One of my favorite musicians is the Bulgarian/Turkish accordionist called ‘Ciguli.’ Unfortunately, he passed away in 2014. After he died, the Istanbul based Roll Magazin re-published an extensive interview with him. Getting to understand Ciguli’s life and point of view only made me appreciate him more. He talks about his love of Bollywood, the situation of the turkish ethnic minority in Bulgaria, a bit of class politics, and how to prepare pastirma (the turkish pastrami).
The interview is from the 44th issue of Roll Magazin, July 2000. The interview was conducted by Siren İdemen, Yücel Göktürk, and Derya Bengi
Below is my translation.
Roll Magazin: In your new album you sing “Çiki Çiki Baba.” That’s a famous song, it was even in an old film from Kemal Sunal, but actually it’s an Indian song. Do you remember the first time you heard that this song?
Ciguli: In the cinema, in Indian cinema I heard it.
Did you love Indian film very much?
I went four times a week, when I had the money. They always played in Bulgaria. Your people here don’t like them as much. But our people crowded in, everyone loved the Indian films and went to them. I was also crazy for Indian films. Because I found so much in the Indian music.
They were really tragic films, right?
Those movies were so emotional, you had to tear up. If you didn’t want to cry, it was better not to go. Those films made me cry. Some people didn’t cry, some don’t want to cry, but every film with Raj Kapoor made me cry… That’s how good he was. I cried when he joked. I cried when he sang. They showed how poor, how humble he was. They push and prod him, he falls in quicksand, and he still sings a beautiful song. What a voice, what a windpipe, what melodies! I more or less seized upon those melodies. There was Mesela Nergis, the singer. She was also Indian. Her and Raj Kapoor for ages invented the cinema from their artistry. But how fine was her throat! Exactly on “Yapma Bana Numara” I took from Mesela’s throat.. It’s very hard for a man to sound like a woman. I worked hard on it. Some can’t get it. I guess I’m the only one who can give two voices like that. It’s real craftsmanship.
Did you start to work on your voice as a child?
Yes, I practiced a lot. When I was 9 or 10 I started going to the Indian movies. I continuously watched those with Raj Kapoor. At that time many came, but they will never come again. They played in the summer cinemas. There weren’t movies coming from Turkey, but we couldn’t have watched films in turkish anyway. Now there is television and the cinemas have closed.
How many siblings are you, are any of them musicians?
We are five. My biggest brother passed away, he played a bit of accordion. But he passed on. He left me. One of my granddads played “figorna.” Its like a bugle. We call it ‘figorna.’
Trumpet. My granddad played the trumpet… My father, who passed away, could sing beautifully. He also showed me, (grabbing his throat) “Son, if you make it here it will be good, do it, let me see, once more, try it, come on, hah, thats it…” He was a simple man, couldn’t read notes, couldn’t read at all, but he had a very good voice. He sang for his friends.
What did he sing?
He sang Bulgarian songs in Turkish. He wrote the words himself. One of my father’s songs is on my earlier cassette: “ On and on I endure like an oak/ But through my endurance I’ve been stained in blood/ Let the awfulness stay planted in that prison/ Ah the fat of my heart has wasted and pined away.” This song from my father stayed with me. “You sing this, the day will come, when you play in Turkey,” he told me. “Ahh,” I said, “such a thing will never happen.” He said it like he knew it would be.
Were they familiar with Turkey?
No, they never came.
Where did you all live in Bulgaria?
Is that near Sofia?
It’s far. I think 230km from Sofia.
How far to Edirne?
More or less an hour and a half.
Was Turkish the language you spoke as a child?
We spoke Turkish. But just before this democracy arrived- its been seven or eight years since we have democracy— for five years we weren’t permitted to speak Turkish. Five years I couldn’t perform in turkish. But when democracy came, we were free again. “You’re turkish, go to Turkey,” they were saying. I said, “If you want to send me to Turkey, then why don’t you go ahead and send me?” They sent some to Turkey, but they didn’t send us. I mean, they saw us as a bunch of ignorant rednecks. But we weren’t ignorant, I studied in Bulgarian schools. I knew Bulgarian very well. I studied for eight years. Anyway they wouldn’t give the lessons in Turkish. They wouldn’t teach in Turkish.
