The Short History of Syrian Street Music in Istanbul

Challenges and Potentials


  • Evrim Hikmet Öğüt Department of Musicology, Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, Istanbul, Turkey



Syrian music in Turkey, Syrian revolution, busking, music and labor, music and agency


Over the last ten years, fluctuations regarding political, legal, social, and economic parameters have transformed the migratory experience of Syrian migrants in Turkey. This transformation has not only affected musicians’ day-to-day lives, but also their musical practices, venues of performance, repertoires, and even the meanings associated with all of these. However, the limited literature on the Syrian musicians’ experience in Turkey does not adequately reflect this transformation.

In the context of a social and economic history of migration between 2015 and 2020, this article will focus on a specific musical practice of Syrian musicians in Istanbul, namely street musicianship. More specifically, based on a basic argument that this practice fulfills multiple economic, social, and political functions in a context marked by a lack of systematic support and institutional means under migratory circumstances, the article will examine various aspects of it.

A detailed examination of this specific practice can provide a basis for a productive discussion leading to a better understanding of the Syrian migratory experience in Turkey. Moreover, every single aspect the article deals with has the potential to provide an understanding of the intricate social relations and issues that involve not only migrant musicians but also many other actors.

First, I will discuss Syrian street music in Istanbul as an emergent practice occurring in migratory conditions. Without ignoring the heterogeneity of migrant and Syrian identities, I attempt to portray Syrian street music and its performers according to various parameters such as their age, gender, musical background, etc. Second, I look at how Syrian musicians use street music to interact with other public space actors, including local and migrant communities, as well as tourists. I will also provide examples that illustrate how these musicians tactically manage these encounters by choosing from their repertoire to suit their respective audiences. Finally, I argue why street musicianship, rather than representing a merely transitional, temporary job for migrants during the early years of their migration, is, in fact, the first step of a career in a newly forming market by migrant musicians.

Author Biography

Evrim Hikmet Öğüt, Department of Musicology, Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, Istanbul, Turkey

Evrim Hikmet Öğüt is teaching as an Associate Professor of ethnomusicology at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University in Istanbul. She has completed her Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology at Istanbul Technical University with a dissertation on the musical practices of the Chaldean-Iraqi migrants in Istanbul in 2015. Dr. Öğüt studies the music of the refugee and migrant communities, musical activism, and Arab and Middle Eastern musical cultures. Her current research projects focus on the musical practices of Syrian musicians in Istanbul and the Arab identity’s re-formation through music in New York (visiting scholar, CUNY).






Special Collection "Music and Forced Migration"