October 19, 2009
I’m happy to once again have another fantastic guest post from Ian Nagoski, a fellow collector who has been a supporter of (and contributor to) Excavated Shellac since its inception. Today, Ian edits Canary Records, a vinyl label manufactured and distributed by Mississippi Records. The label’s second release, a 2LP issue of Tony Klein’s Mortika: Rare Recordings from a Greek Underground is out this month. For more details click here. – JW
These few minutes were recorded by a now-obscure, independent German record company called Favorite which operated from 1904-1914. Favorite were giving the Gramophone Company and Odeon a run for their money by recording and selling exceptional performances in the cosmopolitan cities of the Agean coast by the middle of the first decade of the 20th century (as well sessions in East Asia, South America, Egypt, the independent Balkan states and throughout Europe). According to Professor Hugo Strotbaum, it was recorded by Shekar Hanim (“Hanim” being an honorific meaning, simply, “Lady” or “Ms.”) with an unidentified fiddler and second singer in Constantinople between the 16th and 19th of July, 1910 and originally issued in the US in 1910 or ’11 as part of Columbia’s E6000 series, which, Dick Spottswood reports, ran 1909-11 using Favorite Records masters as source material (although some titles in that series remained in the Columbia catalog for a decade thereafter). Because the singers are female, and we know that religious propriety kept the overwhelming majority of Turkish Muslim women from singing on records until after the formation of the Turkish republic in the mid-20s, we can guess that singers are likely ethnic Greeks, but also maybe Armenians or Jews.
The subject of the song is certain: Çakırcalı Mehmet Efe who was born in 1871 in the village of Ayasurat, near Odemis, a little over 100km south of Smyrna, and was shot down by government brigands on September 17, 1911, fourteen months after this performance was recorded. Çakırcalı was, and is, a folk hero of Turkey, a Robin Hood or a Pretty Boy Floyd as Woody Guthrie sang of him. And like Guthrie’s Pretty Boy, he has been romanticized beyond human recognizability. Ozkul Cobanoglu’s 1992 doctoral dissertation for the University of Indiana on the transmission of Çakırcalı’s story into folklore counts three movies and three novels about him as well as many plays, and eleven folk songs. (Another performance of same song, recorded in Constantinople in 1908 by the Jewish singer Haim Effendi is included on Charles Howard’s Rembetika 2: More of the Secret History of Greece’s Underground Music 4CD box on JSP Records.) Contemporary newspaper accounts of him were as often false as true, because the public was so hungry to hear about him that the papers would run any hearsay. Today, his name brings up more than 12,000 hits on Google, nearly all of them in Turkish, and there’s a Facebook fan page for him with over 2,500 fans and counting.
I won’t try to be the first to attempt to unpack his heroism to the non-Turkish-speaking world. In overview, he is said to have been: a coldly and evenly just man, generous toward his hosts; a skilled marksman and warrior; a pious and devout Muslim; a man haunted by wounded familial pride; a defender of his own honor; a powerful and charismatic leader of his cohort of over 100 rebels; a flamboyant outsider; a man who reacted to cruelty by becoming an unstoppable killing machine; a protector of serfs and a kind, and meaningfully loving man toward women. The time and place of his exploits was one of unjust taxes, regulations, and bureaucracy, exploitative landlords and paranoid, scoundrel rulers, the waning years of the Ottoman Empire under the reign of Abdulhamid II, who Lord Kinross succinctly described in his 1977 volume The Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire as “an unhappy man and an inhuman sultan.” In 2003 Dr. H.B. Paskoy gave a lecture in Texas drawing comparisons between Çakırcalı and the American ideal of the righteous Old West outlaw. It would be easy enough to draw comparisons to innumerable other archetypes that fulfill any culture’s revenge fantasies.
