Although he didn't have an outstanding voice or an inventive style, Baris Manco became one of the most popular figures in modern Turkish music history. In a time when his country was swimming in a sea…
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Barış Manço Biography

by Vefik Karaege

Although he didn't have an outstanding voice or an inventive style, Baris Manco became one of the most popular figures in modern Turkish music history. In a time when his country was swimming in a sea of political madness, he managed to hold back his personal view and reach out to every single possible listener, no matter what origin or religion they were coming from. With his long hair, extraordinary outfits, and every kind of weird accessory, he could have easily been perceived as a charlatan rather than a musician. However, with his passionate voice, spiritual lyrics, clever mix of ethnic-folk-rock themes, and sincere character, he was accepted by his people and rose to stardom. His fame wasn't limited to Turkey alone. His songs were translated into many languages such as English, French, Italian, Greek, Bulgarian, and Arabic. He was known as a great musician, but he was also a television programmer, a traveler, and the cultural ambassador of Turkey -- but most important of all, he was a man of peace who tried to put love and friendship above all.

Baris Manco was born on January 1, 1943, in Istanbul while World War II was still taking thousands of lives. It's therefore easy to understand why he was named Baris (meaning "peace" in Turkish) by his wealthy father and has musician mother (who played the Turkish oud). Although he was an inattentive student in school, he formed his first band when he was 15. He worked with short-lived bands like Kafadarlar and Harmoniler, and recorded his first singles in the early '60s, including his first composition and also "Cit Cit Twist," one of the first examples of an arrangement of a Turkish folk song with rock instruments. In 1963, he moved to Belgium for his education at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. During the following years, he played with a lot of different bands, traveled back to Turkey numerous times, and recorded French, English and Turkish singles. One of his most important bands of that era was Les Mistigris, with which he played live in France, Belgium, and Germany, and he also brought the band to Turkey for recording sessions. In Turkey he also joined Kaygisizlar, which included Mazhar Alanson and Fuat Güner, who would later form MFÖ. At that time, Manco had already started recording hit singles like "Kol Dugmeleri" and "Seher Vakti," but his inevitable breakthrough came with "Daglar Daglar," which was recorded with his multicultural band Ve... (featuring in addition to Manco musicians from Britain, the U.S., Tunisia, and Belgium) and became one of the most eminent Turkish songs in history.

Manco explored rock & roll, the Twist, and beat music in the '60s, but in the '70s he created some of his most important compositions, when he was under the influence of psychedelic rock. After a short cooperation with Mogollar in 1970, he formed his main band, Kurtalan Ekspres, which would play with him for the next 18 years despite lineup changes. The band took its name from a local train that would start its journey in Istanbul and stop in a southeast Turkish village called Kurtalan. Manco's debut LP, Dunden Bugune, was a compilation of his previous singles, but his second album had a clear and strong impact on the Turkish music industry. With the influence of Hammond organist Murat Ses, Manco released 1975's 2023, which is regarded as one of his best works. The title track and "Baykoca Destani" show his capabilities as a musician. The use of a drum machine and atmospheric organs showed the first hints of electronic music in Turkey. After the lackluster Baris Mancho album, which was also released in Europe, Manco released Yeni Bir Gun (A New Day) in 1979. The album included one of the most important Manco anthems, "Sari Cizmeli Mehmed Aga." The ambient "Coban Yildizi" and "2024" (a new interpretation of "2023") were the other high points of the album.

In 1981 Manco recorded another masterpiece, Sozum Meclisten Disari. The album included "2025" (the third part of "2023" story), "Gulpembe," and "Donence." Manco then began emphasizing his lyrics and philosophy as the '80s progressed. After his first son's birth and -- more pressingly -- the 1980 military coup, Manco tried to create understanding and unity among the Turkish people with his songs. Although he used proverbs and historic sayings in his previous works, he used them more frequently in the '80s. His songs became more straightforward and easy to understand, and he even wrote children's songs. Manco's change in musical direction didn't mean he was less popular in the '80s or '90s -- on the contrary, with his straightforward music and lyrics calling for peace, he embraced listeners from all corners of Turkey and also the world. Songs like "Halil Ibrahim Sofrasi," "Kara Sevda," and "Domates Biber Patlican" were singalongs, and after the album Darisi Basiniza he was honored as a "State Artist" by TRT (Turkish Radio and Television Corporation).

At the end of the '80s, Manco started his television career with 7'den 77'ye (From 7 to 77), in which he traveled to countries from the equator to the arctic and presented the culture of those countries with footage of the simple man. The program aired for ten years, from 1988 until the last year of his life. 4 x 21 Doludizgin (4 x 21 Full Gallop) was his other TV project. The '90s also saw Manco become surprisingly popular in Japan, even more than in his home country. A concert in which 20,000 Japanese listeners held Japanese and Turkish flags together and sang along with Manco was recorded and released as Baris Manco Live in Japan. Manco released his final studio album, Musadenizle Cocuklar (If You'll Excuse Me Kids), in 1995. Four years later, on January 31, 1999, he passed away. More compilation albums and re-releases saw the light of day after his death. During the last years of his life, Manco and his musician friends and collaborators were known to remark about how he didn't receive proper respect from the media and Turkish people. For his funeral, millions of people -- including Muslims, Christians, and Jews -- gathered together praying, crying, and singing his songs. It is possible that Turkish history had never before seen a crowd as large and as peaceful for an artist's funeral. During his 41-year artistic career, Baris Manco wrote more than 200 songs, took to stages around the world (Japan, Malaysia, Australia, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, the United States, and more), and tried to spread his philosophy of peace. He will be remembered as both a man of the world and a great artist.

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