Ozan Baysal is a bağlama player, composer and performer and a visiting scholar at SOAS. Ahead of his gig with Anatolian Groove this Friday, we thought we would get to know Ozan, his musical journey so far and the traditions behind Anatolian and Alevi music and storytelling.
What first drew you to the bağlama? Who were your early musical influences?
In my childhood, Anatolian folk music and its foremost instrument, the bağlama, were constantly listened to in the family environment. My grandfather and uncle were both local bağlama performers and bağlama makers from Southwestern Anatolia. My father especially wanted me to play the bağlama, and one day he came home from a business trip with a bağlama in his hand. I was suddenly confronted with this instrument that I was already listening to fondly. I started playing bağlama when I was 8 years old and I have never let go of it since then.
The richness of bağlama music stemming from various playing styles and local techniques attracted my attention even when I was a child. I was particularly interested in playing the technique of the bağlama that dispenses with a plectrum, which we call şelpe today. In the 1990s, various musical works of the masters of this technique in Turkey, such as Erdal Erzincan, Erol Parlak, and Hasret Gültekin, had a great impact on me at that time.
What would you cite as your main influences in composition and playing?
During my academic education, I received training on tonal harmony, jazz harmony, piano performance and classical composition techniques. Besides, the musical background of the şelpe, the music produced by local artists with their lesser-known, smaller size bağlamas such as üçtelli (three-stringed) and dedesazı (a type of bağlama used by Alevis), and unique polyphonic structures arising from playing techniques of these instruments impressed me. Some innovative şelpe works of national bağlama artists in Turkey since the 1990s have also been a great source of inspiration for me.
Eventually, I started to combine the musical elements existing in the traditional şelpe technique with various elements from world music in my compositions. Especially the classical piano education I received in my youth has a great influence on the music I produce with the şelpe technique today. Over the years, I started to reveal my own style by integrating all these musical materials in the şelpe.
In recent years, with my modified double-necked bağlama, much of my cross-cultural creation is a synthesis of traditional şelpe performance practices and harmonic practices in tonal and jazz music. The upper neck of double-necked bağlama with steel strings supplies one octave higher pitch register than the lower neck’s range obtained with the chrome-coated strings. Generally, the same tuning system is used for both necks. I frequently use the lower and upper necks of such a bağlama simultaneously while tapping.
What are you focused on during your visiting scholarship at SOAS?
After completing my PhD in music at the Istanbul Technical University, Centre for Advanced Studies in Music (MIAM), I was accepted as a visiting scholar from SOAS to continue my post-doctoral research project. As part of this research project, I carry out educational activities and participant observations in educational institutions, fieldwork, and personal interviews among Alevi & Anatolian communities in London which are tied to the bağlama, without excluding communities that are not historically connected to this tradition. Consequently, I would like to understand the place that the bağlama holds in the everyday lives of people/communities and illustrate the symbolic meaning of this instrument which shapes the personalities and cultural/belief-related identities of communities.
While working on academic activities at SOAS on the bağlama performance tradition and practices in Anatolia, I’m giving bağlama performance and şelpe lessons to a student from SOAS as part of the undergraduate performance module.
What are you most looking forward to at Anatolian Groove’s gig?
It is a concert that we are extremely excited about and we look forward to sharing Turkish, Kurdish, Azerbaijani, Armenian, and Alevi tunes from Anatolia with their words, stories, and meanings behind them. We are very happy that we will be sharing Anatolian music tradition with Londoners at a quality, qualified and recognized academic institution like SOAS in the UK.
As the Anatolian Groove band (Ahmet Ozan Baysal, Melisa Yıldırım, Suna Alan, Dursuncan Çakın, Suat Karakuş, and Tuna Semih Savaşal), we invite all Londoners to this concert organised by SOAS Concert Series that will take place on 6 pm, Friday 25 February at SOAS Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre.
SOAS Concert Series: Join us for an evening of Anatolian and Alevi songs presented with their true stories. Book your ticket.