Sunday, June 22, 2008
Kazim Koyuncu and Black Sea Ethnorock
Kazim Koyuncu was once described to me as the "Kurt Cobain of Black Sea music." The comparison is a bit strained: apart from the stringy hair and ratty old sweaters, the thing the two share is that they both died young. I feel the loss of Koyuncu far deeper: his was a music of hope and positivity, and it runs on my CD player regularly. He is sorely missed.Kazim passed away in 2005 from cancer, which he believed he developed due to his being born at the time of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident - a lot of young Turkish and Black Sea residents are noticing high rates of leukemia and cancers in people turning 30. But Kazim Koyuncu will be rememebered as one of the most talented creators of a modern rock style of Black Sea folk music. Koyuncu was a Laz, a small ethnic group living along the eastern turkish Black Sea coast, speaking a language - Lazuri - related to Georgian. Laz, however, is not written, and thus has never run afoul of Turkey's nationalist language laws. Such laws usually kick in when a national minority begins to publish poetry and other writings in an attempt to assert a written literature, percieved as a step on the road towards national identity and eventual national assertion. The Kurds have gone this route already. The Laz, however, are truly a "pre-nationalist" ethnicity. Laz literature, in fact, seems to have skipped the "written literature" phase altogether and gone straight to the "hit CD" level.Kazim wasn't the first to update the local folk traditions, but he definately made it appeal to a lot of younger people. Black sea music - based on the ancient three stringed kemence fiddle and the droneless tulum bagpipe and played in frenetic tempos using extremely restricted scales is not a music for everybody's tastes. Had Kazim lived, he may have emerged as a World Music sensation. We'll never know. Singing in Lazuri, Kazim stood clear of politics but advanced an ecological localism dedicated to preserving the Black Sea's natural beauty from overdevelopement. Another hit karadenizli singer is Ismail Turut, whose politics run towards the right: the man gets big money from political parties to compose nationalistic anthems. Still, this video was a hit when we were in Trabazon five years ago, and still holds up as an example of the genre:The fiddle used here is the kemence, an instrument whose use dates back to Byzantium and it is also used by the descendants to the Pontic Greeks who lived along the Black Sea until they were deported en masse to Greece in the population transfer following the treaty of Lausanne in 1923.There are still villages around Trabazon speaking Greek, which is called Rumca in Turkish ("Roman") although the speakers are all conservative Sunni muslims. One of the joys of youtube is the ability to find incredible ethnomusicological treasures, especially in genres like Black Sea music where there is no huge media outlet serving the far flung Karadeniz diasporas.Youtube lets you peek in on private after dinner parties where a bunch of greek speaking turkish muslims drink raki/ouzo and just let it all hang out.I was actually turned on to this music as a teenager hanging around Greek bars and dances in New York. If anything is my secret vice, it is kemence music - I play kemence, and I can rest fully assured that nobody closer than the northern suburbs of Istanbul would ever want to hear me play it. Mentioning that I play karadenizli kemence has, howver, gotten me fare-free taxi rides in Istanbul from homesick Black sea turkish taxi drivers. I'll be in Istria next week, looking foreward to great Croatian/Italian food and truly unbearable droneless bagpipe and button accordion music.