As a young man, he was a bootleg tobacco trader because of unjust regulations on the plant. Persecuted by the authorities, he fled to the mountains and rose through the ranks of nomadic militiamen called zeybeks to the stature of efe, top dog. Here’s where it gets complicated, musically and culturally. Zeybeks were nomadic and independent professional fighters of western Anatolia for several centuries. Over the generations, their allegiances were changable. Historically, some were seen as helpful to the proletariat, some as a neutral if chaotic force, and some were rapist cretins. Well after the time of Çakırcalı, the zeybeks fought against the Greeks in the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-22 that resulted in the Smyna tragedy. Had Çakırcalı lived, we can only guess what side he would have taken and what difference his leadership might have meant to the state of Greco-Turkish relations today. But the Greeks identified with the zeybeks enough to make a tradition of zeybek-style dancing, which they called zembekiko. Gail Holst-Warhaft described her exposure to the dance in late-60s Greek taverns beautifully in her book The Road to Rembetika as her point of entry into Greek folk music:
“…unlike any dancing I’d ever seen – not exuberant, not being done for the joy of movement, not even sensual. It reminded me almost of a Quaker meeting, where only if the spirit moves does the man speak. The music would begin, the rhythm insistent, the voice harsh and metallic, and the dancer would rise [alone] as if compelled to make his statement. Eyes half-closed, in trance-like absorption, cigarette hanging from his lips, arms outstretched as if to keep his balance, he would begin to slowly circle. As the dance progressed, the movements would become more complex; there would be sudden feats of agility, swoops to the ground, leaps and twists, but the dancer seemed to be feeling his way, searching for something, unsteady on his feet.”
Meanwhile, the wild ways and outlandish, cutthroat mountain dignity and rough-and-ready attire of the zeybeks symbolize for Turks a nostalgic, golden image of Turkishness, just as the John Wayne-type cowboy serves as an image for American-ness. There continues to be a traditional zeybek dance in Turkey, performed in groups of men and with upright nobility, “in imitation of a hawk,” according to a Wikipedia writer. Probably neither the urban cafe zembekeiko of Greece nor the folklorically-enshrined zeybek dance of Turkey are exact reenactments of the real dances of Çakırcalı and his brethren, but they are, instead, both variants patterned on what is believed about the mountain bandits and what they mean to men in more recent times.
But back to Columbia E6110 and these anonymous women of unclear ethnic derivation singing about a great man who still walked among them. What are they singing? They, like the dancers who imitate the zeybeks, are singing a variant on something older and deeper. Of the eleven songs on Çakırcalı accounted for by Cobanoglu’s paper, two of them, both of similar length to the one of this record, begin with the image of the Poplar trees in the region of Smyrna with their leaves falling (foretelling onset of a difficult winter, Turkish folklore says). In 1962 the Turkish communist poet Nazim Hikmet (born in 1902 in present-day Greece, then Ottoman territory) quoted a full verse of a poem into his own poem about his journey into political exile “Things I Didn’t Know I Loved;” “The poplars of Smyrna / losing their leaves…” Was he quoting, in fact, this very song or quoting something from which this song came or referring to it to draw out its “underneath”?
Apart from the poplars, several other themes run among the variations of Çakırcalı songs. Several versions begin with the image of the hero descending the mountain, announcing his presence to us, here below. Several mention his purple fez, his horse or his supply of bullets. Most refer to him as tall as a cypress, a tree used over and over from the old Persian poets including Rumi and Hafez to Turkish folk rug-weaving patterns to symbolize correct application of the faith of the Prophet, submission to God’s will, the true meaning of Islam.
The target audience for this release were the tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of Turkish-speaking Christians and Jews in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Michigan, Florida, Rhode Island, etc. Dr. Sedat Dişçi of Ege University points out that between 1860 (about four decades after Greece’s independence from the Ottoman Empire) and 1920, one and a half million Ottomans emigrated to the U.S., although 85% of them were Christian and Jewish ethnic minorities, just as we suppose the singers on this record are. By virtue of the fact of this record’s existence, a century-old mass-produced document of Anatolian lore intended for consumption by immigrants from the waning Ottoman state, we have evidence of a significant story of the late Ottoman Empire in circulation within American Empire as well. This song of revenge against the unfair Turkish overlords by a still-living hero was sold here, in the land of Freedom and Opportunity, to Turkish-speaking Americans, three decades before Guthrie’s “Pretty Boy Floyd.” But beneath the clothing of language, it’s the same damn song.