Was this prohibition during only this five year period? How was it during your father and mother’s time?
My parents are Turks, Muslims. But they remained illiterate, their poverty prevented them from studying. They grew up in very crowded families.
Was there a big turkish population there?
There was a lot of turkish life. In Kircali, Haskova, between them it was all turkish villages. Really it was just bursting with turks, so the legend goes they had to change my name.
You changed your name?
My name is Ahmet. “Let him be ‘Angel’” they said. “Alright,” I said, “I’ll be Angel.”
I guess “Angel” was an “angel.” (he laughs)
When did this oppression start, the prohibition?
When they changed my name, in the 80s is started. Before that there wasn’t a problem. After what happened I have no idea. Maybe Russia did something, I don’t know. We joined with Russia, and Bulgaria did what Russia said. That big government meddled in everything.
What do you think about Russia? For instance, did you ever want to go there?
I went to Russia. Ten years ago. I still hadn’t come to Turkey. Let me travel, I said, let me see these folk
orchestras. I listened to Russian music, but we never played that music. Our people can’t dance to such a thing. But Bulgarian music really touches us, I mean us Bulgarian Turks. It doesn’t sound foreign to our ears, we got used to it.
What is the gypsy population there? Are you a gypsy?
No. The gypsies live very far from us. 400 kilometers away. In Sumnu, or places like Varna there are gypsies. Their music is also very beautiful. A little closer to our own music.
Is their life more difficult than the Turks’ life? Are they more repressed?
Of course, the Bulgarians repressed them. They were a little easier on the Turks. They saw the gypsies as uneducated. Of course, most of them couldn’t go to school after all.
How were the Turkish Gypsies treated?
At that time they didn’t deal with them. They saw Gypsies as really low. But now there’s nothing like that. You can’t say “leave the gypsies to the gypsies.” Because there’s democracy, there’s freedom, so there is openness.
With the coming of freedom and democracy, did poverty lesson a bit?
There is never again the possibility of work. Entering the new democracy was very hard. The factories closed, they finished. The state factories. Everyone had worked for the state. Everyone had money. Things were cheap. We were poor but we managed. Because there was work for the people. Now there is democracy, but no work for the people.
What was your father’s job?
He was a porter. He moved freight. He moved materials to the factory. Anyway, everyone had work. If someone didn’t, he could stay at home. My father faithfully worked at the factory, like a civil servant. The porter’s job was a valued job. My mother was a broom maker in the same factory. She’d come and go with my father. The hospital was free, operations, injections, aspirin was all free. The government also gave housing, they took a comically small fee. After the 80s, after Todor Jivkov’s time, everything started. Jivkov messed up, he changed our names. He should have never changed it! Of what importance was it to you? Here, in Turkey how well every language is spoken, they speak English, they speak American, isn’t that right? You can speak whatever [language] you’d like! It’s your business! All your people are even working, they’re working in the smoke, they work here, there… they work for cheap…
Between the Bulgarians and the Turks how was it? Was a relationship of fellowship or companionship established?
Of course, it was very good. We took to each other. We studied together, finished school together, grew up together in the neighborhood.
Were there Turks and Bulgarians marrying together?
It’s been speculated… They wouldn’t want to take our names. They changed ‘Ahmet’ to Angel. “How am I going to yell that” they said, “how will I call him?”
What is your surname exactly?
Now my name is exactly Angel Yordanov Popov. Who I am, in my passport, the situation is like that. Now if I want to go change it— with A turkish name they don’t give visas so easily. I wouldn’t even be able to come to Turkey. Maybe I wouldn’t have come, couldn’t have worked here. With a Bulgarian name you can go where you like. When they look at the passport it’s written Angel. “OK,” they say, thinking about it, “he’ll go to Turkey, but he’ll come back, he won’t stay there.” (he laughs)
So the name Angel has done you good…
Of course it’s been good. (laughs) Because I would have never been able to come to Turkey. I could have never reached this level, never performed by music. I would never have made my recordings, I would never have seen my wife and children living in ease. That is to say, it makes me wonder… (laughs)
Your wife? What’s her name?
