Despite Greece's historical position as a literal crossroads of Mediterranean cultures and the region's staggering variety of fundamentally hybrid musical genres, the last several decades saw relatively little English-language scholarship on music making in the Greek Aegean. For reasons bound to the institutional and political history of their discipline, ethnomusicologists and other [End Page 570] music researchers working in the Balkans have paid a disproportionate amount of attention to Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Albania as sites for ethnographic fieldwork, largely neglecting these nations' southern neighbor. In the last few years, however, a number of promising young scholars from American and British universities have produced doctoral dissertations on popular and traditional music in contemporary Greece, and the rapid expansion of ethno-musicology programs in Greece has introduced a new generation of talented students to musical ethnography.
Major academic presses have recently begun to pick up on this trend, particularly in terms of studies focusing on the extent of the cultural exchange between Greek and Turkish speaking populations over the last five centuries—long a predominant feature of both academic and popular discourse in the Eastern Mediterranean. Music's privileged role as a mediator of this relationship, from the Ottoman era to the 1923 population exchange to the latest period of gradual rapprochement, is the common subject of three important 2015 publications that speak eloquently to both the diversity of the musical dimensions of Greek-Turkish relations and the broad range of interdisciplinary approaches employed by scholars investigating the subject. Straddling the boundaries of ethnomusicology, historiography, anthropology, media studies, translation studies, and other related disciplines, this trio of books—including two monographs by Turkish women and a collection of essays edited by a Greek Cypriot woman and an Englishman—bodes well for the future of music scholarship in the Greek world.
The symbiotic relationship between Greek and Turkish song traditions is surely no surprise to anyone familiar with popular culture on either side of the Aegean, considering the wealth of pieces with versions in both languages (not to mention the many songs that switch back and forth between Greek and Turkish) and the recent popularity of, for example, rebetika in Turkey and arabesk in Greece. Yet the centrality of translation in this process of musical exchange—not only its mechanics but also its role as an engine for stimulating emotions, the intellect, and empathy, as well as the boundaries of its power to do so—has until now received scant attention.
Şebnem Susam-Saraeva's excellent monograph Translation and Popular Music: Transcultural Intimacy in Turkish-Greek Relations steps in to fill this lacuna. Susam-Saraeva, who grew up in the Aegean coastal city of İzmir, matches her analytical rigor with a deep emotional attachment to, and understanding of, the artistic traditions of both countries. Susam-Saraeva's stated goal is to explore the intersections of popular music, translation, sentimentality, and nostalgia in the context of relations between Turkish and Greek society [End Page 571] and their respective nation-states by examining the production, consumption, and discourse around popular music in the form of audio recordings as it crosses back and forth between the two countries, frequently changing form and function. She does this by drawing from recent work in a host of disparate fields, including translation studies, ethnomusicology, popular music studies, sociology, fan studies, comparative literature, and Mediterranean studies. Ambitious though it may be, this approach largely pays substantial dividends; the author manages to incorporate an impressive range of ideas into her own original work, and this multitude of influences breathes vivid life into what is, at its core, a study of the emotional aspects of translation.
As the book's subtitle implies...