Tanburi Isak: Turkey's Ancient Jewish 'Rock Star'

A surprise from the Ottoman Imperial Archives.

Lenny Ben David ,

Tanburi Isak
Tanburi Isak
Credit: Ottoman Imperial Archives

The Ottoman Imperial Archives does not identify Tanburi Isak as a Jew.

But, there's something about the portrait (photography did not exist in his day). Maybe it is his name Isak, maybe his beard, maybe his turban which is similar to the one still worn by Sephardi chief rabbis of Israel. Research proved the hunch correct.

Tamburi/Tanburi İsak Efendi (1745-1814)

Isaac Fresco (İsak Fresko) Romano was born in the Ortaköy district of Istanbul in 1745. Known to Ottomans as Tamburi İsak Efendi because of  his mastery of the tambur, a bowed or plucked long-necked lute used in Ottoman court music, he was perhaps Turkey’s most famous composer of both Jewish synagogue songs and classical Turkish music. He also played the keman, a traditional Turkish violin. He became a teacher of the tambur in 1795, and the sultan at the time, Selim III, was his star pupil.
Listen to one of Tanburi Isak's works:

For  more: "Tanburi Isak" -- a Jewish Turkish "Rock Star" 230 Years Ago -- From the Ottoman Imperial Archives