Neşet Ertaş, 'Plectrum of the Steppe' passes away
EMRAH GÜLER ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Neşet Ertaş, who died of cancer yesterday, had been a household name in Turkey for half a century. The overpowering nostalgia in his music, personal revelations shrouded in melancholy and an ode to the life in and a history of Central Anatolia have been the defining characteristics of his music.The message welcoming visitors to the official website of legendary folk singer and poet Neşer Ertaş seems even more heartbreaking today. “Dear beloved fans,” reads the message, originally from his Twitter account dating Sept. 18. “Rumors of my passing have been circulating once again. These rumors are making me very upset.”
Sadly, the rumors are now no longer rumors. Fans and lovers of Ertaş’s music woke yesterday morning to the sad news that he had lost his battle with cancer. He had been in the intensive care unit of a hospital in İzmir for the last two weeks. Ertaş was 74.
Ertaş’s inviting voice, accompanied by the strings of his bağlama, had made him a modern-day “aşık,” the traveling bard of Anatolian Alevi tradition of centuries, a historic image personifying Anatolian folk music.
Selda Bağcan: He was a sad man, a fellow musician and folk singer who had sung Ertaş’s songs, said upon his death. He is gone a heart-broken man.
“There are 40 of us; we all know each other very well,” he had recited in an interview with Haşim Akman for “Neşet Ertaş Kitabı” (The Neşet Ertaş Book), published in 2006. “I have come to know with certainty / Whatever people say / Each bard, each poet, each lover, each scientist / Whatever they say, they say for love.”
Ertaş’s music, perhaps, can best be called the blues of Central Anatolia, home to the bozlak, the rhapsodic, at times improvised music of the bards. His work included a vast array of traditional music, including the works of the pre-modern Turkoman bards such as Karacaoğlan and Dadaloğlu.
However, the greatest inspiration for Ertaş’s music might be much closer to home – his father, the late Muharrem Ertaş, a folk poet and singer as well. When Ertaş was young, he and his father appropriated the tradition of the traveling bard to their lifestyle, traveling from village to village throughout Central Anatolia, playing their bağlamas and singing at weddings. In line with his wish, Ertaş is going to be buried next to his father in their hometown of Kırşehir.
The traveling bard
Traveling was always an integral part of Ertaş’s life and career, as he moved from Kırşehir to Ankara in the early 1950s, playing initially in nightclubs and at weddings. Later, he moved to Istanbul and released his first album. As his career flourished at dozens of concerts to adoring crowds and new albums, he moved back to Ankara, and later to Germany in the 1970s for medical treatment, only to stay there.
The singer had been called the “Plectrum of the Steppe” in pop culture for decades, and the origin of the name had been the subject of much speculation, but it was revealed recently in a story published on Ertaş’s official website. As the story goes, a group of Ertaş fans bought a book by the legendary Turkish writer Yaşar Kemal and sent the book to Ertaş, who was serving time in a prison in Yugoslavia, as a gesture of their support. Inside the cover, they wrote “To the Great Plectrum of the Steppe,” and each signed their name.
Soon, Ertaş wrote them a letter, ending it with “See you in the Heaven that is Istanbul.” When Ertaş was released and came back to Istanbul to perform, he received flowers for his first show, with a card written on it, “To the Great Plectrum of the Steppe, Welcome to the Heaven that is Istanbul.” So was the beginning of long-lasting friendships between the artist and his fans, and a name that would stick with Ertaş for life.
In 2000, a concert in Istanbul marked Ertaş’s comeback. Following the three-hour concert to a full auditorium in Istanbul’s Cemil Topuzlu Harbiye Open Air Theater, Ertaş received the Ahilik Art Award, an award presented to him by a state minister.
The comeback also featured two books and a documentary series that represented a late acknowledgment by his country.
Famous folk singer Belkıs Akkale praised him for his unyielding devotion to his roots: “He was a true Anatolian. He never turned his back on his roots, on Anatolia. His songs were the cement for our songs.”
Another bağlama player and singer from a younger generation, Musa Eroğlu, said: “The master was a bridge seen from both sides. We were from different generations, but our hearts were at the same place.”
It was ironic that the immediate reactions to his death did not come from fellow artists but politicians, from Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek and Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç to Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay. Earlier in his career, he had refused the State Artist title coveted by many on the grounds that he was “the people’s artist,” and that he would “be happy to have it stay that way.”
He will, indeed, forever remain the people’s artist.