Evrim Hikmet Öğüt

Street Music Practice as Social Non-Movement: Syrian Musicians’ Claim on the Public Space

Due to the ineffective migration policy and the lack of social systems supporting the cultural productions of migrant societies in Turkey, migrant musicians have limited access to performance venues and opportunities. Under these circumstances, especially in the first years of their arrival, street musicianship emerged as a new musical practice for Syrian musicians in Istanbul. Taksim Square and Istiklal Street in Istanbul, the city's cultural and political center, became the only venue for street musicians' performances.

Even though under a rapid neo-liberal change, Taksim, as a venue of interaction among locals, tourists, and various migrant groups from diverse social classes and identities, still possesses the potential to create "a democratic ideal." In this respect, the street music practices of migrant musicians which fill the very heart of public space with their voices and sounds can be considered a means of claiming their existence in the city. However, their interaction with the other public space actors and state officials through street music requires negotiation on the part of Syrian musicians. In this paper, I discuss the tactics that this public negotiation requires migrant musicians to develop – including choice of repertoire and safety precautions – in the framework of political action as "social non-movements" with reference to Asef Bayat. Discussing the musical practices of migrant musicians in such a framework, I address migrant communities as public space actors and possible alliances of other subaltern groups in the country.

Evrim Hikmet Öğüt is an Associate Professor at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University in Istanbul. She completed her dissertation in 2015 based on a long-term field study focusing on transit migration in the context of the musical practices of Chaldean-Iraqi migrants in Istanbul. In 2016 she started working with Syrian musicians in Istanbul; one of the applied outcomes her research is the Sounds Beyond the Border interview series: soundsbeyondtheborder.org. In 2020, as a post-doc visiting scholar at the City University of New York, she started researching the reformation of Arab identity through music in the world music scene in New York. She is also a member of the We Want to Live Together Initiative in Istanbul, which works on the basis of solidarity with migrants in Turkey.