Category: Turkey

Turkish Classical Soloists of 1927

Sometimes one piece isn’t quite enough; it’s fun to compare, especially within a given time frame. I arbitrarily chose the year 1927 to focus on five particularly graceful taksims and instrumental improvisations within the modal framework of Turkish classical music. Many such discs were recorded and there are others I could have grabbed off of the shelf. This is just a representative drop in a bucket and are performances that I believe have not been reissued…or reissued with decent sound quality. I would definitely recommend digging further and a good place to start would be To Scratch Your Heart: Early Recordings from Istanbul, which contains additional exquisite taksims, including some from our chosen year…

Mesut Cemil had the distinction of being the son of the great Tanburi Cemil Bey (1873-1916), whom many consider to be the most important Ottoman classical performer and composer during the early recorded era. The sometimes irascible and occasionally alcoholic Tanburi Cemil Bey was not only a multi-instrumentalist, but he also revitalized the Turkish art-music solo, or taksim. He also recorded an abundance of discs in the earliest era of recording, well-circulated and revered for years (though very difficult to find in clean condition, today).

Could Mesut ever live up to his father’s revered position? Born in 1902, he studied Western classical music in Turkey as well as in Germany, while also studying tanbur first with his father and Refik Fersan (aka “Refik Bey”), a tanbur composer and student of his father. Eventually he ended up at the Darülelhan conservatory. In 1927, he’d begun working for Istanbul Radio and around October of that year, he made his first records for Columbia, including this one. This piece is a sirto – a dance piece that is also used in Turkish classical music – in the Şehnâz makam.

The long-necked Turkish tanbur (also tambur, tambour, etc) has seven strings, though early examples used eight strings in four courses. Mesut Cemil eventually had a long career both in conservatories and with urban radio orchestras. He represented Turkey at the famed 1932 Congress of Arabic Music in Cairo, and apparently discovered regional performer Âşık Veysel. He retired from music in 1955 and died in 1963.

The engineer for these original recordings must have chosen a large room with a tall ceiling, which greatly enhances their quality and mood. Some performances from these 1927 Columbia sessions were later issued for the Turkish-American market, dubbed from clean copies (as in, not from original metal masters, as they must have been unavailable) and issued on a similar, maroon label.

Mesut Cemil – Şehnâz Sirto

Another masterful performance from those same 1927 Columbia sessions is by the enigmatic poet who went by the name Neyzen Tevfik. He was born Tevfik Kolaylı in Bodrum in southwestern Turkey, in 1879. By the early 20th century he was a practicing Bektashi dervish. Despite being a member of the Sufi order, he is known for having a radical, unusual and sometimes contradictory life and lifestyle. Over the course of his career he wrote satirical and vulgar verse that railed against injustices and condemned autocracy. He was a staunch Kemalist, as well as a wandering vagabond, spending most of his career as a transient, living out of inns, occasionally being thrown in jail or institutionalized, and nursing a serious alcohol problem.

Biographies on him tend to emphasize those aspects of his life, but it also happens that he was a beautiful ney player, as captured here. The ney is an end-blown flute made of cane, and another important instrument in Turkish classical music. According to sources, Neyzen learned his craft in Urla on the Izmir Bay. His career on record was lengthy, recording taksims on the instrument for the Lyrophon label as early as the first decade of the 20th century. He died in 1953.

(Note for maniacs: it never ceases to amaze me the difficult-to-read color combinations that 78 record labels often used. In this case: silver lettering on green background, which makes a centered photo or a straightforward scan virtually unreadable.)

Neyzen Tevfik – Bestenigâr Taksim

Mustafa Sunar (also known as Moustafa Bey and Mousta Bey) was born in 1881 and while primarily a violin performer, it’s his rebab discs that may be his most notable. The rebab is a spike fiddle that is bowed and like many instruments, its origins are vague; there are rebab types across Asia and documented for centuries. What is relevant, however, is that while the bowed rebab was popular in Turkish classical music up to the 18th century, it fell out of fashion with the introduction of the violin. Thus, it was not as well-documented on disc compared to the violin, oud, and tanbur, and as such represents an older era of music.

This piece was recorded September 18, 1927 in Istanbul by the Gramophone Company; a taksim in the Evcârâ mode (transliterated as “Evidj Arrah” on the disc). This was a significant recording session; almost 300 matrices were made, or the equivalent of about 150 discs, by engineer Edward Fowler, right after a session in Cairo. Mustafa Sunar recorded three discs at this session.

Sunar was involved with various Turkish music conservatories and taught many students, perhaps most notably the popular singer Safiye Ayla. He died in 1961.

