Skilled artisans use several kinds of woods in making the bağlama, the main stringed instrument of Turkish folk music. Folklore tells us that strolling minstrels once used the bağlama to unite music, literature and social narratives in rhythmic folk melodies.
Intending to pass along the beauty of the bağlama to future generations is Ismail Bahadir “Baha” Kuzucu, a member of the Tucson Foundation for Intercultural Dialog (FID) and a PhD student at University of Arizona in Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics. Baha, residing in Tucson two years, is devoted to promoting the music of the bağlama in its proper way and to exploring its origins with the community.
“Music is a cultural value and historical notebook, and the bağlama helps others understand the Turks, our customs and traditions,” he says. “Our people compose what they have cried for in our folk songs and also what we were happy for. It conveys information about culture and is a great historical source for younger generations to learn about the past.”
The bağlama is the most commonly used string folk instrument in Turkey, says Baha, and it takes different names according to the regions and according to its size. “You need the bağlama to be able to play the microtones of Arabic music,” notes Baha, adding that the instruments have traditional tied frets that are movable, and three courses of strings.
The bağlama elicits varied human emotions depending on how it is played, according to Baha. “We play the bağlama for your right mood, and the instrument has a unique characteristic tone that can be upbeat, as at weddings, because people are all happy for a new family and they all dance. Music for a death or for a saddening incident, as lament or mourning song, has naturally its own sad/slow tone. However, it is sometimes seen in Turkish folk music that there are upbeat tones in some sad songs too. The melody is cheerful but indeed lyrics are sad. This is somewhat hard to explain but that might be relevant to the fact that Turkish people are positive in a way that they even put a pinch of cheer in their sad songs. “
Baha’s father played the bağlama, and although Baha did not directly learn the instrument from him, Baha listened to its sound very carefully: “I wasn’t into music or playing bağlama at the early stages of my life, but I found myself trying to play it after I started college.”
Baha performed at the FID Ramadan dinner held last month (listen to a sample, above), playing both the bağlama and flute or ney, which is usually played because it is associated with spiritual scholar Rumi.
Baha hopes to share his love of the bağlama and its relevance to Turkish folk music. While his studies prevent him from being more of a traveling bard, Baha intends to continue Tucson performances, to give life to authentic Turkish folk music: “It is one of my passions, to play the instrument, regardless if I am up or down, sad or happy.”
- For a good technical presentation on the bağlama: http://prezi.com/ggiddyats3r9/baglama-the-turkish-guitar/
- Read about a bağlama performer currently an apprentice in the Alliance for California Traditional Arts Apprenticeship program: http://www.actaonline.org/content/ozden-oztoprak
- More about Turkish Folk Music: http://www.turkishmusicportal.org/index.php