes up from it and look on your right. Down a little hallway is a dance shop. The people there were nice and spoke English well. There are many shops in the Bazaar; take your time scoping them out. (video clip) The largest one I've seen is "L" shaped. It offers folkloric costumes as well as cabaret. Keep going to the last row of the Bazaar where they sell mostly textiles. There is a little alley leading out to one of the "hans", or courtyards. These hans usually have a speciality. There's one that has many belly dance costumes. Many places can fit and alter it for you as you wait, so don't despair if the costume you are salivating over does not fit perfectly. Lately, we've been seeing tons of super fancy embroidered Indian skirts and tunics for sale.
We also found a reasonably priced shop in the spice bazaar. (Click here for a video of a walk through the Spice Market) Like many others, this shop looks tiny, but has an upstairs with tons of great stuff. We found alot of shops like this, that displayed only a few costumes out front, but had a huge inventory upstairs. We were surprised to find out that these shops even had an upstairs!
One of the lower gates of the covered bazaar leads to a street that goes downhill to the spice market. This is Mahmutpasa Caddesi and it's lined with shops that sell formalwear. There are many fancy folkloric dresses here.

Be carefull when buying a costume in some shops. A dealer might say the costume is 200 lira. Then, after you've gotten all fitted for it and are ready to pay, he might tell you, 'that was 200 euros, not lira'. Be sure you quote the price back at him at the first to make sure you're in agreement on a big ticket item like a costume. Repeat back at him '200 lira, right?' Don't be shy about it, or you may get ripped-off.

I recommend that you visit the Askeri (military) museum. They feature a show by the Mehter band daily. This is the original marching band, very cool. There is a short film in English, then the Mehter march in and do a few songs. The museum also has a fabulous collection of tents and captured arms and armor (including some very rare helmets). The best way to get there is to grab a taxi. It's not in easy walking distance of the usual tourist areas. But, it's closer to Taksim square than Sultanahmet. You will be searched on the way in. For a fee, you may take photos inside.(I think it was about 6 lira) The gift shop is very small, but we always end up buying alot of stuff there.

Unfortunately, the gallery with the tents is closed til about May of 2008 for renovations.
Another good place to catch the Mehter band is at the Topkapi. Inquire at the ticket booth to see if they are scheduled to march that day. Here's a video clip of a band playing one of my favorite marches.

You might want to climb the Galata Tower just to see the view. This is the vantange point that we used to snap the photo that you see on the inside of Turku's Alleys of Istanbul CD. While you are up there, you can ask about their shows. It's a bit of a tourist trap, but one way to see various Turkish dances.
Do yourself a favor, though, and walk down the hill to it. It is on GalipDede Caddesi. If you are going up to the top of the hill to the area of Istiklal Cadesi, take the funicular railcar. When you cross the Galata Bridge it will be to your left. If you reach the shore on the right side of the bridge, then you can cross the street underground on your right. There are some shops down there. In fact, there are many musical instrument shops on GalipDede Caddesi. There's also public restrooms there. After you emerge, look for the sign that says "Tunel". For pennies, you can save your legs. I believe it closes rather early, though (maybe 9pm). When you emerge at the top, you can turn left for more public restrooms, or right to go up Istiklal Caddesi.

One place that most tourists don't bother to go to is Unkapani neighborhood. I'm assuming that since you are reading this on Turku's site, that you like Turkish music. There is a mall there that is nothing but music stores. You are pretty safe buying CD's there without knowing much about the artist. They are very inexpensive, and if there is a folksy picture on the cover, it's probably pretty good. You can always take it to the counter and ask "halk musik?" (folk music) and be more sure. We've bought tons of CD's from artists we didn't know in this way, and rarely been disapointed. If it has a picture of a belly dancer on the front, you're taking more of a chance. If you want belly dance music, the Romani stuff is your best bet. Look for the word "Roman" on the cover. We also took a chance on our last trip and bought some "VCD's" (video cd's). They worked fine on our DVD player and we ended up with some real gems! Lots of great folk dance.
This mall is on Ataturk Bulvari, not far from the aquaduct. Just tell your cab driver, "Unkapani, Ataturk Bulvari, IMC 6 Blok". Or, it's maybe a 30 minute walk from the Covered Bazaar up Divan Yolu.

Most tourists eventually end up at a folklore show and/or a restaurant that features belly dancing. The quality of the performances varies and it's hard to know what you're getting till it's a bit late. One thing that we didn't find till our second trip to Istanbul was the saz bars. Aaaahhhh... There must be a million of them on the side streets off Istiklal Caddesi. We found the first one when we saw a sign that said "Türkü" and we had to check it out! These are a quiet oasis after a day of crawling all over Istanbul. You can sit for as long as you like, eating Pistachios (fistik) and drinking yummy Efes beer and listening to a saz player. Usually, he will sing, or there will be a woman singing with him. Very relaxing. If you are feeling adventurous, try the Raki. (Alot like Ouzo; the same licorice taste) The Turks usually mix it with water at the table in a tall skinny glass. When you mix the two clear liquids, they turn white. They call the mix "Lion's milk". It only makes it slightly less nasty, but we figured it was a required experience if we were going to immerse ourselves in the real Istanbul. The second saz bar we found was called "Otantik." ("Authentic!" Remember what I said before about learning the Turkish letters. Spotting words that look Turkish but are actually English has gotten to be a sport for us; and very useful.) It was on the second floor, you have to look for signs up high. There are lots of good, inexpensive restaurants on those side streets as well, they are really worth exploring. Don't be shy about tipping the musicians. There is also a Dervish music and dance ceremony you may attend at a Mosque you will find at the end of Istiklal Caddesi. It's the downhill end near Tunel. Women sit upstairs separate from the men and watch through a screen. (note- the mosque is closed for restoration, but you can still watch the Dervishes at the Cultural Center around the corner, uphill on Isteklal)

Many people asked us why we were going to Istanbul during Ramadan. We've been twice during Ramadan; and though we wouldn't visit most Muslim countries at that time, Istanbul is no problem. Quite the contrary, every night during the month of Ramadan there is a festival at the Hippodrome. It's very colorful and you'll be able to hear great live music, even some styles that you can't normally find in Istanbul. The restaurants are all still open during the day, and we had no trouble getting fed. You might want to be considerate and avoid walking down the street munching away on something.