I also told her, she would have to change your name! Otherwise, I’ll go, but you’ll have to stay here with your turkish name… It won’t go well for you, Ayten! I’ll just get some other Ayten! (laughs)
What did her name become?
Albena. Albena is what we call the sea in our area, around Romania. I told Ayten, “From now on, you’re a mermaid!”
Did you also have a Bulgarian name in your youth?
It became Ferdi Filip. It became Ibo, then Yuri. I mean, Yuri Gagarin. They came with the wind. (laughs)
Did you choose your own names?
(Making his voice like a bureaucrat) The official smirked like this and said, “Choose a name.” There are lists. I chose Angel from a list. I said, what will I become? I saw Angel, “I want An Gel sir,” I said. Bravo! (hooting and hollering). What should I do, take a beating?
Did anyone resist? Was there anyone who didn’t want to change their names?
Yes, of course. They had them beaten. They took them to the police, “Will you be Ivan?” they’d say. “Ok, ok, I’ll do it.” (laughs)
Could the Turks be police?
They couldn’t be police.
How were the conditions in the army? Did you go into the service?
Yes, I did two years. In Bulgaria, like Turkey, everyone does two years. In the army I was treated badly, but so was everyone— that’s army life. They push you a bit.
What is your actual surname?
Huseyinoğlu. But as for Ciguli, the children put that one on me. I was 11 years old. At that time I was playing the accordion pretty fast, I was obsessed. It just took me a few months to teach myself to play pretty well. The Turks driving to and from Germany would pass our place. I would stop them, “Hey brother, how about giving me a cassette, I’m a musician, let me learn something…” I said. They would give them. From them I heard Ferdi Tayfur, Orhan Gencebay, Müslüm Gürses, Bülent Ersoy, Hayri Şahin…. Little by little I snatched it all from them.
Did you play all those songs on accordion? I mean, accordion really doesn’t fit with that music…
There is accordion, but very rarely. I play accordion, keyboard, synthesizer, a little drum set.
In these villages over here, the kids all want to play bağlama. In your home, is the accordion the first instrument a child wants to play?
Yes, accordion. Some of us also go for the clarinet. The accordion came easily to me. Also because I could sing songs with it.
Have you ever done a different work for money?
No, I’ve always been a musician. I’ve never been employed, and I never want to be. The accordion was calling for me. But we were poor and didn’t have enough money for one. They pieced a little money together, and struggled to get me an accordion. I was 11. I went to bed and woke up with it. At home and in the street I played for everyone. “Hey man, come here, let me sing you something…” I said, to everyone in the street. (laughs) My neighbor played very well, we were both born in ’57. When he would find a new song, I would stop at the edge of the courtyard, and listen. After, I’d head inside, close myself in, and play that same piece. He passed away also…
Did you listen to the radio?
Yes. But we couldn’t listen to turkish radio. They didn’t have all those channels back then. Sometimes we put on the station from Sofia, they would play turkish dance songs from the theater… They didn’t have these programs on TV then either, of course. Now we all have satellites, there’s everything. We take in the whole world now.
How did you start to earn money with music?
At 13 I started going to weddings. As a kid I would go and see the weddings, but now I was going as a musician. (laughs). I was just a kid and all the old folks would come gather around, “Let me hear another one from this kid!” they said. I would sing for them. “Ahmet if only you had been at our wedding,” they’d say. They’d give me some money. I’d get some food and bring it home. My mom loved it. (laughs). What could I do, from one poverty to another… There were a lot more weddings in Haskoy and Kırcalı. My father was deceased, which sent me traveling with my accordion on my back. I was afraid. My father had said, “You keep playing this thing, you’ll be a master, or throw it out in the wilderness. You have to get to Turkey.” But I had met some masters,
and those guys played very well.
You wanted to be like those masters, did you have one of them for a teacher?
There was a very great one, my uncle’s son, Rasim. He could also read music. He taught children. I wanted to be just like him. But now (grinning, hesitating) I don’t know how to say this…
You surpassed him.
Yes. (laughs). He really likes me. “You passed like an iron spike,” he says. “But,” he says, “I believed you would turn out like this, I watched you but I didn’t say anything- so as not to spoil you.”
Could you speak about the weddings over there?
