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Let's Add Raki to Wine: Women in Istanbul ca. 1931​-​46

by Canary Records



Ethnic minority - Jewish, Greek, Romani, and Armenian - women had appeared on stage in Constantinople for decades preceding the establishment of the new Turkish Republic in the 1920s. City ordinances and social conventions kept Muslim women from appearing as performers until 1929. When the floodgates of Kemalist reforms opened the stage, radio, and recordings to Turkish women, coincident with suffrage for women in municipal elections in 1930, a wave of performers suddenly appeared, many of whom had long careers that helped define Turkish popular culture for much of the rest of the 20th century

While biographical information about the best-remembered of them circulates widely, some of the performers on this collection remain obscure to me at the time of this writing. Vedia Riza, Nermin Hanim, Zeynep Öylü, Fahriye Hanim, and Faide Yildiz all sang on records and most on Radio Istanbul during the mid-to-late 30s. Riza’s career lasted until at least the late 50s. (Harold Hagopian has proposed that Faide Yildiz may have only appeared on records.)

This album follows Harold Hagopian's beautifully researched 1996 CD Women of Istanbul on his own Traditional Crossroads label (overlapping one track), and I've tried to be careful to note him as a source when applicable in the biographical notes that follow:

Neriman Altindag (b. Istanbul, March 14, 1926; d. Feb. 4, 2009), the daughter of a public servant from Amasya and younger sister of music hall singer Perihan Altindag, studied in Ankara and was the first woman to earn a degree in conducting. Both sisters began singing on Ankara Radio as children in the 30s. Neriman taught at the conservatory and founded a women’s folk music choir in 1957. This recording was made in the mid-40s at her first recording session. It is in the style of a song from Erzurum, the northeastern region where her mother was from.

Safiye Ayle (b. Istanbul July 14, 1907; d. Jan. 14, 1998), the daughter of an Egyptian bey and a servant at the Ottoman Imperial Court, was raised mainly in an orphanage in the Bebek section of Istanbul. She trained as a teacher in Bursa, Konya, and Adana, then studied piano and music theory and began singing in gazinos in the 1920s and began recording in 1930, becoming one of the most famous singers of the 1930s-40s, performing regularly on Istanbul Radio. She composed popular songs, acted, and continued singing publicly to the age of 75.

According to Harold Hagopian Bayan Nedime Birses (b. Istanbul 1908) studied music despite the wishes of her parents and sang in gazinos before forsaking live performance to dedicate herself to recording. Her recording career had clearly begun by 1931.

Muzeyyen Senar (b. village of Gököz, Bursa Province, July 16, 1918; d. Feb. 8, 2015) began as an amateur singer as a child, studied music in Üsküdar, and started performing at Radio Istanbul in 1931. She made her first recordings in Istanbul in 1933 at the age of 16. She sang at Radio Ankara from 1938-41 before settling in Istanbul, where she sang in night clubs and music halls and appeared in films. (When the Egyptian films of Umm Kulthum were released in Turkish with new Turkish songs, Senar dubbed the Umm Kulthumm parts.)

Küçük Melahat (b. Istanbul, 1912), according to Harold Hagopian, may have had the surname Uyar, “suggesting that she may have been Greek.” She recorded in the mid-30s.

Suzan Yakar Rutkay (b. Istanbul 1911; d. Istanbul 1992) came from a family from Erzurum with Armenian roots. She studied music with famous musicians from an early age and had begun singing at music halls by 1933. She sang in Istanbul gazinos from the mid-30s, when she made at least 50 sides for HMV and Columbia, through the mid-40s, when transitioned to film roles, co-founding a film production company with her husband. She continued to sing, act, and produce into the 1960s.

According to Harold Hagopian, Mahmour Handan Hanim (b. 1908) was the daughter of a ship's captain, was self-taught, and sang operetta and light classical songs in Izmir and Istanbul. She had begun recording by 1933.

Hamiyet Yüceses (b. Istanbul June 20, 1916; d. July 10, 1996) began singing onstage in 1927 at age 11 when her father’s hookah business failed and the family fell into destitution. She toured widely around Turkey widely before settling in Istanbul in 1932, where she sang in music halls and gazinos, and by 1933 began singing on Radio Istanbul and started a prolific 30-year recording career. She toured the Eastern Mediterranean, Europe, and the U.S. widely until 1988 but remained a public figure until her death.

Deniz Kizi (“Mermaid”) Eftalya Işılay was the nickname of Anastasia Georgiadou (b. near Istanbul 1891; d Istanbul March 15, 1939). She sang with her father as a child before singing in cafes in the Galata neighborhood. Greek, she avoided the 1923 Greek-Turkish population exchange, by spending the period 1923-26 in France her husband and collaborator Sadi, a Turkish violinist. She made her first recordings in Paris in the 20s and started recording again in Istanbul in 1931.


released September 16, 2021

Credited composers:
tracks 3, 5 & 15 Saadettin Kaynak
track 4 Merhum Lem'i Atli
track 6 Lem'i Atli (music); Riza Tevfik (lyrics)
track 9 Yesari Asim
track 10 Sukru Tunar
track 11 & 25 Fehmi Ege
track 13 Dramah Hasan
tracks 14-15 Zeki Duygulu
track 17 "Kudsi"
track 19 Nebiloğlu Ismail Hakki
track 21 Kemani Faruk
track 22 Udi Marko
track 24 Kanuni Artaki Effendi
track 26 Papadopulos (music); Ihan Senoy (lyrics)

Tracks 14 & 20 previously appeared on the Canary album Nightingales & Canaries.
Track 23 previously appeared on the Canary album What Remains of Eden

Transfers, restoration, and note by Ian Nagoski except track 1 transfered and restored by Steve Smolian.

Cover image of Suzan Yakar Rutkay ca. early 1940s.

Further performances by these and related artists can be heard on the Canary albums
More Notes From Home Vol 1: Imports for Near-Eastern Immigrants ca. 1927-37
Nightingales & Canaries: "Oriental" Women on Record, New York & Istanbul, 1928-55 and


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