Robert Rigney: So basically I would like to know about your beginnings. Also about living in Tarlabaşı in Istanbul, and differences between playing Roma and gadjo weddings. So the first question is how did you start?
Cüneyt Sepetçi: Like many Roma musicians it came from my father. My grandfather also played clarinet. My great grandfather also played clarinet. The whole Cüneyt family, if they are instrumentalists, play clarinet. I have a lot of nephews who play clarinet. I have all in total seven brothers, and all of them play clarinet. So, you could say, it’s a family tradition. As with many Roma musicians in the Balkans.
Robert Rigney: And you grew up in Istanbul, in Tarlabaşı?
Cüneyt Sepetçi: Tarlabaşı, Beyoğlu, Kasımpaşı, Roma mahalle. lt’s a very famous neighborhood for Roma musicians. Everybody there is a musician. And even though we live there we would go to Trakya (Thrace), the European part of Turkey. We would go there for weddings because my father was really well known in Thrace and we would go there and play there for three days, which is how long the weddings would last.
Robert Rigney: What cities in Thrace? Edirne, Keşan?
Cüneyt Sepetçi: It’s actually a village.
Robert Rigney: So you would go to one village?
Cüneyt Sepetçi: I would go to a lot of places, but more villages, like, small villages. Because my father was really famous. And initially I wouldn’t play clarinet when I was ten, twelve. With clarinet you need a really good breathing technique and you can’t play when you are a kid.
Robert Rigney: So what instrument did you play as a kid?
Cüneyt Sepetçi: I played percussion, darbuka.
Robert Rigney: And the wedding band that your father led, what sort of instruments were in the band?
Cüneyt Sepetçi: In those times violin, kanun, çumbüş, darbuka. There was no davul. In those times there was no davul. Later this whole trend of bringing davuls to Roma weddings began. When I was a kid going to weddings there was no davul.
Robert Rigney: Why did that only come later on?
Cüneyt Sepetçi: Like twenty years ago it started. Before davul came there were more bongos. In Turkey there were a lot of bongos, and darbuka. That was mainly it.
Robert Rigney: Did you play exclusively Roma weddings.
Cüneyt Sepetçi: Not just Roma weddings. All sorts of weddings. To us it really made no difference. As long as it was a wedding we went there and did our job.
Robert Rigney: You also mentioned Black Sea.
Cüneyt Sepetçi: Yes, but the European side.
Robert Rigney: But not Trabzon.
Cüneyt Sepetçi: We would go anywhere there was a demand. As long as people paid for the road we would basically go anywhere, no problem. If there was a request and people would pay for it we would go there.
Robert Rigney: How would people find out about — this was your father’s band?
Cüneyt Sepetçi: Yes. I basically continued the family tradition.
Robert Rigney: And then at some point you took over the band and became the leader.
Cüneyt Sepetçi: I did become the leader of the band, but just in the sense of getting the band together. Not giving people orders and stuff like that. I need you, I need you, I need you. We were all brothers in the band. We all played an important roll. But unfortunately that’s not what other people think.
Robert Rigney: So when was it that you became the band leader.
Cüneyt Sepetçi: After I came back from the army. I was like twenty-something.
Robert Rigney: What is the difference playing Roma weddings and playing gadjo weddings?
Cüneyt Sepetçi: The only difference would be the music we would play. For me there is no difference, if I play a big venue or a small venue. I just go there and I do my job.
Robert Rigney: But you said the music differs.
Cüneyt Sepetçi: The music is different of course. If you go to a village where there are no Roma they want to hear something that is a bit different.
Robert Rigney: Can you talk more in detail about that? The music, how is the music different?
Cüneyt Sepetçi: Roma music especially in Turkey is 9/8. There’s the thing called Roman Havası, which would be translated into a Roma air. Something like that, prevalent in all of Turkey, Bulgaria, Macedonia, everywhere there are Muslim Roma you will find 9/8. That would be the main musical difference. A rhythm. For Roma people it’s composed rhythms. I played 9/8 tonight and when I played it not so many people danced. Because it’s something, not a lot of people are accustomed to it. It’s something a bit different. That’s normal. This Roman Havası dance ıs pretty difficult. Maybe if there are one hundred people in the audience, ninety people won’t dance. Ten people will dance, but that’s just the situation.
Robert Rigney: And at the height of your working as a wedding musician, how many weddings would you play in a year?
