The Chechen girl

Tanburi Cemil Bey It will turn exactly 100 in this year, but it is just as fresh and vivid as when its author Tanburi Cemil Bey first recorded it on wax cylinder. In the reality its author was not Cemil Bey, and it was not Chechen by birth, but Greek from the nearby island of Midilli, or Lesbos by its Greek name. From there it was brought by those wandering Greek baglama players making music in the cafés of fin-de-siècle Istanbul who, after the collapse – the Katastrophê – of the Minor Asian Greek world in the 1920s fled to Athens to create there the music of rebetiko exactly from such half Oriental and half Greek melodies.

Fin-de-siècle Istanbul, however, was still the capital of an empire, with multicolored population and musical life. The true richness of this music can be estimated only in recent years, with Kalan Müzik publishing in row the music of the last decades of the Ottoman Empire from archive recordings and in the authentic performance of modern musicians. The cafés saw, apart from the Greeks also Armenian oud-players, Sepharadic female singers and Turkish male gazel-singers, Azeri kamanche-players, wandering Kurdish lutenist aşıks and the Slavic and Albanian bards described by Ismail Kadare in The palace of dreams, and still flourished the Ottoman court, dervish and military music which, melting with the Classical and entertaining music of the West, produced an infinite number of exotic local sports of this latter. Istanbul is even today imbued with spontaneous music, from the loudspeakers of the Muezzins calling to prayer again and again to the chanting of the sellers and to the music broadcasted by various Anatolian radio stations in every shop and café, and we can imagine how much richer this music was before the 1920s, that is Caucasian beauty, archive photo from the 19th centurybefore the collapse of the Ottoman empire, the extirpation, expulsion or oppression of the ethnic minorities, the disappearance of the court and of the traditional elite and the suppression of the dervish orders put an end to this richness.

Of this world was an estimated figure Tanburi Cemil Bey, the unrivalledly talented musician who with the same perfection played on the Turkish tanbur – this is where his name comes from –, the Azeri kamanche, the Greek lauta, the Persian kanoun and a number of other instruments, and he also melted the musical worlds belonging to these different instruments and ethnic groups in his compositions played all over Istanbul and the empire. The “Chechen girl”, just like the enchanting “Circassian women” of the Romantic novels or the Russian “кавказская красавица” is that rosy-cheeked, black-haired, large-eyed and unattainable Caucasian beauty who used to be remembered frequently and with desire by the poets and café musicians of the empire. The Greek song singing about her was to become famous all over Turkey in the version of Tanburi Cemil Bey and with his characteristic improvised introduction Hüseyni taksim. Unfortunately I don’t have exactly that volume of the archive phonograph recordings of Cemil Bey where he plays the Çeçen kızı, but in the traditional interpretation of the Kurdish Sufi musician Kudsi Erguner and his ensemble we can feel something from the force of the original song.

Kudsi Erguner, Çeçen kızı, from the CD “Tanburi Cemil Bey”

On YouTube one can find several versions of this song, a restrained Ottoman-style orchestral piece, the performance by Cihat Aşkin rewritten for Western orchestra, or other versions bearing testimony to its great popularity, like the jazz version by James Brown Funk and Emin Findikoglu, an anonymous kanoun piece introduced with Hüseyni taksim, another one apparently played in an interval of a musical evening, and an amateur recording performed, as its title says, “by a Turk from the neighborhood of Amherst”.

I especially like three versions. The first one is performed by Necati Çelik and his traditional ensemble in the TRT TV, introduced with the Hüseyni taksim.

The second one comes from a video series presenting the antique instruments of the estimated Istanbul musical instrument maker firm Veysel Music House (how much I’d like to have a lute of their production!). Here it is played by Alper Taş on an oud made in 1910 by Beşiktaşlı Vasil.

The third one is a fusion version by the Balkan Messengers, in the sign of the Balkan nostalgy flourishing in the last twenty years in Turkey. Perhaps this makes you feel the best the forceful impact that this song could have in its own bygone world.

Balkan Messengers, Çeçen kızı, from the CD “Balkan Messengers 2”

9 comentarios:

Anónimo dijo...

I have noticed the thumbnail image for this post several times, simple beauty of "Chechen girl" really arrests one's attention. I have looked into the post at last and was surprised to find out that the title of this image is actually Azerbaijani woman from Baku. The Azerbaijani. Photographer F. Orden. 1897. What an interesting photo? Who is this young woman, what was her fate? What happened to here during the turbulent times of 20th century? Who knows...

Studiolum dijo...

What a beautiful coincidence! And how gifted a people which has daughters like hers. Yes, this photo with its strong personal touch in fact invites you to meditate on her fate… I pray it was good.

Araz dijo...

Very powerful photo, indeed... I also liked the post very much, just would like to note that "aşıq" music is a much wider tradition, which can not be described as Kurdish (only). But this can be said about almost any cultural tradition there absorbed by many nations then living together in a common cultural habitat.

Studiolum dijo...

You see, Araz. That’s why you should write much, much more!!!

Anónimo dijo...

Is there any Greek version of the song then?

languagehat dijo...

I too was just drawn here by the thumbnail image, and have been listening to the music with great enjoyment. But are there no versions with vocals? I've found the lyrics online and will reproduce them below as a public service, but I'd love to hear how they fit the music.

Çeçen kızı çardaktadır
Soğu sular bardaktadır
Çifte benler yanaktadır

Haydi malım Çeçenkızı
Sen allar giy, ben kırmızı
Gel gidelim has bahçaya
Sen gül topla, ben nergisi

Evlerinin önü nane
Ben kül oldum yane yane
Gavur isen gel imane


Evlerinin önü susam
Su bulsam mendilim yusam
Arasam yarimi bulsam


Evlerinin önü çöplük
Çöplükten toplarlar iplik
Anası kızından keklik

Studiolum dijo...

Thanks a lot! Unfortunately I do not know any vocal version recorded. As soon as I will find any, I will link it here, too.

GurbetKusu dijo...

The story of the song is really complicated and I am still not sure about the origin. Çeçen Kızı (Chechenian girl) is known as Ta Ksila (The woods) and is the most popular folk song of the Greek island Lesvos. A version of santouri player Nikos Kalaitzis (Mpintagiala)
Tanburi Cemil Bey was admirer of folk music and in Istanbul, many times he has been at the music circles of Tanburi Ali Efendi who was from the Lesvos island. I guess he may have heard the melody from him. It is also known that Ta Ksila was named Kourdiko and played during the Turkish period in the island. That means the song was played around in the beginning of 20th century.
On the other hand, it can be vice versa. The traditional music of lesvos influenced a lot from Classical Turkish music, cafe aman songs of Izmir and traditional music from the West Turkey. So it could also enter to the folk repertoire that way. There are other examples of ottoman classical pieces in the music of Lesvos.

Μπάμπης Μαργαριτίδης dijo...

There are countless greek versions of this song, but you can find them by its Greek name " ta xyla" ( the woods). This is sort of the "national anthem" of Lesvos island. It is played literally in every celebation, wedding etc on the island and practically everywhere people coming from Lesvos live