When I got here and saw how it was, many things seemed the same. We have to go to the mosque just like here, we pray the same, our funerals are the same, and our weddings are the same.
But your weddings are a little more vivacious it seems…
Being poor makes you a bit more lively, so to say. That’s how I see it.
Outside of weddings, did you have a lot of music in your life?
From one wedding to another.. Weddings went on and on at that time. They started Thursday, finished on Sunday. A five day wedding.
Beautiful but, how tiresome? “Damn, if it would just finish so I could get paid and go home…” (laughs)
Did you dance and play at the same time? Did this dance you have now come from that time?
Very little. I didn’t dance then like I do now.
Did you start slowly improving your skill after the death of your father? I mean, he never saw the day you made it?
He never got to see. I lost my father when I was 15. My mother is still with us. She is very loving. I help her out now and then. But I have kids, and before everything a man has to help his children.
How many do you have?
Two children. Both sons. They are also both married.
Did he want it very much, did your father have a dream for you to head to Turkey?
He did. Our ancestry was here he said, explained; My grandmother was from here, and married off to my grandfather. From Edirne. My grandfather in those times came and went [from Turkey to Bulgaria], there was freedom, he was a merchant, he’d bring them an ox, pick up a buffalo. He met my grandmother that way. My grandmother came to Bulgaria as an immigrant.
How did you come to Turkey?
My deceased older brother brought me here, my brother Ibrahim. One day he came, “Let me listen and see what kind of musician are you,” he said. It had been twenty years since I took the accordion, but he had never heard
me play. I played. “This music is for Turkey,” he said, “not for these parts.”
What was your brother’s job?
A merchant, he had a passport, he’d go back and forth to Turkey, he sold jeans and whatnot. “You have turkish fingers, a turkish throat. Let’s have someone there hear you play,” he said. “Don’t joke, I can’t wrestle with those lions,” I said. Also, I was broke. “Sell something,” he said. Well, we had a TV, which the children were always watching. (laughs)
You sold it?
Well, yeah, I sold it… the kids were crying. I hung around another month, going to a few weddings, looking after my family, buying some things… I had cold feet.
Was your wife working?
She worked in a factory. In a cement factory, she would pull the cement like taffy, high up, then whoop, drop it…. “oh my,” I said. (laughs)
So you sold your television, then what?
Our TV wasn’t worth much. 150 bucks. I took the money, gave half to my wife and took the other half myself. “I’ll take this money and some clay pots and some cutlery to sell, in case there’s no work and they don’t like my music,” I said. I didn’t want to get stranded there. (laughs). I also took some cheese to sell. Our kaşkaval cheese is famous… We took the bus straight to Istanbul, to Aksaray.
Did you like Istanbul the first time you saw it?
Could I not have liked it! My brother led me to Kumkapı, to the cafes where musicians and their children hang around. We sat all day at a table. An old man came by, saw the accordion, and asked, “Who plays this?” “I play it,” I said. I played, he listened. Oh god! “I came to earn a bit of money, would you be able to find somewhere I can work?” I said. “You came to the right place, my son,” he said, “you are the best, I want to hear more music just like that.”
What did you sing?
I sang “Gitti de Gitti” from Orhan Gencebay. “Dear lord,” that old man said, “you really bring it home.” In the evening the musicians would pass, so we waited for them the whole day at that cafe. The market was close by, so we sold some spoons. My brother said, “We’ll make it back, we’ll get that TV back too, but first we’ll buy some coal…” It was very cold that winter! In the evening there were 40 or 50 people around. I played for them as well. “Check it out, who knew Bulgaria had musicians like this,” they said. They got a plate of food, and started collecting some money for me. I got weak. We didn’t get much money. But they liked it of course. My brother said, “We could have earned more selling your kaşkaval.” (laughs). The violinist Arif Çalışır, who played with Muslum Gurses, was there. That guy grabbed me, “the boss should hear you,” he said. We went to Üçler, Kumkapı Üçler Restaurant. And so I played there for seven years, every night in the terrace.
So how’d it turn out?
