2. Nostalgia, commerce and 'The Second Republic'

In more recent years, thanks to CD technology, nostalgia has become big business. This recent vogue for 'nostalji' has been promoted on commercial cassettes and CDs with titles which draw attention to fact - such as, for example, 'Ud ile Nostalji', 'Kanun ile Nostalji' ('Nostalgia with Ud', etc.). Live performance has followed.

Cover of Rusen Yilmaz's 'Ud ile Nostalji' (c. 1994)

'Unutturamaz Seni Hic Bir Sey'

'Unutturamaz Seni Hic Bir Sey' ('Nothing will make me forget you'), by Ekrem Guyer. Ekrem Guyer was born in Izmir in 1921 and spent his working life as a light classical singer at the Ankara Radio station. He died in 1954: his most famous compositions were composed in the 1940s and 50s. The example here is performed by Rusen Yilmaz at the ud (short-necked lute), on a cassette entitled 'Ud ile Nostalji', the other songs from which largely come from the 1940s and 50s. A brief taksim improvisation ends, and the piece begins. The intimate style is closely connected with a more popular style of nostalgia, and contrasts markedly with the examples of 'official nostalgia' (see below).

from 'Alaturka 1995'

Bulent Ersoy released a cassette entitled 'Alaturka 1995', in a resolutely 'classical' style. It began with a reworking of Munir Nureddin Selcuk's famous 'Aziz Istanbul', a somewhat nostalgic view of the city from Camlica, a hill on the Asian side. Where Munir Nureddin hinted at the sound of the call to prayer that he imagines coming from the mosques below him, Bulent Ersoy makes this reference explicit, singing the call to prayer herself. This caused outrage in many quarters, since Bulent is a transsexual. The cassette was, nonetheless, a popular hit.

Cover of Bulent Ersoy's Alaturka 1995.
The restrained 'classical' pose marks a somewhat humourous departure from the erotic poses that she strikes on other cassette covers.

Advertisements in papers invite the reader to participate in 'an evening of nostalgia' at such-and-such a gazino (music club). In fact, my kanun teacher regularly performed in such clubs.

My kanun teacher and friends
My kanun teacher and friends (ud, yayli tanbur, def and singer); halfway through a Nihavent Fasli. All musicians are seated, and the voice is simply one of an integrated group.

The French term appropriated by Turks, 'nostalji', reveals the connection between a certain culturally sanctioned form of memory and a modernist nationalism which sought quite explicitly to forget its past. New sound recording technology (particularly connected with CDs and the digital 'remastering' of old recordings) has made possible new forms of historical consciousness, marketed as 'nostalgia'. But this is not merely a product of a consumer capitalism which turns to the past in search of novelty. In other senses nostalgia might be interpreted as a change in popular historical consciousness that accompanies wider social processes. In particular, I would argue, one should connect the vogue for nostalgia with a sense of failure (experienced in a variety of contexts) of the nationalist reform project. This is a sense of failure that is cast in a temporal idiom (of 'winding back the clock') precisely because the telos of Kemalist nationalism has been so resolute, so determined that no backward glance could ever be permitted. Under threat from the emerging global economic and political forces that problematise traditional territorially conceived nationalisms, and, more specifically, from Islamist resurgence, one might describe Kemalism as being in a state of nervous retreat. Demands for the institution of the seriat (Kuranic law) grow increasingly stronger, and Islamist thinking dominates the local elections across Turkey (3). A 'Second Republic' has recently been discussed, in attempts to close the door on many aspects of Kemalist reformism.

This sense of retreat stems from what is now seen in many quarters as an inability to live up to the Kemalist legacy, and a quiet recognition that an ideology which demanded that the past should be forgotten was untenable.

Official nostalgia

The song is a recording of Tatyos Efendi's 'Cesm-i Celladin ne Kanlar Doktu Kagithane'de'. Tatyos Efendi was born in Istanbul in 1855 and died in 1913. The song describes the bitter-sweet torments suffered by lovers in Kagithane, then a popular excursion spot, now a slum disrict by the side of the Golden Horn. The City Council sponsored and released this recording in 1995; the style is close to that of the TRT, with a large unison orchestra and chorus.

Cover of Istanbul Sarkilari II, from which the Tatyos Efendi piece in music example 3 is taken. An orientalist vision of Istanbul dominates the cover. The English subtitle indicates both the 'official' nature of the production, and the fact that it is being marketed for an outside audience.

Many Turks today portray the Ottoman past as a moment of imperial glory when Turks dominated the world stage; a world in which the various millet (religious minorities) of the Ottoman empire participated as equals in an East Mediterranean linguistic, literary, architectural, dietary, and, of course, musical culture. Sporadic moves against religious minority communities on the part of the state, and resurgent Islamism in recent years has often made life for those Armenians, Jews and Greeks who chose to return to Turkey after 1923 difficult. This is a bitter pill to swallow for Kemalists: those who still adhere to Kemalism as a political creed speak (privately) of their feelings that the process of reform was, perhaps, too quick, too forceful, and insufficiently attentive to issues of human rights to succeed in its goals.

The music which represents this golden past, existing, as music does, in the domain of time and memory, expresses precisely this complex, gloomy ambivalence for many Kemalists. This is a music which has, as it were, been made available for nostalgia by the fact that its history has been denied, or rather, coopted. This has not been difficult. In a world in which very few people can read Ottoman script, and cannot master the interpretative skills to make sense of the few Ottoman musical texts that do exist, historical research of any kind is impossible for the majority of Turkish art music practicioners. Historical writing also implies (or even demands) a sense of critical continuity which has been politically impossible. For these reasons, Turkish art music signifies the past, but is constantly presented in ways that prohibit its reengagement with the present or possible futures. This process is worth exploring in a little more detail, since, as a form of historical policing, it is fraught with problems. When the whole basis of social and cultural order is based on the premise that the past is irrelevant, or rather, only relevant in as much as it has been surpassed, how can the past be materially presented and ideologically controlled in ways which limit its always subversive implications? This problem is not, of course, limited to modern Turkey.

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