Münir Nurettin Beken

Aesthetics and Artistic Criticism
at the Turkish Gazino

Of all the modern phenomena, the most monstrous and ominous, the most manifestly rotting with disease, the most grimly prophetic of destruction, the most clearly and unmistakenly inspired by evil spirits, the most instantly and awfully overshadowed by the wrath of heaven, the most near to madness and moral chaos, the most vivid with devilry and despair, is the practice of having to listen to music while eating a meal in a restaurant (G. K. Chesterton from Avowals & Denials, 1935)

While certain purist aficionados of Turkish Classical and Western Music might find the above statement appropriate and just, the majority of gazino audiences in Istanbul would probably disagree with Chesterton’s distressing yet colorful expression.  Gazino is a kind of nightclub primarily found in Istanbul, Turkey, and mostly it is a twentieth century phenomenon.  There are different types of gazino and usually the physical space and the show determine their designation, e.g., pavyon, taverna, or sazGazino reflects a large portion of music-making in Istanbul, which, as the old Ottoman capital and the current undisputed center of recording industry, television, and cinema, still retains its role as the disseminator of commercial music aesthetic for all of Turkey.

The Turkish musical scene reveals three main cultural avenues: Alaturka, Alafranga, and Arabesk.

While Alaturka and Alafranga refer, respectively, to Turkish and Western socio-cultural practices, Arabesk is a more recent term used to express the culture of the peripheral urban migrant society.  Both historically and culturally, the gazino has been an important component of these domains.  While certain specializations occurred in the recent decades of transformation, gazino always reflected the taste of the paying customers.  Therefore, the impact of changing demographics and aesthetics of society have always been reflected on the gazino show and its physical space. 

This article focuses on certain artistic aspects of gazino and examines the authority that influences the definition of art from the point of view of audiences, performers, and owners.  It first examines the audience and their taste within the three cultural contexts (Alaturka, Alafranga, and Arabesk) as well as the musicians’ view of the consumers.  The owner of the gazino plays an important role in making decisions regarding certain aspects of art, especially the visual aesthetics of the gazino experience as a whole.

Gazino is a twentieth-century phenomenon that distinguishes itself from other entertainment hall types with its unique features.  Both gazino show and its physical setting originate from Turkish (Alaturka) and Western (Alafranga) style predecessors of nineteenth century Istanbul.  While the program indicates connections with Ottoman institutions like coffeehouses and meyhane-s (a restaurant type), the gazino space itself resembles earlier Western style establishments in Istanbul.  The variety show is one of the determining aspects of the gazino program and it probably goes much further back in history. 

The 1930s started a process of standardization in certain aspects of gazino and gave its identity that remains similar even at today’s few existing gazino-s.  The historical Tepebasi Gazinosu in Istanbul was particularly significant in this respect.  The basic framework of the show and visual preferences of the gazino space were firmly established at this gazino by the owner Muhiddin Oztuna.

  1. Audience Aesthetics
  2. Power: Art and Art Critics Who Shape Gazino Aesthetics
  3. Conclusions
  4. Bibliography and Discography
  5. Endnotes

Forward | M&A contents page