“Gurbet, longing, is like a rock in the hearts of all.”
Text by Sedef İlgiç and Işıl İlker
Edited by Nükhet Polat
Translated to English by Zeynep Beler
Cover photo: Neşet Ertaş Culture and Art Center, Exhibition on the fifth year of his death, sanatatak
Neşet Ertaş, the Turkish folk bard and last great representative of the tradition of the Abdal, has a family history and likewise a life story full of immigration accounts suffused with a sense of gurbet.
His mentor and father Muharrem Ertaş was an Abdal who after generations of itinerancy settled in Anatolia to carry on the spoken word and folk music traditions. For years, father and son performed at weddings and ceremonies in and around Kırşehir. Drawing his own path later, Neşet Ertaş drew on his childhood experiences and the legacy he perpetuated in both the sentimental and musical sense.
Equipped with his saz, he played first in Istanbul and then Ankara casinos, while also releasing albums and touring. By the mid-70’s, he had become well-known throughout Turkey. In 1979, a single event changed his life: his hand was beset by paralysis on stage, leaving him unable to play. He went to Berlin for treatment, as his brother was a worker there, and did not return even after treatment was complete.
With his band “The Neşet Ertaş Orchestra” he started taking the stage throughout Europe at the weddings and events of mostly Turkish immigrants. After a wedding held in a schoolyard, he accepted an offer by the school principal and taught saz there for two years.
In the 1980’s, he opened a saz shop at the “Türkischer Basar” which was situated in an old train station and had become defunct as an arcade with the fall of the Berlin Wall. The shop served as a meeting hub for Turkish musicians in Berlin as well as a space for immigrant workers to alleviate their homesickness through music. He later relocated to Cologne.
Ertaş lived and worked in Germany until 2000 and led a humble life. Later, when he was presented with offers of documentaries and invitations to shows, he returned to the stage in Turkey and gave countless folk concerts until his death.
Neşet Ertaş’s gurbet story was different from those who had gone to Germany as “guest workers”. Yet his saz was ever alive with the feelings of loneliness, estrangement and longing brought about by gurbet, touching a raw nerve in audiences. It’s lovely to commemorate him now as a cultural bastion who united people through his character, standing and attitude.
This piece is written in the framework of #60JahreMusik project financed by Berlin Yunus Emre Institute.