Songs of Afro-Turk star unveil grief of being ethnic minority in Turkey

The hardship of being a member of Turkey’s African minority shines through in the music of Esmeray Diriker, an Afro-Turkish singer who was better known during her lifetime as a singer of songs related to the military, cultural anthropologist and record collector Kornelia Binicewicz said in a 2016 article for Emirati newspaper the National.

Esmeray's ancestors were brought to Anatolia from Morocco as slaves, alongside others who were transported to the Ottoman Empire from Zanzibar, Kenya, Sudan, Niger, Libya and Saudi Arabia.

The singer became famous in Turkey after her 1977 single, “Gel Tezkere Gel” (Come, discharge letter, come), about young Turkish soldiers pining for home during their obligatory military service. She went on to release albums and singles for decades until her death in 2002.

“Unutma Beni”(Don't forget me) is another track which Esmeray to her to fame. 

"But how was she perceived as a black Turkish artist in a country where there was little place for the multiculturalism and the diversity of the Ottoman era?" Binicewicz asked in her article for United Arab Emirates-based The National.

The answer lies in her other songs in which "some feelings of frustration and prejudice can be heard", she said.

Esmeray's song “13,5”, the piece that attracted the cultural anthropologist the most,  addresses an old, yet common, prejudice against dark-skinned people in Turkey. The superstition suggests that you should pinch yourself whenever you see someone with dark skin.

Esmeray strived to make people look at being different in their own country from a different standpoint, according to Binicewicz.

"She deserves respect and appreciation, not only as an outstanding vocalist, but also as a messenger of social equality and mutual respect," Binicewicz said. 

(Photo credit: The National)

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