Crafting Musical Narratives Around Sociopolitical Issues in the Greater Middle East: Personal Insights and Creative Processes in Constantina Pole and Bacha Posh

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Abstract

This doctoral thesis scrutinises the role of musical theatre in challenging deep-seated sociocultural norms and stimulating discourse on sensitive issues prevalent in the Greater Middle East, particularly within Turkish society. Through the creation of, and critical reflection upon, two seminal musical theatre works – Constantina Pole: A Drag Queen Musical and Bacha Posh: A Hip- Hop Musical – this research elucidates the capacity of artistic expression to confront and dissect themes such as gender fluidity, cross-dressing, femininity, misogyny, the victimisation of women, societal oppression, familial dynamics, and the underlying cultural and moral frameworks of the region. These projects serve as both artistic endeavours and critical examinations of the societal constructs they engage with.

In my exploration of Constantina Pole, the thematic fabric is interwoven with the progressive portrayal of LGBTQ+ narratives reflected in significant Turkish theatre works, such as Ali Poyrazoğlu’s Oğlum Çiçek Açtı (‘My Son Blossomed’), which openly addresses the familial and societal implications of homosexuality within Turkish culture. Complementing this contextual framework, The Huysuz Show by Seyfi Dursunoğlu, one of the most seminal works in Turkish entertainment since the 1980s, was a source of inspiration for my project. Its enduring influence has profoundly shaped my approach to musical theatre, infusing the production with a unique blend of cultural critique and performance art that resonates deeply with the audience.

The production also pays homage to the historical layers of Ottoman society’s male belly dancers, the köçek, infusing a nuanced exploration of gender roles and identity into the fabric of the
musical. The sound of Constantina Pole is a homage to the iconic 1980s pop genre, interwoven with the rich musical traditions of Europe and the Arab world, and is synthesised through virtual analogue renditions of the era’s classic synthesisers and drum machines, crafting a musical score that resonates with a sense of timeless cultural fusion.

The second part of the thesis examines Bacha Posh: A Hip-Hop Musical, the first hip-hop musical in Turkey, which utilises all aspects of the culture – from hip-hop dancing to musical sampling – and uses rapping as the sole form of storytelling. The project addresses themes such as gender fluidity, misogyny, and social oppression, focusing on the practice of bacha posh in Afghanistan. The unique storytelling approach, the cultural context, and the production’s contributions to the evolution of musical theatre in Turkey are analysed.

The Bacha Posh musical finds its roots in the tradition of hip-hop musical theatre, which emerged in the 1990s and 2000s with productions such as So What Happens Now?, Jam on the Groove, Rent, and Dreamgirls. This genre has gained prominence through successful shows such as In the Heights, Hamilton, The Last Jimmy, and Box, which have all explored themes involving social issues, history, and marginalised communities. Bacha Posh utilises hip-hop’s historical storytelling function and its connection with the street and marginalised people to scrutinise cultural layers in the Middle East. As a composer, I drew inspiration from Turkish hip-hop, where the pessimism of Arabesque and the romance of Turkish pop blend with rap’s ‘coolness’. To create a Middle Eastern soundscape, I used sampled local instruments such as the qanoon and oud and Eastern string sections while incorporating universal hip-hop elements.

Furthermore, the thesis investigates the production aspects of these musicals, including collaboration with performers from various disciplines and their reception in society. It also gives a comparative analysis of the two projects, exploring the similarities and differences in their themes, artistic approaches, and impact on audiences and the theatre industry.
In conclusion, this research offers valuable insights into the power of musical theatre as a tool for challenging sociocultural norms in the Greater Middle East. By presenting these works, the thesis contributes to understanding the intersection between the region’s art, culture, and social issues and the potential for musical theatre to catalyse dialogue and transformation. The role of artistic innovation in fostering an environment conducive to social progress is underscored as a vital aspect of achieving meaningful change.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationPh.D.
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Whiteman, Nina, Supervisor
  • Tan, Shzr, Supervisor
Publication statusUnpublished - 2024

Keywords

  • gender discrimination
  • gender identity
  • musical theatre
  • musical performance
  • Middle east
  • Turkey
  • Asia Minor
  • Theatre
  • Hip hop
  • pop-culture

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