Osman Kırca is a folk music hero and a master of ‘Üçtelli’ (also called Cura) stringed instrument. Born in 1956 in Çavdır village in Kaş, Kırca was introduced to this three-stringed instrument by his father. He later on started playing Üçtelli with the encouragement of Halil Karabıyık, whom he calls his master, at the age of 15.
Kırca has always kept his cura by his side as he shepherded and learnt about the dying throat singing tradition of Southeast Anatolia as he practiced his profession, performing this unique musical tradition with his instrument. Famous ‘Üçtelli’ master Ramazan Güngör from Fethiye influenced Kırca and crafted his instruments.
Master Kırca’s fame expands worldwide as he gave ‘üçtelli’ workshops and concerts for the international participants of Music Village in the summer of 2017. He performed with Üçtelli Quartet in Korea’s Jeonju and Seoul cities in the fall of the same year. The beloved musician also performed in Istanbul with the same Quartet in Istanbul.
Cura virtuoso Osman Kırca’s work is featured in the album titled “Anadolu’dan Üçtelli Ezgiler” (Üçtelli Melodies from Anatolia). Despite his worldwide fame, the musician leads an austere life in the village of his birth.
Emre Dayıoğlu – This week’s guest for Musical Conversations with Emre Dayıoğlu is…
Osman Kırca – Osman Kırca from Antalya’s Çavdır village in Kaş. We are at the heart of the land of our fathers here. This area used to be fully occupied by shepherds once, about 2-3 km above the village. These are the flatlands of Çavdır and Aşşağıyukarı, it is lovely and the scent of pines is everywhere. Of course, I chose not to leave this land of my ancestors; some people left—they sold their belongings and just left. I didn’t. This is where my ancestors come from, I spent my entire life here, I cannot make it anywhere else. I hadn’t even slept at my children’s houses, I always sleep here. I am here for 3-5 months and then I move on to the flatlands for the summer around the 20th of April.
Emre Dayıoğlu – When were you born?
Osman Kırca – I was actually born in 1956 but it was recorded as 1961. I wasn’t recorded with my peers. My father got it done to say I was 5 years younger. You needed to travel to Kaş to get the birth certificates done back then. My father wasn’t the one who did this, maybe the mukhtar or someone else just randomly wrote it down. That’s how it was done then. I had 5 kids by the time I went away to do my military service.
Emre Dayıoğlu – Wonderful!
Osman Kırca – Yes, or course.
Emre Dayıoğlu – Why so late?
Osman Kırca – My father made that mistake, even if it was because of the mukhtar. So I left the children and went. Those who were to do their military service like me absconded. I said, no matter what will happen, doing this service is our responsibility. I finished it and came back, but this instrument ‘cura’ prevented me from ever handling a rifle, it was so helpful. I played at the officers’ club and was running idle except for playing cura.
Emre Dayıoğlu – Who taught you how to play this three-stringed instrument?
Osman Kırca – I learnt it from my uncle’s son, Halil Kocabıyık. He was a pleasant man. He was good to people, he didn’t scold me when I handled the instrument. My father didn’t allow me to, due to the shortage of strings and I would always break them. I was so curious. I got close to him because he was my cousin and learnt how to play this way.
Emre Dayıoğlu – How old were you back then?
Osman Kırca – I was about 16-17 years old. I played but I was still an amateur, so it took a while for me to start playing better. I played another instrument called ‘bağlama’ as well as cura because these instruments were hard to craft. Even though I had an idea about how to make one, I used to shepherd because my father had a lot of animals and I would give my cousin a goat and he would find me a bağlama and I would sit and play it next to the goats. I played whatever I heard on the radio, I was a bright youth. I felt like I needed to learn all the folk songs if only I had a stringed instrument of my own, which I got later. I only played it half well but those things I learnt in my youth were so valuable. I remember only one piece that I learnt while playing among the animals.
Emre Dayıoğlu – Master, can you talk a bit about what it means ‘throat singing’ or ‘playing by the maw’, especially among shepherd women?
Osman Kırca – Let me put it this way; playing by the maw was popular back then. And not all ladies played this way either. There was a particular lady, they used to call her Hıragarısı, she was the best in the country. She used to play so wonderfully. I witnessed three of these; I used to play well at that point.