I made good money. I was sending money to Bulgaria, I gave it to my brother to bring there. With the money I earned in Kumkapı I bought an apartment for my children. The last week I was there, I borrowed some money from Dost Music to buy a car, but I didn’t want a car, I bought my older son a house in Bulgaria. Because two wives can’t live in one house. I want my children to be comfortable. In their own houses. Now I’ve applied for Turkish citizenship. I have a 2 year residence permit. I took 2 years for my wife as well. Let’s see how it turns out.
Where do you live now?
I’m renting a place in Şişli.
I heard you lived for a while in a hotel.
While I was in Kumkapı? I stayed at the Kumkapı Üçler restaurant. For seven years I slept under a chair. What should I do? I said, if I take don’t take a hotel, I’ll have a little more money in my pocket. The owner really trusted me, he gave me the keys, sometimes I was there alone, sometimes I let some of the busboys from Anatolia or Diyarbakır stay there, if we got along.
Aside from Üçler, did you work anywhere else?
There was a break from Üçler while they did some renovations, so I did six months at Kumkapı Neyzen. I made a little money over there, by the grace of god. I also spent about a year playing in Beyoğlu, and in Anatolia.
What did you do in the daytime?
Sometimes I went with my friends to listen to music in Dolapdere. I lived over there for a year, with my wife and
Who came to listen to you at Ucler?
Sezen Aksu came, Zerrin Özer came, for a few days Ibrahim Tatlıses’ orchestra stayed by my side. Mustafa Topaloğlu came, and many ordinary singers and artists came to listen to me. But no one took me by the hand at the time. They saw what my accordion player was, how I sang, they came again and again.
But none made any offers?
No, no, no one took me on. Sibel Can took me by the hand for a bit. She saw to it that I accompanied her at a few weddings and circumcisions in Izmir. “I want Ciguli. Without Ciguli, I’ll just go off to the fair,” she said. Then I was with Rumeli Hisarı. Thank God we were introduced. After that I decided I would make a recording.
Did you have an album before that?
Yes, but it didn’t turn out well. The music didn’t suit my voice. It was ’95-’96… Afterwards, a friend of mine brought me to Galip Kayıhan, to listen to me play. “You won’t be a world class musician,” he told me. He himself was a musician, he had played in America, with the old Marşandiz group, and with Edip Akbayram.
While you were playing at Kumpakı were singing ‘Binnaz’ or any of those?
Yeah. Of course I was singing ‘Binnaz’ at Kumkapı. ‘Yapma Bana Numara’ they’d make me sing more often, people liked it more. They didn’t really get ‘Binnaz’ back then. It took some time for that song to be understood, until after we shot the video.
What other songs went well at Kumkapı?
I sang so many songs. Also turkish classical music. For instance, “Dönülmez akşamın ufku” they loved. Or one like “Unuttaramaz seni hiçbir şey.”
Would those songs go over well in Bulgaria?
In Bulgaria, turkish classical music doesn’t work. They don’t like it. It’s too heavy for them. Arabesk goes over better. For example, Ferdi Tayfur, Kibariye, Suat Sayın, Orhan Gencebay…
On the “Binnaz” record did were you able to make all your own decisions? Did they let your singing style alone?
I made the decisions together with my manager. Galip Kayıhan, Gökay Özkan, and me. “Ciguli, maybe if you did it like this it would be good,” they would say. “It will,” I’d say. “Alright, well if we did it like this, how will it be,” I said. “It would be better,” they’d say. How to put my hat, which shoes to where, the three of us decided. I could always have things how I wanted, but it was better with their contributions.
Did you have that hat on your head back then?
No, my manager told me to do it.
But it really suits you…
I don’t know, but without the hat I’m a bit uglier. (laughs) They said, “That’s your look, keep it.” Well, since you say so. If something gives me a kick I really go for it.
There was this pink suit, but we heard you didn’t like it…
They say it’s a woman’s color. “What happened to our boy?” they said. (laughs)
My friends saw it on television, they thought it was marvelous…
No way, wow! (hooting and hollering)
For some years you were the talk of the town. There was a lot of gossip about you, they said you were a fool, a charlatan. Did all that make you angry, sad, did it make you stronger?
