Muammer Ketençioglu - Izmir Hatirasi/Izmir Recollections
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Muammer Ketençioglu
Izmir Hatirasi/Izmir Recollections
Kalan (

There are musicians who tap a special source and channel music coming from "the other side," as musician Butch Morris has said. Muammer Ketençioglu is one of these. There are no pretentious statements in his conversation or his music, but they touch the heart by simple means: a simplicity that comes from painstakingly peeling out whatever is unnecessary, and then lovingly carving out the essential details.

His latest project is special because it's about his hometown of Izmir: that cosmopolitan metropolis of the Aegean of which, after the tragic folly of the Asia Minor Catastrophe, only memories remain. Turkish, Greek and Jewish communities prospered side by side, sending all over the world the sweetest dried figs and raisins; elegant restaurants and cafés catered to the local customers and welcomed traders, while out of town, in the mountain villages, the zeybek tradition was still alive. It took two years of work, selecting the materials and then the performers for each piece, but the results are well worth the wait.

Ketençioglu himself starts the proceedings, singing a conscript song with his unique sweet and sour voice. The young soldier asks the birds to fly back to Izmir, from where he has no news while going through the hardships of the service: not much effort is required from Ketençioglu to express a longing that he finds inside himself as well. What follows is a classic love quarrel song, song by a female choir assembled by Ketençioglu. I was a little wary of this, but it retains the freshness of the cigarette makers or fig girl workers singing together about their lovers having something else going at the same time. A short, well-proportioned taksim played on tambur by Murat Aydemir introduces the following piece, another longing love song for a girl named Esma: in the rich booklet accompanying the CD, each song is illustrated with a fitting evocative image from old postcards, and here there's a thinly veiled, dark-eyed mysterious beauty. What follows is a carefully joined mosaic of three songs, similar melodies having lyrics in Greek, Ladino and Turkish, titled "Smyrna Trilogy." Vocal contributions by the silky pure voice of Janet Esim and powerful baritone of Stelyo Berber enhance the picture giving it solid authenticity. Spirits pick up with "To Salvari," a sparring match between a girl and a boy about the traditional loose fitting trousers, sung in Greek by Ketençioglu before launching into a brightly colored accordion solo, in the "Aegean island style" as he writes in the notes.

Ketençioglu's wife, Deniz, is featured next, on a delicate women's zeybek from the countryside, well coupled with an urban love zeybek. This 9/4 or 9/8 dance is wrongly considered only a male or even martial dance, and Ketençioglu makes the point clearly here. After another taksim, this time by kemençe master Derya Türkan, the Greek singer Panagiota Mihalevi recreates a song recorded by Marika Papagika in 1927: "My Apple, My Mandarin." An extraordinary trumpet taksim introduces the next heavy zeybek: the taksim is played by none other than Hüsnü Senlendirici, who contributes the clarinet solos all over the CD and here shows the mastery of his late father Ergun. The Senlendirici family hails from Bergama/Pergamon and this piece is dedicated to its symbol, the Three Arches. In Turkey Hüsnü's records reach the top ten at the price of a biteless sound and bland approach to improvising (not to mention notoriety due to a complicated and way too public sentimental life) but in these two tracks he plays trumpet, clarinet and the big drum davul in a way that makes one bitterly regret that we do not hear him in contexts like these often enough. Janet and Jak Esim are on board again for the following Jewish piece, while another classic light zeybek follows, a separation and love song from Karaburun near Izmir. "To Dervisaki/The Dervish," a Papazoglu composition brought to fame by Izmir-born great oud player Markos Melkon Alemseryan, is sung here by Stelyo Berber in an arrangement based on the original recording by Izmir Greek Kostas Kapidis, with violin solo by Baki Kemanci. War and love face each other in the last two songs, the first a martial zeybek extolling the virtues of Gökçen Efe - a real hero of the Indepence War - and the last a love sirto painted in pastel colors by the voice of Ivi Dermanci, an original Istanbul Greek.

Besides those mentioned - and that would already be an impressive list - Ketençioglu recruited for this project an amazing array of talents, providing the backround to the song: Cengiz Onural contributed to the arrangements, played guitars and acted as recording engineer in his own studio; Erdem Sentürk sang back vocals and played ud, Göksel Baktagir played kanun, Orhan Osman bouzouki, Rahmi Göçmen percussion and space prevents us to list all the rest. This perfectly crafted recording combines extraordinary research with musical passion, and offers a great variety of vocal and instrumental colors reflecting the rich traditions of Izmir.

In addition, it comes with a 100-page book containing a general presentation by Ketençioglu, a detailed presentation of each song, three essays about Izmir folk music with the Turkish tradition examined by specialist Ali Fuat Aydin, the Greek side again by Ketençioglu, and the Jewish by the researcher as well as performer Jak Esim, all lavishly illustrated - something that downloading will not give you.

You'll understand why I say that if you have the slightest interest in the music of the Mediterranean this is a must have, for hours of listening pleasure or scholarly reading and even dancing, if you feel so inclined. Kudos to Kalan for fighting with quality productions the decline of the CD market. - Francesco Martinelli

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