No matter if you busk for great human interaction or just to improve your traveling budget, Turkey is a country which will do for both. Officially, there is no rule that allows or forbids any kind of street art. That’s why you will get completely different reactions from every policeman, as they don’t know how to deal with such cases.

It’s important to know that there are different types of Turkish police and the ‘branch’ that deals with such problems is called Zabita (kind of municipality police). Sometimes, if they are around before you start performing, it’s a good idea to approach them and to ask politely if it’s ok to play for 30 minutes. I did this several times and, of course, reactions were different – but mostly positive.

If police discovers you while playing already and asks you to stop, do it, but not before asking if it is alright to perform somewhere else. Most of the time you will be sent out of their district, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that you can perform trouble-free in the neighboring area. Should new trouble wait for you, just refer to the previous cop who sent you right over here. But, don’t forget: as long as you are polite, usually the worst thing that happens is to be send away. I was stopped enough times and only once asked to show my passport. That’s all. One guy even saw me twice in the same spot and didn’t do much, except using google translate on his phone to explain I have to go. Sometimes it can be tiring to move so often from a spot to another, but in the end the pain is much smaller than the gain.

Regarding the interaction on the street while playing, Turks are not exactly shy and you will be interrupted many times in the middle of a song for random conversations. The merchants will give you chai, sweets and invite you to their shops (don’t refuse, especially if it’s a sweets shop). Mostly they are happy to have a musician in front of their shop – they see this as a good business strategy of attracting customers. Of course, some exceptions always exist.

Moneywise, the less musicians a developed city has seen, the more chances you have to improve your budget. In Istanbul I earned almost half of the money I earned in Trabzon or Kayseri. Still, Turks are generous and familiar with the concept of street music and won’t hesitate to throw coins in your box. As payback, many of them are eager to take a picture with you.

Briefly the experience in different cities as following:

Istanbul: Turkey’s busking capital. Better stick out! Istiklal Street especially crowded with a musician every 50 meters. Strictest regulations towards street art – but still very possible given that you find a good spot. Income can be very good then!

Ankara: Principally great conditions, as it is a very wealthy place with not too much street art. Main problem is a lack of good spots that are calmed from traffic – noise is everywhere. Best bet might be Tunali street – busy in the evening with many people strolling up and down. Zero police trouble!

Kayseri: We haven’t seen any other street artists there. Still, as an economical powerhouse in central Anatolia, people have some money and also appreciation for street art, it undoubtedly seemed. Some good spots are around the old Fortress in the center. Zero police trouble! For in deep impressions, read more here. 

Trabzon: Biggest plus is the active nightlife and extensive pedestrian area. A bunch of good spots in the small streets west of the Meydan. Unfortunately the Zabita was more critical and stopped the performance a few times.

Highlights:

  • Playing in front of Haghia Sophia and getting filmed by TV, until police came and sent me away
  • Being invited into a music shop to test their violins and got a box of rosin as a present
  • Getting caught by a jeweler in the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul for a private performance in front of his shop. Three shooed away cops later, paper money of him and his peers was smiling in my box.
  • Giving part of my income to Syrian refugees
  • Jamming with crazy local musicians
  • Teamwork: Ben teaching a policeman English resulted in 30 minutes music permission. Bribing with knowledge!

 

Busking in front of Haghia Sophia, Istanbul

Busking in front of Haghia Sophia, Istanbul

Busking with new friends in Trabzon

Busking with new friends in Trabzon

Zabita being shooed away by shopkeepers

Zabita being shooed away by shopkeepers

Feel welcomed to share YOUR busking stories of Turkey with us!

 

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