Adnan Şenses also talked about me, and Coşkun Sabah, Ajda Pekkan…. I won’t be offended, I said, but I was, actually. They were great artists, I had just arrived yesterday. They should say, “One of our brothers has come to greet us, welcome.” I loved every one of them, I listen to all their records. If you had been the great Coskun Sabah, what interest would I have been to you? You are the great Adnan Senses, what am I to you? What did I do to you? Even coming to this point, I haven’t taken much. I want that artists take each other by the hands. We’re all people. It doesn’t have to be that we trade blows, go after each other. This community is like some men boiling in a pot… Maybe you heard, “Over in that country they don’t grow tomatoes, they grow Ciguli.” Here is the sort of answer I gave “Why don’t you get an accordion and we’ll see if you can show me how they grow a Ciguli.” Its been 33 years that I play accordion.
It wasn’t just artists, the press also had a bad reaction to you…
Journalists would talk to me about one thing, and then write about something totally different. It’s not good that way. After, they saw me as a moron, and some smooth bloke would ask something…. “So are you very afraid of [your wife] Ayten?” “Are you going around behind Ayten’s back?” They asked such things! My two daughter in laws, my sons would watch the television, flabbergasted: Look at which way they are interrogating our father! Father, can’t you see, are you braindead?
Of course, the people who really liked you, who took you to heart, their number was not few…
Anytime now there will be a book about my music coming out in America. There is a researcher called Sonia [Tamar Seeman]. She let some folks in America hear me, “There can’t be such a voice, such an accordion, impossible,” they said… I also heard from someone else, they were listening to my music in America, it was playing. They heard it one morning when they were going around with some american friends or something, they heard Ciguli. My friend Mecnun told me on the telephone. Mecnun’s uncle lives in America, he plays saxophone, works over there. He brought my music to some americans to listen to. “Who is this man, where’s he from,” they asked. He answered, “This is my neighbor.”
Bizim derginin son sayısında, karikatürist Oğuz Aral, sizin sesiniz için “İbrahim Tatlıses’e beş basar” diyor…
Yok abi, olur mu? İbrahim Tatlıses o.
Do you like Ibrahim Tatlıses?
If I didn’t like him, I wouldn’t have named my son Ibo.
If you had one more son, what name would you give him?
It would be Orhan Gencebay, or else Ciguli. (laughs)
What does Ciguli mean? Do they call all fast cars Ciguli in Bulgaria?
Its a fast car. Thirty or forty years ago they Russians were dealing them in Bulgaria. The brand was ‘Ciguli.’ When they saw how fast I played accordion the other children said, “Ah, he’s as fast as a Ciguli.” The name stuck.
Have you ever driven a Ciguli? Are they really so fast?
I just bought my son a Ciguli. I gave 600 Deutschmarks for this 30 year old Ciguli I found. Like an antique, and cheap. If we get a lot of money later we’ll get another car. For now let him manage with that.
Zahul Ceran: He’s a very eccentric father. All of his manners are a bit exaggerated. For instance I know he uses soap to shave. So I get him some shaving cream, he won’t use it. “What did you do with that shaving cream,” I ask. “Well, I meant to send it to my son…” he says.
The album before, how many did it sell?
450-500 thousand, they say
What do you think, how will the money you earn from “Ciguli Forte” compare with that record?
God willing, they’ll get another house.
Did your first royalty payment shock you bit?
A little. But we took one payment of ten thousand dollars, and before that they gave two thousand dollars. I gave my child a house, by the grace of god. Now we have an agreement and they send me checks. But I’m not an ambitious man. My sponsor said, “Let’s get you a car.” I said, “I want a motorcycle,” so I can stop when I like and chat with the kids in the street.
Did they get it, do you use it?
They got it. Now I have a motorcycle. But I don’t know how to use it. One day I will learn. It must be easier than playing accordion. (laughs)
Zuhal Ceran: Actually, he said, ‘a small motorcycle,’ and they got him a sort of courier motorcycle. He wanted an engine that purrs, like ‘putt putt putt.’ One day, he showed me the car he wanted, its still fresh in my mind: A rusty, old, beat up pick-up truck. “I want one like that,” he said. Like a dreamy kid.
A while ago you spoke of which films brought you to tears. Are there songs that bring you to tears?
Orhan Gencebey, Bülent Ersoy, Ferdi Tayfur are the Turkish artists who brought me to tears.