- Ian Nagoski
Issue Number: E6110
Matrix Number: 4051-f
January 19, 2009
I suppose it’s no secret that I’m drawn to Turkish music, particularly taksims on instruments such as the clarinet, kanun, oud, tambur, etc. But taksims on the keman, the violin – those immediately get my attention. I’m quite sure my fascination stems from hearing the çiftetelli - not in the sense that the word ‘çiftetelli’ is most commonly associated with, the belly dance (although the dance and rhythm are all part of what makes up the çiftetelli). But instead, the original Turkish meaning of the word çiftetelli itself, which is “with double strings.” Upon listening to this track, you will hear what I mean.
The Columbia Records imprint had been in Turkey since at least the 1920s. By 1936 or so, because of a steep import tax put in place by the Turkish government, a Turkish pressing plant had been established by HMV/EMI (of which Columbia was a part). The pressings from that plant are, in my experience, of exceptional quality if found in clean condition. I have no idea how many records were recorded by the great Kemanî Amâ Recep, whose name means “Recep, The Blind Fiddler.” I have found two on Turkish Columbia, and they are both masterful performances, all of them taksims. I believe a few of Recep’s compositions were popular enough to even be released much later as 45s, believe it or not. This, a slowly played çiftetelli, is performed with a small group of players, including clarinet, percussion, and qanun….but the piece itself is all about the blind fiddler. It was recorded in Istanbul, between April and July 1939. Res ipsa loquitur: the thing speaks for itself.
Issue Number: RT 17856
Matrix Number: CTZ 6205
The Resources page lists a number of CDs featuring music from vintage Turkish 78s, but I would particularly recommend the Masters of Turkish Music CD series on Rounder, put together by Dick Spottswood and others.
Thanks to Bill Dean-Myatt for discographical information.
October 27, 2008
Some of the loudest instruments known to man are double-reed folk instruments in the woodwind family. There’s the dulzaina in Spain, the nadaswaram in India, the bombarde in France, the suona in China, among others. They are classically difficult to play – without continuous practice, a player’s mouth can get tired in a very brief period of time, due to the immense amount of air pressure needed to make a single sound, much less sustain a note. Some even demand circular breathing. Double-reed instruments developed over centuries, beginning in the Middle Ages, as instruments to be used primarily outdoors.
The zurna is the Turkish, or more precisely the Anatolian, double-reed folk instrument, in the shawm group of double-reeds. Similar variations of the zurna exist throughout the Near East. The word itself derives from the Persian “Surnay” – “Sur” meaning “wedding” or “festival”, and “nay” meaning reed or flute. It has 5-7 wide finger holes and can be as small as 14 inches long. It’s an important instrument in Turkish folk music, and I have to say it was interesting to read how writers in the past have tried to grapple with describing its sound. “…A wide-mouthed clarinet, emitting strident, nasal sounds” was how Ottoman scholar Robert Mantran described it. “A kind of shrill pipe” was how H. C. Hony’s 1957 Turkish-English dictionary defined it. It may have been simply noise to those poor souls, but I find it a terrific combination of jarring and captivating.
Today’s post is an exceptional, scorching workout on the zurna with accompaniment on oud and percussion (not the usual davul drum); a sparkling recording made in 1930 by the German Polydor company, and also released on a next-to-unknown Turkish series on the American Brunswick label. Interestingly, this recording was bootlegged in the late 40s/early 50s on a small label called Kurdophone, which was part of a family of labels I’ve discussed in other entries (Dictaphone, Perfectaphone, etc.). That is not to say it is common, I’m afraid! As to whether or not it’s definitively Kurdish, I cannot say. My hunch is that it is not, though perhaps some experts can comment. I could find nothing concrete about the soloist, Emin Efendi, except that he was considered a great, along with another zurna master who recorded later for Columbia, Sabahattin Tanınmış. I believe “Hale” in the title refers to halay, the traditional dance. Please see more information on this track from the always helpful volkan, in the comments section.
I would also recommend the Bo’Weavil release of zurna melodies by Zadik Zecharia.
Issue Number: 45011
Matrix Number: 1106 BN (Polydor matrix)
March 23, 2008
I became completely obsessed with Turkish psychedelic music several years ago and began searching out and accumulating Turkish 45s at a rapid clip. Since then, “Anadolu pop” has been discovered so to speak, with excellent reissues on the market by labels like Finders Keepers and Shadoks.
