Monday, March 28, 2011

Sweet Voice

Music has been an important part of my life.  That has been an on-going theme of these letters and on my blog.  Allow me to indulge in this topic again.

Some History:  I want to reflect on something that happened in the news this month.  Let’s kind of start at the beginning.  This history began while I was playing with my first band, The Johnites, in Detroit.  We formed the band in 1969 and included five friends:  John Tosoian - Clarinet, Tom Zakarian - Guitar, Vaughn Masropian - Dumbeg, Mike Mossoian - Dumbeg, and myself - oud.  We were close and got much closer being in the same band.  We all stood up in each others weddings.  Mike left the band when he moved to California for a few years. I played with them from the inception of the band until I moved to New York in 1990.  It was very hard to leave the band.  I missed the music and the camaraderie.  Almost immediately I got to play with and be friends with other musicians.  The same thing happened when I move to Chicago.  Often, the fondest memories are the oldest.

We loved to play and we loved to share the music that we loved.  We listened and learned.  We discussed how others played and interpreted songs and we copied the masters to the best of our abilities.  The masters we listened to we predominately other American Armenian musicians that included John Bilezikjian, John Berberian, George Mgrdichian, Arte Barsamian, Ed Arvanigian, Eddie Sharoian, Simon Javisian, Harry Bakalian, Hachig Kazarian, Harry Minasian, Souren Baronian, Richard Hagopian, Jack Chalikian, Bob Tashjian, Chick Ganimian, the Vosbikians and so many others.  We began listening to records but quickly moved into cassettes.  Cassettes made it easy to listen to our music almost anywhere.  Most importantly we were able to easily copy and share live recordings.  We were even able to copy and share scant recordings that were just becoming more available from Turkey.

The recordings from Turkey opened up a new and exciting dimension to our music,for me.  We got to hear different styles from classical (sanat) to folk to pop.  We got to hear superb musicians that were conservatory trained and basically were full time musicians.  We noted that there was no substitute for being able to fully dedicate oneself to music and make a career out of it.  We could only imagine how good we could be if we had had that option.  It was my first personal realization of the concept of the White Genocide or the Djermak Chart, the genocide we in the diaspora fight against every day.

It was at this time, sometime in the mid-1980s, that I first heard what has been my favorite singer ever since.  If I had to pick a year, I would say 1984.  I had a band job with the Johnites.  I cannot even remember where we were playing, it is that long ago.  I am guessing it was a wedding since most of our work back in those days most of our work was at weddings.  I do recall it being one of those lovely summer days in Detroit that turn into perfect summer evenings.   I specifically remember Vaughn invited me to his car during a break to hear a new tape.  I cannot remember how many times we told each other “you gotta hear this new tape!”  He popped the cassette into his car player and I sat there mesmerized listening.  I did not know the of the song I was listening to.  I did not know the name of this singer.  The tape Vaughn had was a third or fourth generation copy with nothing written on it.  I just knew I liked it... I really liked this music and this singer.
Vaughn made me a copy and I listened to it over and over again.  I loved the rich tenor voice of this singer.  I loved the folk like music they played.  I was convinced that if our people were still living in the Armenian highlands, the place now known as Eastern Anatolia, and if I were to have become a musician, I would be playing exactly this music.  I might even have been in this fellows band.  It was that serious and had that much impact.

I was in Boston and was visiting Peter Kyvelos the renowned luthier and oud maker.  There was a video shop near his shop of which I had parked in front.  After spending some time with Peter, I was going back to my car and noticed that the video shop had Armenian and Arabic tapes.  So, I went in and looked around.  I saw a section in this small store where they were selling cassette tapes.  I was a little surprised to see Turkish cassettes which a little bit of a surprise because Armenians from Beirut, as the proprietor of this store clearly was, do not openly listen to Turkish music... at least publicly.  In looking at the display of tapes, I noticed a half dozen tape of a mustached singer named Ibrahim Tatlises.  One of the tapes featured two words in a yellow star-burst:  Leylim Ley.  I recognized these words as the chorus of the song from that tape Vaughn gave me.  Leylim Ley was that first song I had listened to.  Ibrahim Tatlises was the name of the singer. I was pretty excited to have found out the name of this singer who I have been listening to and admiring for over a year.  I bought a few more cassettes.  
Ibrahim Tatlises cover photo of his Bulamadim album
One of them was Fosforlu Cevriyem.  It was a live concert and I wore out that cassette before I bought the CD in the 1990s.  I came to learn that the style of music was called Arabesk.  It was called that because of Arab style orchestration featuring a string section.  It was Arab style music done in Turkish.  It most definitely was not high brow music.  It was the music of the poor.  It was the music of poor Kurds.  Tatlises himself is Kurdish.  Whenever I would mention Tatlises as my favorite singers to more educated Turks from Istanbul, it was like they could not believe I even knew who he was.  Then they were astonished that I would like such a “low class” singer.  They just did not get and could never really understand how I could like Ibrahim Tatlises.

