Story – Aslı Bora
Originated in Central Asia and improved with the imperial experience in the Ottoman pe- riod, Turkish music can be regarded as an
accumulation of a long history and different geog- raphies. Since the differences in traditional Turkish music are reflected on instruments and their melo- dies, there’s a lot to talk about Turkish instruments but let’s make do with only five of them – cümbüş, qanun, cymbal, reed flute and oud. And of course, it all centers on Istanbul.
Cümbüş, An All Turkish Brand
I enjoy exploring the instruments that get my at- tention in various songs and their craftsmen. First comes cümbüş, a Turkish stringed instrument, which was mentioned in a thesis at University of California and gained worldwide fame in the world of music when David Gilmour, the singer and gui- tarist of Pink Floyd, gave a live performance with it.
I meet Fethi Cümbüş, the fourth-generation representative of Cümbüş Müzik, in his shop in Unkapanı to talk about the characteristics of this instrument. He tells me that though technology is used to some extent, hand labor will always be the essence of cümbüş and that it’s against the nature of saz (on which cümbüş is based) to craft it all by machine. There’s a black-and-white photograph on one of the walls decorated by all kinds of saz; it’s Zeynel Abidin Bey with a crowded group. For some reason, it takes me back to the years cümbüş was invented.
Between the Strings of Qanun
Next stop is the master qanun craftsmen Kenan Özten’s workshop at Istanbul Drapers’ Market. The mother-of- pearl inlaid qanun that illuminates the glass window with its spectacular craftsmanship seems to confirm that I’m at the right place. Having led a life surrounded by music, Kenan Bey is known for the revolutionary pegging system he implemented on qanun. Famous specialists from Turkey and abroad line at his door to have one of his art pieces. “Qanun requires patience and attention. I craft instruments for the whole world but I make compromise when it comes to my art,” he says.
The Leading Cymbals at Oscar Movies
I leave Unkapanı and head towards the bright and jin- gling world of cymbals. I meet İbrahim Yakıcı, one of the three partners at Bosphorus Cymbals, at their workshop in Sultangazi to learn about the Turkish cymbals famous beyond the borders of Turkey. The story of the cymbals made by Ibrahim Bey and his two partners began in the workshop where they entered as apprentices at a young age. The history of Turkish cymbals go way back but Ave-dis Zilciyan is the first one in history to formulize it. For centuries, the Zilciyan family manufactured cymbals in Istanbul as the successors of Avedis Zilciyan, the sole owner of the formula that creates pleasant tunes. There are a few who know this secret. Ibrahim Bey emphasizes this secret formula and the importance of hand labor in making the perfect cymbal. “The most important characteristic of Bosphorus Cymbals is that our products are all handmade.
We make the bronze alloy, the raw material for the cymbal, at our own factory. This alloy is arguably the world’s oldest industrial secret, with a history of more than 850 years, and it’s only shared by the three partners of our company.” Turkish cymbals are high in demand in the music industry but the products of Bosphorus Cymbals have become even more popular when they were used in the movie Whip-lash, which received three Academy Awards.
A Life Spent with the Reed Flute
After the cymbals shaped in the arms of burning coal, it’s time to give an ear to the sounds echoing in the spiritual realm of Istanbul. I arrive in Beşiktaş to visit Ney Yapım Merkezi, one of the largest reed flute workshops in Istan- bul, owned by Mehmet Yücel. Having crafted different musical instruments all his life, Mehmet Bey taught les- sons at Ege University State Turkish Music Conservatory. He’s regarded as a true master when it comes to the reed flue. Explaining that he processes the red with traditional methods and that he does it all by himself to the smallest detail, he continues “My flutes are used in 53 countries; people from nearly 30 countries visit my workshop to buy my instruments.”
The Sound of Oud Comes from the Heart
I cross the sea towards the Anatolian side. I visit the oud craftsmen Ramazan Calay in his workshop that opens up to one of the busy streets in the district of Kadıköy. Having left 20 years behind in his career, Ramazan Usta taught four oud craftsmen who still pursue this career, and he still continues to lend a hand to those who have a passion for this job. You can see ouds made by Ramazan Usta in a vast area stretching from the Balkans to the Mid- dle East. He explains this interest with the richness of Turkish music. “Istanbul is a city of synthesis where cul- tures meet. Our music and craftsmanship is a product of that synthesis. That’s why our saz make one play like a virtuoso.”
I leave the oud workshop of wood smells and walks towards the Kadıköy Pier. Soon, the sound of the ferry that sails towards the cold waters of the Bosphorus are mingled with the joyous melodies of ferry musicians. As a small harmonica accompanies the guitar, all the pas- sengers form a fantastic choir. I feel that Istanbul is the true virtuoso of it all.