Most people think about music as entertainment. For Hasan Saltik, it is a political commitment. "I believe in the unification of people," says Saltik, founder of the Turkish record company Kalan Music. The spirited producer has fought in the courts for the right to disseminate minority musical genres, especially those on the verge of extinction. In the past 13 years, he has released more than 300 albums everything from Kurdish folk songs and Armenian chants to Turkish ballads and Judeo-Spanish tunes."Turkish, Kurdish, Armenian, Jewish and Assyrian communities coexist here," he says. "There is a rich musical heritage that was undocumented until we came along."
Part Kurdish, part Turkish, Saltik, 40, was born in southeastern Turkey; his family migrated to Istanbul when he was 11. Money was scarce and Saltik dropped out of music school to work odd jobs. At 19, he went to sea, dreaming of emigrating to the U.S., but never crossed the Atlantic. At 24, he returned to Istanbul and began working in his uncle's music shop. In 1991, he founded Kalan Music with $600 in capital, operating out of a tiny hut in Istanbul's music quarter, Unkapani. "It started as my reaction to the status quo. No one in Turkey was producing the kinds of music I was interested in," he says. Also, it was illegal: laws enacted in Turkey after a 1980 military coup banned music in minority languages, deeming them separatist. "It was ironic," says Saltik. "French, German or English songs were O.K., but music in our languages was banned."
Saltik's first Kurdish release, Umut Yuklu Bahar (A Hopeful Spring), was a best seller, but landed him in court in 1992. He escaped a three-year jail term when the prosecutor trying the case turned out to be a fan. Two years ago, a court confiscated his music-publishing license for issuing a decades-old folk song that included the taboo word "Kurdistan." Popular outcry forced the court to rescind the ban. Turkey is changing; officials now embrace Saltik's efforts. The Culture Ministry hands out Kalan CDs to visiting dignitaries; generals and senior officials sing his praises. Kalan has annual revenues of $3 million, and plows half its profits back into research into ethnic music. But Saltik is still a rebel at heart. When Turkey began allowing Kurdish broadcasting in June, he was the first to film a Kurdish music video and petition loudly to have it broadcast on reluctant Turkish TV stations. "Minorities are our biggest cultural asset; we should be protecting them and promoting them," he says. "I see it as my duty."