A musician who fights and survives

A musician who fights and survives
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Turkish Daily News

Born in İzmir, Muammer Ketencoğlu was interested in Rum music when he
was very young. His passion helped him meet legendary Greek musician
Mikis Teodorakis in 1996. Now he broadcasts world music on 94.9 Açık
Radyo every Wednesday

ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News

In a send-up to the influences of Muammer Ketencoğlu's coastal Aegean
hometown of İzmir, his album “Symrna Recollections” released last
week reflects his love and extensive study of Rum (Greeks with Turkish
citizenship), Greek and Balkan music.

His passion put him in touch with legendary Greek musician Mikis
Teodorakis in 1996, and both musicians then performed together in
Greece. After these concerts, Ketencoğlu was often invited to Greece for
concerts. He has performed in many countries since 1996. Ketencoğlu was
born visually impaired and went to the Bornova School for the Blind
boarding school in İzmir. For secondary school he attended the School
for the Blind in Gaziantep, where he started to learn Rum songs from his
piano teacher. Ketencoğlu spoke to the Turkish Daily News and said his
piano teacher Naim Çavuş, as well as his family, largely contributed to
his music career.

Ketencoğlu conducted comprehensive research on Greek music during his
university years in the Department of Psychology at Boğaziçi University.
In the years that followed, he focused on the connections between
Anatolian, Greek, Rum and Balkan music. The musician has been doing
folkloric research since 1989 and has an extensive collection of
documents and LPs from all over the world. In addition to last week's
release of “Symrna Recollections” from Kalan Müzik, he also has a
show on 94.9 Açık Radyo, an independent radio station, from 1:00 -2:00
p.m. every Wednesday.

Rum and Balkan music on radio stations

Going to boarding schools for the blind helped him learn to fight and
survive on his own, said Ketencoğlu. His uncle used to play classical
Turkish music on the trumpet, he said, adding, “I have always found
radios fascinating. You are free to listen to any kind of music you like
on the radio. I liked to listen to Rum and Balkan music on the radio
when I was a kid.” He discovered Greece's legendary musicians Mikis
Teodorakis and Giorgos Dalaras when he was in secondary school and was
able to analyze their styles in depth. “I was interested in
Teodorakis's lyrical works that were close to folkloric music. Dalaras'
velvet voice lightens my spirit. Dalaras is a master,” Ketencoğlu
said. When it comes to Dalaras' ultra-nationalist political stance,
Ketencoğlu said, “I am not a politician. I don't care about Dalaras'
political personality. What interests me is his identity as a

When Ketencoğlu went to Vienna in 1988 he had access to LPs recorded
in Anatolia at the beginning of the 20th century and thus discovered
Rebetiko. Rebetiko is the music of Anatolian Rums, a blend of
traditional and urban music, and it has two styles, İzmir and Pire. This
genre is more popular among the middle class, Ketencoğlu said,
explaining that Rebetiko is an unloved genre. “The upper classes were
not interested in Rebetiko as the music represented the daily lives of
the common people - the beauty of smoking hashish, tragedies and the
life of the middle class.” Rebetikos from İzmir are actually in the
genre of Turkish music, and are thus played with Turkish musical
instruments. The Pire style is played with the guitar, mandolin and
bouzouki. The İzmir and Pire types of Rebetiko came into contact after
the 1923 population exchange between Turkey and Greece. “Until 1935
İzmir style songs were the most popular music in the Greek music
market. Rums owned Greek music companies. So it was the Rums who
determined the taste for music,” said Ketencoğlu.

'Songs don't belong anywhere'

After researching Rum, Greek and Balkan music, Ketencoğlu focused on
world music. He was very much interested in western Anatolian music in
2002 and analyzed the connections between Rum, Greek and Anatolian
music. As a result of his research, Ketencoğlu noted that there were
significant similarities and differences between these musical genres,
he said, adding, “Despite having lived together for centuries, Rums
and Turks have different cultures and music.”

Sometimes debate arises about the origin of musical pieces, he said,
and such debates are unnecessary. “Strong melodies are handed down
like genetics in areas where they are shared. Therefore, songs do not
belong anywhere.” Until recently, Rum and Greek music was banned by
the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT), Ketencoğlu said, and
he was once censored in northern Cyprus for singing Rum songs. However,
Ketencoğlu maintains that nationalism is fiercer in Greece than in
Turkey, which is more tolerant.

“Art is not as powerful as politics or economics. Art should
address the heart. When people open up their hearts to music, they get
rid of their obsessions,” Ketencoğlu said. He realized his longtime
dream of forming the “Muammer Ketencoğlu & His Women Voice Ensemble”
in 2005. The ensemble sings wedding songs, lullabies and dirges from
various parts of Anatolia and is composed of 17 women from various
professions, their songs bringing the culture and lifestyle of Anatolian
women to the present day.

Mummer Ketencoğlu's latest album “Smyrna Recollections”

The album, called “Songs of Turks, Rums and Jews from old İzmir,”
is like a journey to multicultural İzmir. A 96-page book on the history
of İzmir in English and Turkish accompanies the CD of 14 İzmir songs in
Turkish, Romaic (Greek) and Jewish Spanish (Ladino). The album was
released by Kalan Music.




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