Some of the loudest instruments known to man are double-reed folk instruments in the woodwind family. There’s the dulzaina in Spain, the nadaswaram in India, the bombarde in France, the suona in China, among others. They are classically difficult to play – without continuous practice, a player’s mouth can get tired in a very brief period of time, due to the immense amount of air pressure needed to make a single sound, much less sustain a note. Some even demand circular breathing. Double-reed instruments developed over centuries, beginning in the Middle Ages, as instruments to be used primarily outdoors.
The zurna is the Turkish, or more precisely the Anatolian, double-reed folk instrument, in the shawm group of double-reeds. Similar variations of the zurna exist throughout the Near East. The word itself derives from the Persian “Surnay” - ”Sur” meaning “wedding” or “festival”, and “nay” meaning reed or flute. It has 5-7 wide finger holes and can be as small as 14 inches long. It’s an important instrument in Turkish folk music, and I have to say it was interesting to read how writers in the past have tried to grapple with describing its sound. “…A wide-mouthed clarinet, emitting strident, nasal sounds” was how Ottoman scholar Robert Mantran described it. “A kind of shrill pipe” was how H. C. Hony’s 1957 Turkish-English dictionary defined it. It may have been simply noise to those poor souls, but I find it a terrific combination of jarring and captivating.
Today’s post is an exceptional, scorching workout on the zurna with accompaniment on oud and percussion (not the usual davul drum); a sparkling recording made in 1930 by the German Polydor company, and also released on a next-to-unknown Turkish series on the American Brunswick label. Interestingly, this recording was bootlegged in the late 40s/early 50s on a small label called Kurdophone, which was part of a family of labels I’ve discussed in other entries (Dictaphone, Perfectaphone, etc.). That is not to say it is common, I’m afraid! As to whether or not it’s definitively Kurdish, I cannot say. My hunch is that it is not, though perhaps some experts can comment. I could find nothing concrete about the soloist, Emin Efendi, except that he was considered a great, along with another zurna master who recorded later for Columbia, Sabahattin Tanınmış. I believe “Hale” in the title refers to halay, the traditional dance. Please see more information on this track from the always helpful volkan, in the comments section.
I would also recommend the Bo’Weavil release of zurna melodies by Zadik Zecharia.
Technical NotesLabel: Brunswick Issue Number: 45011 Matrix Number: 1106 BN (Polydor matrix)