Which songs, for example?
For example, Ferdi Tayfur sang: “There is no fountain that could quench my thirst/ From your hands I cannot take even a glass of water/ In my journey I collapsed, unable to pass your village/ I had nothing/ I could never see your beautiful face…” When I first heard it, I asked, am I a soldier or what? It made me cry.
What is your favorite Orhan Gencebay song?
“Gitti de gitti sevgilim gitti…” I really love, I do a very beautiful version. I played it once for Orhan Gencebay, he listened to me; We went to his house, last month. His wife, Sevim, also really likes me.
On this new record, “Horozum,” did everything turn out how you wanted?
Exactly how I wanted. I guess we have made “Binnaz” 12 times.
The song “Romale” is a very interesting piece… What is its story?
It’s a Yugoslavian gypsy tune, a folk song. I’ve known it for 20-25 years. “Romale” means ‘my gypsy,’ mysterious gypsy. “Chavale” means ‘child.’ Ah romale, ah chavale… But the other words, even I don’t know what they mean.
Gambling is always a theme you touch on in your songs. Where does that come from from? Is there a lot of gambling in Bulgaria?
I see people here playing a lot more backgammon in the cafes. Over there, they play cards. They play poker, rummy, black jack. I know it from there.
What does “Aso” mean? One of your songs is called “Aso.”
‘The one.’ That is, the ace. The queen, the king, the jack, the ace together in the hand make fifty. I myself don’t play, really, but I’ve watched them playing in the cafes. They play cards until the morning. The song deals with that. “Take the ace, your trumps are finished, let the jack and king be yours, give me the queen, play the last hand you old shark, your game is finished…” (laughs)
The words for “Löpçüler” (Freeloader) were written by Aysel Gurel. The music is anonymous?
Its a song which is played at weddings. Really a straight forward Bulgarian dance piece. I changed it quite a bit, but even so we wrote ‘anonymous.’
Are there a lot of grifters in Bulgaria?
Could it not be true? (laughs)
Are there more here or there?
I guess over there, there are many more. (laughs)
One song is called “Sinbad.” Sinbad the Sailor from the legends, right?
My manager Gökay Özkan wrote the words. Sinbad is a tiny little kid. Sinbad the sailor. He had a little bird as well. It was named Şeyla. It always helped Sinbad. The ship capsizes, the bird lifts Sinbad up, takes him out. The bird tells the people: “Sinbad is growing up, all of of you who protected him, now Sinbad will protect you.” I saw it on television, on a children’s program. The music is by Muziği Bağdat, we wrote turkish lyrics for it.
On your album there is a song by Radi Kazakov. Who is Radi Kazakov?
He is a very important guitarist in Bulgaria. He’s my age. I met him 10 years ago, we played together at weddings. He is very famous in Bulgaria, even world famous, he’s also played in America.
The words and music to that song are attributed to Radi Kazakov. Does he know Turkish? Was he another one of those Turks who had to change his name?
His name was Riza. But he knows very little turkish, because he always worked in Bulgarian, studied in Bulgarian, sang in Bulgarian. Radi, he was from around Şumnu, around Tolbukin. Now I guess he is in Holland. He is always touring, he has a very good group. They play Estrad music, music from Thrace. They sing in Gypsy, Bulgarian, Turkish. It could be said they are the best of the best. They also passed through turkey, and played with the drummer, Okay Temiz.
From your group, who is the man with the name Haskovalı Mecnun?
He is our keyboardist. My clarinet player Toraman is also from around there [Hoskova]. They came here to record, and God willing they will get the visa to come for some concerts. Only these guys can play for me, no one else can do it.
Did you ever want to pay with other musicians from other countries? For instance, did you meet Goran
At the Anatolia Restaurant the customers were always telling me about Goran Bregovic. Not one, not two, but 15 people told me ‘he is very good.’ I listened to him once, very briefly.
Are there any turkish musicians you found out about here?
Right now for instance I really like Tarkan.
Did you ever listen to Bariş Manço?
Bariş Manço is also great. May god rest his soul. The kids love him. He’s a beautiful artist. How could I not love him? Also when I was over there I knew about Bariş Manço.