When my son Aram was young, we would be in the car and I would very likely have Tatlses playing.  Once Aram asked why I liked and listened to this kind of music.  My simple response was “It is just country music, from a different country.”   Both of my kids liked the Armenian music they were used to at dances, weddings, and picnics.  They tolerated my more esoteric tastes in music.  Armene would just call it “Dad’s music.”

Speaking of country music, that is exactly what Ibrahim Tatlises sang.  His Turkish was heavilly accented.  For example, when singing about raki, the national anise flavored raisin liquor of Turkey, he did not pronounce in the clean modern and urbane way they would in Istanbul where the ‘k’ is made as soft as possible.  He would belt the word out with a more guttural throaty “kh”  Armenians, Arabs, Kurds, and, of course, Turks of humble means from the countryside would use.

One of the Tatlises cassettes I have actually featured photographs of the great singer standing in front of semi-tractor trailer rigs.  It was like he was a Turkish Waylon Jennings.  It hammered home the fact that he is a singer of the common man, truck drivers, and taxi cab drivers in Istanbul.  In fact, there was a front page article in the Wall Street Journal in the early 1990s that suggested that if Sulyeman Demirel or 
Bülent Ecevit, or whoever was the Prime Minister at the time should listen to the music taxi cab drivers in Istanbul were listening to if really wanted to know what was wrong with the country and what the poor people were going through.  Per the article, they were listening to Tatlises singing the songs of their tough lives.  The incumbent did not heed the advice of the Wall St. Journal and was not re-elected. 
With the photos of Tatlises with big rigs and the Wall St. Journal article, I came to fully understand how and why the educated and corporate Turks in the same socio-economic class as me in this country were so mystified by how big a fan of Tatlises I was.

I knew almost nothing about this fellow Ibrahim Tatlises.  While I liked his singing, I did not have the need to know too much more about him.  I learned that his last name Tatlises means Sweet  Voice (maybe Sweet Words tatli soz?).  There was some banter among my Greek musician friends in Connecticut that he was gay.  I have recently learned that his has children, so I pay even less attention to these theories.

When I joined Colgate, one of the first thing I did was teach Quality Management to Division of New Geographies for Colgate.  This included the subsidiaries in Africa, Eastern Europe, and Turkey.  We had the training in South Africa.  It was there I met two sons of Colgate’s joint venture business partners in Turkey:  Bulent and Mehmet Basar.  At a cocktail party, I was talking to them and they soon understood I was Armenian and liked Turkish music.  They asked who my favorite artists were.  First and foremost I mentioned Ibrahim Tatlises. 
 I expected them to have the same reaction that other Turks had with this revelation.  I was delighted when Bulent said, “Ibo is our friend.”  They proceeded to tell me how Colgate Turkey had run a promotion with Tatlises.  They had a concert in which the price of admission was two empty boxes of Fab Detergent.  It was a heavily advertised promotion.  Shortly after returning to New York, Bulent sent me a poster used to advertise the promotion featuring a photo of Tatlises and a few boxes of Fab.  I had the poster framed and it has graced my office ever since.

Later I came learn that most people did not bring two empty boxes of Fab to the concert.  The company had two trucks full of detergent.  People bought  their two boxes on the spot, opened the boxes, spilled out the detergent, and made their way to the gate.  Others told there was a mountain of detergent that had to be cleaned up after the concert.

