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:


  1. Wow! I can understand why you love and appreciate Tatlises' music. He is amazing! I actually like both versions of Leylim Ley ... each one giving me a different response to my mind, body and spirit. I listened to the other songs as well, but I have to agree, Leylim Ley is a favorite. Thank you so much for sharing your love of music.

  2. Update: From the World Bulletin, Ibrahim Tatlises gave his first interview from his hospital bed.

  3. Update: Tatlises got married. Nice looking lady. Appears to be a tad younger than the famous singer. Thanks to Suha Guzel for sharing this link: (video in Turkish) (newspaper article in English)

  4. You had told about the analogy between Frank Sinatra and Ibrahim Tatlises. Tatlises made a move confirming this analogy, allegedly, his prospective bride just a week before the above mentioned offical marriage ceremony, made an application to prosecution claiming Tatlises threatened her on some unknown issue... And the day before marriage, she withdrew her complaint.

    Regarding the assasination attempt, first days theory on PKK was sounding weird, but later on PKK's increasing irrational violence tendency up to date showed that it is the most possible version of the story. PKK hates present government party and would do anything to reduce its reputation among Kurds. Tatlises was to be elected from government party AKP.