In 2009, Gonul Ekmekci set up Nefes, a traditional Turkish folk music group that aims to keep a strong connection with Turkish culture while integrating the music into British society.
Nefes means ‘breath, soul and self,’ connecting with the group’s strong desire to keep this particular traditional aspect of Turkey’s culture alive. Gonul’s primary reason for starting this group is her love of folk music.
She feels that Turkey has changed significantly as a country, particularly in regards to migration onto the main continent of Europe. ‘Being a migrant is about going through some kind of trauma. You leave everything behind, which forms your identity.’ She wishes to maintain close links with her community and believes music is the best way to do it.
‘People carry their music with them and it’s a way of keeping a connection with the homeland alive.’ The group’s sole usage of conventional folk instruments signifies the desire to stay true to traditional Turkish style of music. ‘We want to give a chance to anyone who wants to see what the original music of Turkey is like because we want to stay loyal to it.’
Currently Nefes practices once a week for two hours. The group performs publicly between five and ten times a year and has showcased their music live with BBC radio 3 twice. Last July they performed at the WOMAD festival, an event that allows audiences to hear and see performances of different cultures from all over the world.
Over the past few years Nefes has evolved immensely and still continues to grow. At the moment, it runs purely on volunteer efforts in North London, but Gonul hopes that eventually they will have enough financial support to be able to reach out to larger sections of the community. On a personal level Gonul feels that Nefes serves as a ‘good chance to go deeper with the culture and keep a connection.’
She expresses the importance of families raising children in the UK with knowledge of their family’s traditions while also mixing with British culture. The desire to preserve identity enables future generations to possess a natural connection with Turkish culture while also identifying with British values, habits and traditions. Nefes empowers its members to retain a sense of self, keep a deep connection with Turkish culture alive and share beautiful music with the people of London.