Some Very Recent History:
 On March 13, Ibrahim Tatlises was attacked in a drive by shooting by gunmen wielding automatic weapons as he left the studio where he had just finished filming his popular TV show.   It was amazing that he was not killed.  He was, however, seriously wounded.  It was thought that he might not recover and if he did would be mentally impaired.  I was checking Google news everyday to get the latest reports.
Through all of this I learned that Tatlises is 58 years old.  He is essentially my age.  I thought he was younger because of his youthful sounding voice and energy.  I had once thought that it would have been cool to have met, tried to play with his band, and maybe even become friends.  Upon reading about Tatlises this month and learning more about him, I believe I will simply remain a fan of his singing from afar.  Ibrahim Tatlises is what they used to call in this country one “tough cookie.”  He was a construction worker before become the internationally known singer he is today.  He has had connections and business interests with thugs and organized criminals.  This is not the first time he has been attacked and wounded. 
On March 25th, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited Ibrahim Tatlises in the hospital.  I learned that Tatlises may have been attacked because he had agreed to run for deputy representing Şanlıurfa (Urfa) his home town for the AK party which is Erdoğan’s party.  Those arrested were believed to have been part of or funded by the more radical PKK party which has fought both politically and with arms for Kurdish freedom and rights.  At least this is what has been reported in the Turkish press in English.  If I have learned one thing about Turkey... some or none of this might be true.

I am glad Ibrahim Tatlises was not killed, his prognosis is much more positive than when he was first shot, and I hope he fully recovers.

Here are a few of my favorite Tatlises Youtubes of the hundreds available:
  1. Here is the original version of Leylim Ley, I somehow believed that I could have played in this group (LOL):
  2. Here is a more recent version of the same song.  There is no question, I could not play with this band (LMAO):
  3. Here is a music video of one of his Bulamadim.  He does kind of look my age in this video except for the amazingly jet black hair.
  4. This is Tatlises’s most famous song Mavi Mavi:
  5. A slice of Urfa life from the Ibo Show.  Listen to his voice rise above the others:
  6. Aşık Mahsuni Şerif's Dom Dom Kurşunu is one of my favorite songs especially when sung by Tatlises:

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Yokay then!

The media, this morning, informed me of two historical events that occurred today:  March 23.   NPR, with or without government funding, let me know that on this day in 1775, Patrick Henry uttered the phrase for which he is best known, “... give me liberty or give me death!”  The phrase was used in speech to the Virgina convention and criticized the tough handed British rule over the American colonies.  The full sentence used in the speech was actually, “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"

The other tidbit was in the daily, actually more like every other day, email I get from informing me of the many things that happened in history on the days they actually send me their "daily" e-mail.  The lead item today was not the Patrick Henry quote which the number two item in the e-mail.  The number one item was “1839 : OK enters national vernacular.”

OK, I actually read about OK first over breakfast.  I half thought about writing about it because of an odd similarity between the American youth of 1839 and young people today (I will explain more below... OK?).  But, as stated, it was a half thought.  On the drive in, I heard the Patrick Henry tidbit on the radio and somehow that tipped the scale towards writing and posting about history.  OK?

The remaining question was whether to write more about Patrick Henry and his famous quote or to write about the more pedestrian OK?  I am feeling quite pedestrian, if not outright plebeian, today.  There was really no question.  I am writing mostly about OK.  You can read the full article on  There is no real need for me to copy and paste or even paraphrase the text into my own words.  (

I do want to expound a bit, however, on the lovely parallels the article claimed about the American youth of then and now (and I just said I would not be cutting or pasting... OK then):

During the late 1830s, it was a favorite practice among younger, educated circles to misspell words intentionally, then abbreviate them and use them as slang when talking to one another. Just as teenagers today have their own slang based on distortions of common words, such as "kewl" for "cool" or "DZ" for "these," the "in crowd" of the 1830s had a whole host of slang terms they abbreviated. Popular abbreviations included "KY" for "No use" ("know yuse"), "KG" for "No go" ("Know go"), and "OW" for all right ("oll wright").

LOL!  OMG!  Those wacky 1839 teenagers did this without the social media driven abbreviation frenzy of today. They had no texting or twitter.  They had no phones let alone cell phones.  The telegraph existed in concept but was not widely used in 1839.  The 1839 teenagers had no instant messaging Facebook e-mail need to abbreviate and create their own slang.  Yet, they did it.  I am now guessing it might be more an adolescent thing than an internet social media driven thing.  Who would have guessed?

