A Dying Breed

A few days ago a mysterious car parked at the bottom of our cabin ‘drive’ and a somewhat furtive individual got out. He asked us mysterious questions about ‘a man on the beach’ all the time glancing about and gazing towards the horizon and never quite meeting our eye before he went shuffling off along the track.

J and I glanced at each other, shrugged, and carried on with our hoeing and pruning. Shortly there came the sounds of a chain saw and then this shifty individual came scurrying back clutching smallish logs of tree trunk. He called us over to his car where he recovered a log from its hiding place under a rug and proceeded to apply a tape measure to it whilst rabbiting on at pace as he continued to peer around in his shifty, furtive manner.

Eventually he sussed that we were perplexed and ferreted out a shopping bag that had half a dozen zournas in it. From here on our interest mounted and once he slowed down his garbled delivery we realised that he actually made these instruments at his home in our local village.

We explained to him that we loved the raucous sound of these primitive, double reeded, instruments. They have a sound that you can actually feel in your gut and in the hands of a master they can carry you to mysterious, wild, unimagined places.

Zournas are spread across North Africa, Eurasia and as far as China, Korea and Japan. Wherever is found the common reed (as here at Salda) you will find the zourna or a variation of it. It is the double reed that produces the powerful, gut-rumbling sound that is so evocative.

fancy modern oboe reeds
traditional Turkish zourna reed

As folk instruments they have been around for a very long time – here’s one from the museum at Persepolis that’s dated from about five thousand years BCE.

Anyway, Ali (for that was his name) began to feel more relaxed with us and became less furtive. As he was leaving he said something that sort-of translated to ‘you are invisible’! What he wanted to say was that, as cutting trees is illegal even for making zournas, that we hadn’t seen him. We, being natural-born anarchists/rebels against petty ‘jobsworths‘ and their ilk, readily agreed.

What was really nice was that this morning Ali turned up to show us what he had made  from the wood he’d garnered the day we didn’t see him. He also delivered an impromptu demo as he explained the different keys, different parts and different woods – how nice was that!

So, here he is – our mysterious and furtive visitor:

A dying breed? Yes, because traditional craftsmen like Ali, who create whatever it is they make for their own pleasure or the pleasure of other locals and not for some pseudo-authentic tourism market or to decorate the wall of some moneyed townie looking for plastic connections to a lost past, are fast fading away.

Power to your elbow Ali – if we both live long enough then I’m bequeathing my, by then, ancient fruit trees to you so that you can breathe new life into them and they can continue to rumble many a gut!

Alan in Payamlı (Almondy).

6 thoughts on “A Dying Breed

  1. Thanks for the very nice posting. This townie would love one of those beautiful instruments gracing our place. Take care, both of you and keep on welcoming those traditional artists.

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  2. He is not a virtuoso in the blowing department but it was great to have him demonstrate the way the type of wood influenced the sound and the length the pitch/tuning. As for one on the wall – me too and I could use it to annoy Janet!

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