Saz Baalama, it will not have a soul until you play it
When you get on the bus from Hastane Avenue which is always full of people, and get off by the musical store “YamoorMuzyukEvi” you feel that you are in a completely different place. Especially on rainy days it is incredibly quiet on the street and the historical buildings by the store will make you feel the special aura here. You will also feel that other aura climbing up the stairs of an old house where the store is located. When I looked in I met Kazim Danieli who did not see me enter the store and was working as usual. He holds out his hand and welcomes the guest with a warm smile. His workshop serves as a store and a music studio at the same time. Everyone finds this place unusual. Kazim made some tea for me and started the conversation effortlessly. It feels like I am here not for an interview, but for a chat with a friend.
Kazim Oosta (oosta – craftsman in Turkish, ed. note) began the conversation from the love he had for his work. «After setting the baalama (folk instrument– note), I set the melody, select the accords, and it gives me a special feeling of delight. With that in mind, no matter what you do, you should do it affectionately. If you love your work, it will not lead you to failure. On the other hand, doing something with your own hands is also a very special feeling. This is not just a matter of happiness. It is the same deal with baalama. By creating this instrument, there is a feeling as if you are giving birth to a new life with your own hands», says he.
I was a little surprised when Kazim Oosta started to tell how he chose this profession. Being as how, as a rule, people start to learn this type of work centered on manual labor, from an early age. But he mastered this profession after the age of 35, which indicated his high level of excellence.
«Like many craftsmen I did not start this work from an early age. When I was past 35, I received an offer from my brother’s management. My brother together with Ibragim Oosta was manufacturing folk instruments. They needed more staff. They offered me the job. My hands were familiar with manual labor, but back then I did not even know how to punch in wire. I gradually mastered the profession by looking how they worked. And since then for about 20 years I have been manufacturing these musical instruments», – says he.
This is what Oosta says, who never sets limits in his work: «I constantly reflect upon how to improve the sound of the instrument, and I am always on the lookout for something new. For example, the baalama has a section for opening and closing the tone hole. In my last work I made this hole in the shape of wavy carving. This way the sound is better and aesthetically the finished product looks nicer. Very often I cannot be distracted until all the work is done and something new is made that is different from my previous works. Of course, this is not a manufacturing industry, that is why every work is unique in its own way», – says he.
Moreover, the customer preferences are of great importance: «Ultimately, just enjoying your work is not the most important thing. The person who comes here may tell us his preferences for the sound and I will take it into account. I ensure to make the instrument in line with the specific preferences of the customer. I never offer the customer anything from the shop if it is not appropriate for him. I make instruments exclusively for the needs of each customer. I do not deliver the instrument if there is a slight deviation from the desired sound. I try to fix in the right manner. And if the outcome of the put efforts leads to nothing, I put aside the attempted baalama and make a new one.
I wonder at an average how much time is needed to make one order. «I can make an order without a break until the evening. Usually I make orders for groups. And it takes 15-20 days», – says he.
Oosta says that almost all types of trees can be used to make the instruments with beautiful sound tones and unique melodies. And some techniques also depend on the type of tree that is used. «I use fir species of wood, poplar, cypress and hornbeam», – says he.
Kazim Oosta says that 30-35 people in the country are engaged in this craft. But it is not the same thing. «Some of them are tradesmen in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, where the materials may be purchased wholesale and get the job done at a low price. However, very often this kind of work is being executed not properly. As a result the instrument causes problems after using it for a small period of time. We guarantee our work and in case of technical problems we do the renovation».
On the other hand a high importance is attached to the quality of work; hence the possibility of malfunction is minimized. And consequently there are almost no complaints from the customers and most of them are contented. I ask what else they do in the workshop. «We manufacture not only baalama, but also a small amount of the total number of orders is the renovation of violins and guitars, but I cannot redo the whole instrument as in that case the price will be very high. On the other hand my customers like folk instruments; that is why I do not need to manufacture other types of instruments».
«I wonder are there enough professionals who play the baalama. Are young people interested in this trade?» - I ask. Kazim Oosta says that there are people who learn this trade, and three of his friends used to work as his trainees. «They were not long engaged in this work, then they found something to their liking», - says he.
Kazim Oosta told that China is also engaged in manufacturing the Turkish instrument baalama. However, unlike Turkey, the Chinese instruments are made of plastic and polyester and are of poor quality. According to him the main end market is the Turkish one, however in Turkey this kind of product from Chinese manufacturer will not find a quick sale, assures Kazim Oosta.
I also asked my interlocutor what it is like to sell goods that are not living essentials, such as bread and clothes. «If a person buys baalama, he may use it 20-30 years and turn to us for repair. Indeed this is not the kind of product that can provide high sales. But every year we try to reach an average sales level. I am very picky when it comes to the quality of the product. I constantly learn and find out something new. Outside the city there are places where they manufacture baalama. I like to go and watch the work process. I do not want to show off, but I still have not seen anyone making a baalama better than me. Therefore I do not have to additionally advertise myself. The quality is my main advertisement. », – says he.
I asked him how this instrument is being treated nowadays when the meaning of music itself has changed and his response made me happy. «If we consider baalama as a part of folk life culture, I can say that the interest people have for this instrument has not diminished. Some parents try to teach their children to play the instrument. Many school children, when they begin to study music, prefer the baalama. Also there are families that love Turkish music and instill this affection in their children. In Mersin the amount of baalama manufacturers is increasing and it proves that the interest towards this instrument not only does not decrease but also increases».
Kazim Oosta says that from the very first day he has never changed his location and works in his workshop all the time. «Sometimes my friends offer me to move to a noisier place, but I do not think it is possible due to the high prices for rent in the center. If we move, then we will have to sale our instruments twice or thrice more expensive. On the other hand our regular customers are used to this place. When they come after their product they can watch the manufacturing process, learn something new, listen to music and this moment of interaction with the customer is very important for me», – adds up Kazim Oosta.
Finally Kazim Oosta says that even if you do not buy a baalama, you may just go to his workshop, have a chat and listen to music as an old friend.