I like the KY = know yuse.  I do not imagine the KY Jelly marketing folks will pick-up on this oddity any time soon.  OK.

Why does this fascinate me?  (Not the KY thing... the OK thing...please.)  I was impressed that OK was born out of a misspelling and mispronunciation of a very common phrase resulting in an abbreviation that upon appearance is unrelated to the original phrase.  Lately, I have been doing the same thing with OK.  I have been saying Yokay.

Why?  I don’t know.  It seemed funny to me and there are a  few people that I used it on who looked at me funny and started laughing.  That is about all the encouragement I need.  So, I have kept using it.  Now I have learned that I have actually distorted and misspelled a word, OK, that in fact is itself a distortion and abbreviation of a misspelling of two other words.  How kewl is that?

Yapperently, things like this amuse me.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Very Thin Slice of Life

I was on my way to work this morning.  It was darker at 6:30 am than it was just a week ago before springing forward this past Sunday.   I turned left onto Waukegan Road heading north toward my client’s offices.   At first glance in my rear view mirror, I recognized that the car behind me was a recent model BMW.   This was evident by the angry headlights.  The headlights look angry because of the angled in eyebrows above the circular headlights.  The eyebrows are LED turn signals and running lights.  They are very distinctive.

At the first light, the beige 500 series BMW pulled up next to me.  I glanced over and noted a bald or shaved head man in his forties or early fifties with rimless glasses.  I noticed that he had the map light on and was reading a book.  Up until then I was only noting my environment which is something any quality engineer does as a matter of course.  At that point, my interest and curiosity was fully engaged.  Was this fellow reading while he was driving?  What was he reading and why was he reading while he was driving?

My first question was answered as soon as the light turned green.  The fellow closed the book, set it on the seat next to him, turned off the map light, and took off.  At the next light, I was next to the fellow again.  Sure enough, as soon as he stopped he flipped on the map light and began reading again.   While I was next to him, I was behind him just a bit where I could see the open book.  My first guess was that he was reading The Bible because the book was relatively thick and it had one of those ribbons sewn into the binding that was used as a bookmark.  It was the bookmark that led me to believe he was reading The Bible.  The light turned green and we zoomed off.

At the next light, we were again next to each other.  The fellow was again reading.  This time, while not able to actually see much, I was looking to see if the pages were in two columns of text.  This would all but verify he was reading The Bible.  This however was not the case.  I was able to see a pattern however.  There was a block of text in the center of the two-thirds of the page.  This block was bordered by a rectangle and there was more text around outside the box.  I now concluded that the man was reading The Talmud which was the text in the middle of the page. The text around the box would have been the commentaries. 

As the traffic lights became less frequent, there was not another opportunity to revise the theory any further.  Instead, I pondered why this fellow was reading in such infrequent and short spurts.  Was the book that interesting?  Was he that dedicated to his faith?  Was he making incredibly effective use of his time?  All of these are possible and yet, there may be something I have not thought of.

Me?  I like to listen to National Public Radio in the morning while driving.  It is my only regular dosage of news.  To my thinking, that is pretty effective use of time.  Even if I were reading the most interesting book I have ever read, I probably would never try to read a book or newspaper while driving even if only at stoplights.

I wonder if anyone else ever noticed this fellow reading at stoplights?

There you have it, my fifteen minute slice of life from this morning.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

On Japan's Nuclear Crisis

I have been following the news coming out of Japan. It is sad enough that the Tsunami hit and killed at least 10,000 and left scores more homeless. It was eerie to read about the 1,000 bodies that washed up on shore. It is a very tough situation that is made even worse by the fact the area, in Northeast Japan, hit by the Tsunami and earthquake is home to a few nuclear power plants.

It sounds scary. The reports are ominous. I heard a report on NPR this evening that very unsettling. There is a fire at one of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant reactors. Officials are afraid that they will not be able to convince any workers to fight to avert disaster. There are real fears that the instrumentation in the reactors used to monitor and control the reactor are either malfunctioning or not functioning at all. The New York Times has reported that:
A small crew of technicians, braving radiation and fire, became the only people remaining at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on Tuesday — and perhaps Japan’s last chance of preventing a broader nuclear catastrophe.
Fifty people are left to fight and shut down an exposed core. There is a very real fear of a meltdown which could jeopardize many people in this densely populated country. People are trying to get as far away from the reactors as possible. These brave souls who volunteered or were assigned to this detail may well die in their efforts to save others.