Cüneyt Sepetçi: Because of my fame and the fame of the other people I worked with at some point, the most I played — I mean, it is like a season — normally we play weddings in seasons, the most I did was six months. Continuously six months, non stop, every day, every day, every day. Around Trakiya.
Robert Rigney: Have you played abroad, like in Bulgaria or Germany.
Cüneyt Sepetçi: I don’t know if you are familiar with Ciguli. I played five years with Ciguli. That’s why I went pretty often to Bulgaria. And I also stayed there for one month. I stayed there with Ciguli and played music every night at Ciguli’s home, not for the outside, just for ourselves.
Robert Rigney: Have you played in Germany for weddings as well.
Cüneyt Sepetçi: Until this point no, but if there’s a request I will come, no problem.
Robert Rigney: What makes you special? Why do people chose you to play at weddings, rather than other people?
Cüneyt Sepetçi: It’s really important, besides the music, just being a good person. Being there and being a gentleman, being nice to everyone. You can be a very good instrumentalist, but if you don’t have people skills you just stay at home.
Robert Rigney: What do you make of the changes taking place in Tarlabaşı?
Cüneyt Sepetçi: In Kasımpaşa it will always remain known as the place to go if you want to hire musicians. About the new buildings, it is a good thing because it’s an improvement of the area. No matter what happens, people will know that is the place to go if you want to hire musicians.
Robert Rigney: At the same time many poor people and Roma are being pushed out of the neighborhood. Certainly that can’t be a good thing.
Cüneyt Sepetçi: In Kasımpaşa if you play an instrument you will never be poor. But people who don’t play an instrument will remain poor and will have to move somewhere else. But if you play an instrument you will earn enough money to live there.
Robert Rigney: How have weddings, wedding bands changed over the years?
Cüneyt Sepetçi:Before the synthesizer there used to be six, seven musicians at a wedding. But now with synthesizers there are two or three people and because of the capacity of the synthesizers they make it look like their are seven, eight people on stage.
Robert Rigney: When were you discovered by this record label, LM Duplication? How did they discover you? How did they find out about you?
Christoph: You have to ask Cüneyt for Jeremy and Heather.
Robert Rigney: Who are Jeremy and Heather?
Christoph: They do this American band, A Hawk and a Handsaw. That is a band that draws from a lot of Eastern European folklore. They got very traditional and now are just playing accordion and violin and sitar.
Robert Rigney: And how did they find out about Cüneyt?
Christoph: This is something you can ask him.
Cüneyt Sepetçi: They found me through a friend, someone who just called me one day and who said, look, there are some people who are looking for a clarinet in Turkey. They wanted to hear me. And I just went with a demo band, I played live in front of them. They had just come from a trip. And after that they left Turkey. A bit later they sent me money and I recorded my first album with the label. The tape, record sold very good. And then I had four or five years touring with my album, my first album, both in Turkey and in Europe. And that’s it. I became good friends with them, although I didn’t see them very often. I became good friends with them for doing a good job. I always did a good job.
Robert Rigney: Right now you have your second album. This time on vinyl. So how does what is on this latest album differ from what was on the first album?
Cüneyt Sepetçi: I have three albums with this label.
Robert Rigney: So how is what is on the latest album different from what was on the previous ones.
Cüneyt Sepetçi: This latest album is Bulagar havası, which basically means Bulgarian air. I played according to what I thought others might want.
Robert Rigney: So what do you think others might want to hear?
Cüneyt Sepetçi: I have no regrets. After talking with them and receiving some tips from the Americans —
Robert Rigney: What exactly did they say they wanted from you?
Cüneyt Sepetçi: The thing is the record label did a lot of good research. First of all with finding me second of all with producing this latest album, saying play music from Thrace, göçmen music, Black Sea, Roman Havalası. They gave me exact pointers and that comes from doing really good research.
Robert Rigney: What do you make of the audience reaction in the West?
Cüneyt Sepetçi: Very nice. People show a lot of respect. They act in a very polite way. I really enjoy it. And through this way I just want to say hello. People here show me more respect than in Turkey. Because it’s something new, something people haven’t seen.
Robert Rigney: How did you find the band members?
Cüneyt Sepetçi: The thing with musicians is they are all in a circuit. If somebody plays good you hear about it. That’s how I found Resul. And now we are like family. And the other guy, a festival in Bucharest. And the organizers said would you like to play with him.
Robert Rigney: Well, thanks for talking with me.
Cüneyt Sepetçi: Thank you.