Eyyubî Mustafa Sunar – Evcârâ Taksim

The oud player known as İbrahim Efendi was born Avram Levi to a Jewish family in Aleppo, in 1872. He apparently learned oud from a young age, spending time in other major cities in the Ottoman Empire such as Damascus and Cairo (which gave him his name prefix: Mısırlı), before eventually settling in Istanbul.

It’s unclear precisely how many discs he made. He is often confused with a vocalist active at the same time, Hanende İbrahim Efendi, and the dates listed for his life are varied. Although he also recorded for Odeon, this piece is from the only disc he recorded during the same autumn 1927 session for Columbia featured above. He died in 1933.

Mısırlı İbrahim Efendi – Mâhûr Taksim

Aleko Bacanos’ career seems to have been somewhat obscured by his well-known younger brother, Yorgo, a highly regarded oud player who recorded for many labels himself. Aleko’s specialty was the kemençe; that is, the classical kemençe or kemenche, sometimes known as the Politiki lyra, an important instrument both in Turkish classical music but also in popular music and rebetiko played by Greeks in Izmir. Frequently referred to as “pear-shaped,” it’s a small, bowed lute played on the knee or between the knees.

Born in the Istanbul suburb of Silivri, Aleko’s earliest documented recordings were for the important early independent label of Istanbul, Orfeon, run by the Blumenthal brothers. He later recorded for Odeon multiple times during the acoustic and electric eras. For Columbia in 1927, he recorded several duet performances with his brother. This piece was made for the Gramophone Company on September 18, 1927, where, just after Mustafa Sunar had performed on the rebab, he cut six taksims. This piece is in the Sabâ makam.

Aleko Bacanos – Sabâ Taksim

Aleko (left) and Yorgo Bacanos

This selection could continue. At the same Gramophone Company session in September of ’27, apart from Aleko Bacanos and Mustafa Sunar, several other giants of Turkish instrumental art music made records: Refik Fersan recorded tanbur taksims, Neşet Bey recorded multiple oud solos, Neyzen Tevfik was brought back for ney taksims, Artaki Candan cut six solos on the kanun. The same goes for the Columbia sessions that began just as the GramCo sessions were ending, in late September and October of that year. Apart from whom we’ve already discussed, Fuad Efendi performed taksims on the tanbur, Mustafa Sunar again appeared on rebab, Kanuni Ahmet soloed, and even Zurnazen Ibrahim cut taksims on the zurna. I believe these tracks will help add to the conversation.

Discographic details

Columbia 12660, mx 22213
Columbia GT 12299, mx 22175
HMV AX 422, 7-219324, mx BF 1308
Columbia 12307, mx 22147
HMV AX 497, 7-219350, mx BF 1300

Thanks to Gokhan Aya and Hugo Strötbaum!

Shekar Hanim – Tchakidji

hanoumI’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

Shekar Hanim – Tchakidji

Technical Notes
Label: Columbia
Issue Number: E6110
Matrix Number: 4051-f

Kemanî Amâ Recep – Çiftetelli Taksim

recepI 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.

Kemanî Amâ Recep – Çiftetelli Taksim

Technical Notes
Label: Columbia
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.

Emin Efendi – Hale Makame

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.

Emin Efendi – Hale Makame

I would also recommend the Bo’Weavil release of zurna melodies by Zadik Zecharia.

Technical Notes
Label: Brunswick
Issue Number: 45011
Matrix Number: 1106 BN (Polydor matrix)

Tamburacı Osman Pehlivan – Anadolu Kaşık Havası

pehlivan.jpgI 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.

Tamburacı Osman Pehlivan – Anadolu Kaşık Havası

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.

Technical Notes
Label: HMV
Coupling Number: AX 853
Face Number: 7-219429
Matrix Number: BF 2129

Ahmed Djewdet – Taxim Hicaz

djewdet.jpgA 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 ca. 1928-1930 by Polydor, most likely in Istanbul, then Constantinople (Polydors of this vintage often have “Mechanical copyright” dates on them, however, this series does not). 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.

The performer is Ahmet Cevdet Çağla, who was a lead performer in the Dar’üt-Ta’lim-i Musiki group, who also recorded for Polydor (thank you to reader Cem Çoker).

Ahmed Djewdet – Taxim Hicaz

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?

Technical Notes
Label: Polydor
Issue Number: V 43163
Matrix Number: 243 Bn

Rizeli Sadık – Erkek Kadın Oyun Havası

sadik.jpgOk. Here’s a doozy. Really, this is one of my absolute favorite, favorite 78s of all time.

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.

Rizeli Sadık – Erkek Kadın Oyun Havası

Technical Notes
Label: Sahibinin Sesi (Turkish HMV)
Issue Number: AX. 2023
Matrix Number: OTB 593