One of the first Turkish psych tracks that knocked me out was the Lambaya Püf De single by the great Bariş Manço (you can hear it here, archived on WFMU courtesy of DJ Trouble – or on the stellar Andy Votel compilation Prog Is Not a Four Letter Word).
I noticed at the time that Manço’s song was credited to one Osman Pehlivan. Not long after, I found another version of Lambaya Püf De – a harder-edged cover by Urfali Babi, this time with a song credit to Merhum Osman Pehlivandan. Who was this person? I gradually pieced it together.
This melody, in Turkey, is historic. Today’s post, long overdue and unavailable in any form as far as I can tell, is the original performance by tanbur soloist Osman Pehlivan (1847-1942), from which all of these blistering Turkish psych versions are based. Pehlivan’s wonderful solo was recorded in Istanbul by engineer Edward Fowler ca. July 1928, and still pretty much rocks. The title, loosely translated, means “Anatolian spoon song” which refers to a folk song which would be traditionally accompanied by wooden spoons, which are held in each hand and played a little like castanets. Pehlivan would have been 81 when this was recorded.
It’s still commonly performed today. For visual accompaniment, take a look at this performance of the kaşık havası here. Or here. And here are two terrific kaşık players. Even just a few weeks ago, I heard Arif Sag’s version of the song, which is actually titled Osman Pehlivan, and has since been reissued on the new compilation Obsession (and can be heard here, archived by Brian Turner, also on WFMU). The melody will certainly live on.
UPDATE: An intrepid reader pointed out to me that a version of this song performed by Pehlivan is available, under a slightly different title, on the Folkways collection “Folk and Traditional Music of Turkey” on an out of print LP, or custom made CD. However, if you listen to the sound clip, one can immediately tell that the Folkways recording is a completely different version than this one, which was no doubt recorded much earlier.
Coupling Number: AX 853
Face Number: 7-219429
Matrix Number: BF 2129
December 16, 2007
A taxim (taksim, taqsim, takssim), in Turkish classical music, is an improvisation played on a single instrument – but, an improvisation within the strict guidelines of a given makam (maqam), or melodic mode. You will find taxims played on the oud, the kanun, the kemençe, the ney flute, the tanbur, and other instruments including the keman – the western violin – which is featured in this week’s post. Turkish instrumentation and improvisations are very interesting to my ears, and I have been lucky to find some stellar examples.
This elegant taxim, in the Hicaz mode (Hijaz in Arabic), was probably recorded in the late 1920s by Polydor, most likely in Istanbul, then Constantinople. It starts off being played on a single string, then to two strings, then back to one. Interestingly, it’s also over 3 minutes and 40 seconds long, which is about as much sound as you could possibly cram onto one side of a 10″ 78rpm record.
Unfortunately, I could find nothing on Ahmed Djewdet, except that he appeared on several other Polydor releases from the same time period.
If you’re interested in other taxims by Turkish classical artists in the early 20th century, I would recommend the masterful works by Tanburi Cemil Bey available on several CDs on the Traditional Crossroads label.
Yup, this label is the same that I used for the CD cover on November 2nd. Why does it haunt me?
Issue Number: V 43163
Matrix Number: 243 Bn
August 21, 2007
You want hyperbole? You’ve got it. I’m casting aside all restraint on this one, and probably my critical faculties. This is one of the most entertaining instrumental soloists I’ve ever heard. Sadık must have been from the region around the Black Sea, because his kemençe technique, well, rocks. He’s like the Jimi Hendrix of the instrument, which is a 3-stringed fiddle, held upright. It sounds like he’s taunting the competition when he plays.
I’m not positive when this recording was made, perhaps between the late 30s and mid-40s, on the Turkish HMV imprint, Sahibinin Sesi. I have been lucky to find a second Sadık 78 on Turkish Columbia. And as long as we’re in the nerdy, provenance-related paragraph, I should mention another, extra-special reason I enjoy this 78 so much: the surface of this record looks like garbage, yet it sounds beautiful! Hats off to the Turkish pressing. I really hope you enjoy this. For more, here’s a great video of a present-day kemençe master.
Label: Sahibinin Sesi (Turkish HMV)
Issue Number: AX. 2023
Matrix Number: OTB 593