Children are very important for you…
I’m crazy about kids… I guess I came to this world to make people smile. That’s how I was created. That’s how I see myself. I want to cheer people up. Let them live well, let the children smile, let them be happy. (Parçalarımı böyle sıra sıra düşünerek koyuyorum kasetlerime.) I put together the songs on my record with that in mind. How the people want it. I am also a man of the people.
You never get angry or swear? What do you do when you are upset?
I don’t do anything! Who could anger me? I view that man as more ignorant than me. I just laugh at him.
For example in the song “Sinbad” you say, “I will teach those bad guys a lesson.” How will you teach them? I think laughing won’t suit every situation…
It can also be done by laughing. Laugh at him. An understanding man will understand this himself.
Individually, people fall to one side. With the state the world is in, how can you not get angry at all that’s happening? For example, let’s talk a bit about ‘bad guys.’ Who is good, who is bad in your opinion?
The bad ones would be the ones who don’t help others. Some people are always thinking of what they want for themselves. They are filled up with their change-purses. But, when you have bread, let me eat as well, let him eat— that is a good person. You aren’t alone with your profit, you’ve left my children hungry.
In the album, poverty is everywhere. “I don’t want a rich girl,” you sing for example…
As if the rich are superior to you. Everyone wants more to themselves. But desire only ends when you die. If someones gets a piece for themselves, everyone looks at them. But it can’t be this way. You can’t be the only one to drink the tea. Give a little bit to the rest of us. Let us also drink. If we work so hard for you, look after us a bit. Everyone has to take care of their children. Aren’t I right, brother?
Kimsenin kimseye çalışmaması daha iyi değil mi?
Daha iyi ama, kurallar öyle olmuş.
Orhan Gencebay’ın şarkısında da var ya: “Kula kulluk edene yazıklar olsun”.
Var. Batsın bu dünya, bitsin bu rüya. (gülüyor)
When you aren’t working, how do you like to pass your time? Do you go out?
I watch TV. I go out and wander around the parks, the markets…
What’s your favorite place in Istanbul? For instance, do you like the Bosphorus?
Of course. Who doesn’t like the Bosphorus? But I’m not attached to one place. I hang around Kumkapı.
If decide to drink some rakı, where would you go?
Do you go to Üçler?
I was just there last week. The owner loves me, and I like him. Üçler has been my bread and butter, they’ve watched my children, my children even grew up there.
They also got a lot of dough out of you, but I’m still curious… Do you like rakı?
A bit. Every boy likes to drink a little. It goes well with a bit of salad. Ooooh!
Does your wife go with you to drink?
Last week I took her to Kumkapi, but she doesn’t drink. She ordered a small wine, I said, “Amman! I never saw you drink that much of anything.”
What do you drink in Bulgaria?
There’s Mastika, Sakızlı. It smells good, but if you drink it you won’t get up in the morning, from the headache. But raki is something special. Last time, I had some Tekirdağ Rakı. Good Lord! It was like milk. (laughs). I drank two doubles, no problem. Normally one is enough.
What’s your favorite meze?
Favorite thing to eat? Fish. I’m crazy about blue fish.
Does kaşkaval go with Rakı?
It’s alight. I prepare white cheese with cucumber. A bit of fresh onion, tomatoes… I also cook. I cook for my wife. I say, “Ayten, sit down, let me do the cooking.”
Well, what do you prepare?
I make meat balls, stuffed eggplant, I make great beans. Besides that, I am a master at preparing Pastrami. My father showed me how. This will be important, he said. No one in Turkey can make Pastrami like me
Really you can do it?
Of course, what are you saying!
How do you make pastrami?
Like they do in the village. I have these wooden crates… So I line the inside of the crate with some thin paper. I puncture holes in all the sides. I put salt, rock salt, in the box. After that I cut the meat into small pieces. I salt the pieces, salt all over them, and put them in the crate… After that I find a washtub. I take that crate and I put above the washtub. I take some heavy rocks and I put them on top, to press the meat. The blood is pressed from the meat into the washtub. The washtub fills up. After that I press the blood out of the meat again. After that I take it down to open it. I cover it in some stylish nylon. Then I put it in a dry place. I wait 10 or 15 days, and after that, you have pastrami!