I Was Born Playing The Oud

Hasan Mert Kaya Ahmet Ferhat Akben April 2014

NECATI ÇELIK WHO IS ONE OF THE PERFORMERS IN THE CULTURE AND TOURISM MINISTRY’S ISTANBUL STATE TURKISH MUSIC ENSEMBLE, IS ALSO ONE OF THE TURKEY’S AND WORLD'S LEADING OUD PLAYERS AND TEACHERS. WE TALKED WITH HIM ABOUT THE OUD, ONE OF THE FAVOURITE INSTRUMENTS OF TURKISH MUSIC.

Sanki Udla Doğmuşum
Sanki Udla Doğmuşum

You are celebrating 40 years as a performer. As someone who has been at the top of his art for 40 years, can you tell us what Turkish music means to you?
I believe that music is a language, like Turkish, English, Arabic. Not everyone can speak the language of music - that good fortune is not granted to everyone - but everyone can understand it. For me this is God’s greatest gift. What can be expressed in this language are not things that can be expressed in the language I use when speaking or writing. That is why God gave us this abstract language. I have seen that through music I can describe even the most difficult-to-describe feelings to people I don’t know and have not formally met, people who don’t speak the same language, eat the same food or believe in the same religion as I do. My teacher Cahid Gözkân used to say, “There is unity in music.” When music begins, noise stops, conversation ceases, the affairs of the world come to a halt, and everyone pricks up his ears.

Can you tell us your story? How did you get involved with the oud?
I started playing music in Konya, first on the bağlama (a stringed instrument). Of course, I was very small then. My father had just died. There was a wedding in our village and we went to that village from Konya as guests at the wedding. When the musicians arrived (saz, bağlama, cura players) they sent the children outside, because the men wanted to sing and play among themselves. Since my father had been a prominent person in the village, I was treated as a guest and allowed to stay.
I remember waiting for a lull, then grabbing one of the instruments and going outside and starting to play it. I was able to play; it was even easy for me! It was my first encounter with the instrument. Later, my older brother brought home a bağlama. I’ll never forget that night. We played the Turkish folk song, “A light burned on the mountaintop / I went in pursuit of my beloved.”
In Konya, folk music is played on classical instruments like the kanun (zither) and the oud (lute). The bağlama and, especially, the divan saz (a larger version of the bağlama) are used as well, but the oud and the kanun are the main instruments. I must have gotten enthusiastic about them and started playing the oud. The oud brought me in touch with the Mevlânâ Commemoration held every year in Konya. In 1973, as a young man of 18, I joined the masters who came for the festivities. Great musical masters would come for those annually held ceremonies, and I would sit at their feet for a week. Then I would spend the whole next year trying to digest everything I had learned in that one week. The weeks I spent at those ceremonies were like a regular school for me. I can’t begin to mention the names of all the teachers from whom I benefited there, but Cinuçen Tanrıkorur of course has a special place for me.

What makes the oud different from other instruments in your opinion? Why did you choose the oud?
The oud has a very deep, full, satisfying tone. It’s an instrument that gives me satisfaction. There’s also the ease of being able to play it without looking, which facilitates singing. With the oud, a person can sing and play at the same time. It can also be used to make all kinds of music. I’ve even played jazz on the oud twice at Babylon (an Istanbul jazz club)! But I didn’t consciously think about any of that when I chose the oud. I just felt as if I had been born playing it!

When you look back at your 40 years in music, what has been your greatest reward?
If I have been able to serve Turkish music, that is my reward, and that is all I need. Attaining that honor is enough for me. I also love teaching and will always be proud of the students I have trained.

What is your overriding passion in life?
Expressing emotions through music… As I said at the start, music is a language. My teacher, Cinuçen Bey, called it “the language of the angels”. It is the language that best expresses human emotions. After learning this language, it becomes easier to express emotions.

Necati Hoca does not take any money from his students and he has even put up video lessons on the internet free of charge for students who are too far away to come to him. He tells us about his exceptional deeds with these words; "I cannot take money for something I myself learned without paying any money. There is a reduction in the number of artists today but a proliferation of celebrities. In other words, anyone who is famous is assumed to be an artist. We need to distinguish between the two."