This is eerily reminiscent of Chernobyl. At this point, Chernobyl was much worse than Daichi. The Chernobyl reactor exploded and spew huge plumes of radioactive steam, smoke, and ash into the atmosphere risking millions. The similarity was a few hearty souls, heros, went in a poured cement around the core to seal it and prevent an even worse disaster. 28 died from radiation exposure and the remainder have been afflicted with severe radiation related health afflictions. It is a very grim situation for the workers that have stayed on.

The other thing that strikes me is that Japan has already had more than it’s fair share of nuclear devastation. It was the only place in the world where atom bombs have been used in warfare. In 1945, the United States dropped bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in order to force Japan to surrender. It worked but at a great human price. (Please see my posting written on the 60th anniversary of those bombings:

Now, 66 years later, this poor country is struggling with another potential nuclear devastation, this one of their own creation. I was a little surprised earlier this week when I learned that the Japanese had nuclear power plants. I had assumed that, given the events of 1945, they would have chosen another path. I am now thinking that their energy needs were so great their natural resources were so scant that nuclear power was the only path. I also imagine that they reasoned that their industrial might and dedication to quality management would be more than sufficient to guarantee safe operation of such facilities
Europe's energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger went further and dubbed the nuclear disaster an "apocalypse", saying Tokyo had almost lost control of events at the Fukushima plant. "There is talk of an apocalypse and I think the word is particularly well chosen," he said in remarks to the European Parliament.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Would I have been a Black Eagle?

In the March 7, 2011 issue of The New Yorker, there was a Letter from Turkey entitled “The View from the Stands:  Life among Istanbul’s soccer fanatics.”  I read it with great fascination both because it gave a glimpse into soccer fanaticism and also because it was about Istanbul.  The article was written by Elif Batuman who the contributor page told me is “a writer in residence at Koç University, in Istanbul, and the author of ‘The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them.”  

Ms. Batuman acknowledged the three premier and most popular teams in Turkish futbol as Galatasary, Fenerbahçe, and Beşiktaş.  She pretty quickly focused on the Beşiktaş team and their fan club called Çarşi.  The colors of the Black Eagles of Beşiktaş Jimnastik Kulubünü are black and white.  The are probably the most proletariat of the three major teams.  While I lived in New York, I thought that Galatasary was the only Turkish soccer team.  While I totally acknowledge my naivete, it does speak a bit to the socio-economic class of the Turks that I knew while I was in New York.

The Çarşis seem like a most interesting group.  I liked the picture Batuman painted of them.  I liked their irreverent attitude and the support they give to any underdogs as they perceive themselves as such.  The express their affiliation with the down trodden and disenfranchised with banners and slogans:

“We Are All Black.”  proclaimed one banner, after rival fans had made reference to the race of the French-Senegalese Beşiktaş star Pascal Nouma.  When Fenerbahçe disparaged a Beşiktaş manager whose father had been a janitor, there were banners saying “We Are All Janitors.”  And when an internal committee of astronomers removed Pluto from the list of planets Çarşi took up the cause:  “We Are All Pluto.”

As a so named Gavoor, how can I not appreciate this irreverent and fun attitude?  It made me wonder about when Hrant Dink was murdered and thousands of Turks took to the streets with banners stating “We Are All Hrant Dink” and “We Are All Armenian.”  Did the Çarşis influence this or did that event influence the Çarşis?  I am guessing the latter. 

Either way, “We Are All Pluto” is pretty funny... assuming this was not some backhanded swat at the murder of Hrant Dink.   

It is not all peaches and cream, however.  Soccer fanaticism and hooliganism comes with more than a fair share of idiotic and partisan violence and Çarşi is not above this.

One of the heads of Çarşi is an Armenian named Alen.

A headline in a political magazine once called the Beşiktaş stands “the only place where the Armenian problem has been solved.”  Popular cheers have included “Alen for Pope” and, on Easter, “Bless us, Alen.”

I suppose the fanaticism for a team can overcome national politics.

Either way, I am not a huge soccer fan apart from the World Cup.  I never even considered being a fan of a Turkish soccer team, but after reading this piece:  Go Beşiktaş!