Rain fell, sun came out
Grey sash, the flock eats acorn,
The shepherd is overjoyed.
Why was the shepherd overjoyed; because goats eat acorn when it rains and then the sun comes out when the shepherd is happy and proceeds to ‘throat singing’ then.
Two of these ladies were my uncle’s women. They didn’t know about one another. They do throat singing and they were sisters. I had the bağlama and I had it in my coat because it was raining. I took it to the mountains to learn how to play. Anyways, the other shepherd did some throat singing and then sighed at the goats, of course the language of the shepherd is a bit rough, so my uncle’s wife said “What is up girl, the sound of the dog overpowers us”. That is when they proceeded to throat singing with the three-stringed instrument, with their fingers on their throats. It is famous now.
Emre Dayıoğlu – Can you give a short example of throat singing as taught by your shepherd relatives?
Osman Kırca – They use their thumb on their throat to make it vibrate. Women do it well because they have higher voices, I cannot do it like them.
I left everybody else’s throat singing out of my own compositions. I always play in the background of the goats. It is almost like an obsession.
Emre Dayıoğlu – You didn’t attend a music school, didn’t get an education in music, didn’t even attend a conservatoire and you aren’t a teacher like me. How can you create such extraordinary sounds?
Osman Kırca – Because I was such a curious young man, if I was a teacher nothing could possibly stop me then, I was extremely curious. My hair was long on my shoulders, I was very curious in my youth. However, we are surrounded by animals, shepherds, mountains and people. I did what I could despite the technology being so limited, I was curious Every member of my extended family plays something. My grandfather used to play the violin and people would ask for him by name, Kemençeci Mevlüt, when people came over from Alanya.
Emre Dayıoğlu – Good that you didn’t become a music teacher. If you had, how would I ever find you? You would end up playing like me.
Osman Kırca – You are my apprentice; you came to see me.
Emre Dayıoğlu – My meeting with Uncle Osman was interesting. I heard about him around 2011-2012. He told me “I am getting some olives pressed, it will be done in 5 minutes” and so we went, but it turns out that he was waiting in line and we ended up waiting for 4 hours. So glad that we did because I got to know such a great master this way. I am trying to learn some things from him now.
Osman Kırca – I am happy every time I teach something. I feel proud. We are 62-63 years old. It is the young people’s turn to play.
Emre Dayıoğlu – You don’t show your age at all?
Osman Kırca – I am in good condition, my feet ache when I am in the car instead of wandering around in the mountains. I take excursions in these mountains when I am bored.
Emre Dayıoğlu – Do you teach the children, the young ones, enthusiasts of the three-stringed instrument from Turkey and from abroad how to play it?
Osman Kırca – I teach whoever is curious, I don’t hesitate. Many people call and want to come over, I never turned anyone down.
Emre Dayıoğlu – How do you teach? The mentor-protégé relationship has been facilitating passing down of this knowledge for many years, maybe centuries. You are the master of this instrument, how do you start to teach a child, a student or a grown-up? Can you summarize how this works?
Osman Kırca – The student should follow me by playing their bağlama slowly first and see which fret to press and how. I play slowly to show them. They should listen and follow. They should observe my finger and wrist movements; these are the things I teach.
Emre Dayıoğlu – Did you see Ali Ulutaş often? Are you still in touch?
Osman Kırca – We used to meet up often, he is in another flatland and I am here so we have quite a bit of distance. But we would meet midway when we were younger.
Emre Dayıoğlu – Were you influenced by each other?
Osman Kırca – This never happened because we play very differently. I cannot play what he plays and vice versa. His late father would say “Are you here, my uncle’s son?”. Ali played fast and he used to listen to me when I played slowly. He would ask me to play when I was there.
Emre Dayıoğlu – Such different tunes are created by your instruments despite the fact that you come from the same village, albeit different flatlands, and you play the very same instruments. It is amazing your styles are so different.
Osman Kırca – Who will take our hand when we have such an occupation, I wonder. This music is valued, there are many who love it. Do we really have to be teachers by occupation? We learnt this music following the paths threaded by animals, many young people are now curious and are inquiring about it. I wish somebody would take our hand and say “Please come and teach this”. I am ready. Let’s keep this culture alive. I taught my son and my son will teach others and so on.