Cüneyt Sepetçi

13/11/2018Istanbul's Don Of The Roma Clarinet: Live In Berlin

When you visit Istanbul for the first time, it's the unexpectedness of it all that might catch you off guard; the unexpected views, the unexpected tastes and of course the unexpected sounds. Part of this megacity's indubitable marvel lies in its ability to reveal hidden beauty and meaning at any given moment, if only you look. In walking distance to Istanbul's famous Taksim Square and Istiklal Street is the now run-down neighbourhood of Dolapdere, which has meanwhile been heavily invested into and is soon to be turned into something more 'presentable'. For now, Dolapdere is still considered a no-go area by many locals, seeing as it has a reputation for sex work and drug trafficking. But it is and for a very long time has also been home to a large Roma community and master musicians, including clarinet virtuoso Cüneyt Sepetçi

In an article for The Wire (May 2018 / Issue 411), Heather Trost (aka one half of Albuquerque-based American folk duo A Hack And A Hacksaw and co-label head of the duo's Living Music Duplication imprint) relives her recent visit to the Dolapdere neighbourhood: 

"As we approach [...], the streets get smaller and less maintained. We pass by an austere yellowed cafe filled with men smoking, drinking tea, playing backgammon. This is where many musicians sit, gossip and wait for a gig when they're not playing [or busking] on the street. There don't seem to be a lot of set bands or groups here – everyone knows the same musical language and musicians are somewhat interchangeable. One day you're playing with your cousin, the next you're performing the same song with your neighbour. It makes for a very competitive environment. Sepetçi is one of the best, not to mention hardest working musicians in Dolapdere, and he adds his own musical style to familiar songs," she writes.

Along with her guide Özgür Akgül (also a musician and the director of the 2012 documentary "RomanIstanbul") she is invited into Cüneyt Sepetçi's home and later gets to attend a circumcision party, at which Cüneyt Sepetçi performs: 

"Things are slow to get going, but once they do, the party's on. Sepetçi takes to the stage to test out the PA, and without further ado begins. It's non-stop music for the next couple of hours. It's ear-shatteringly loud and almost psychedelic as it blasts into the changing evening light. The synthesizer player bends every possible note, ornamenting heavily as he follows the lilting, galloping clarinet; meanwhile Sepetçi trills, winds and whoops his way around the melody. The clarinet might have a pure tone, but he can make it howl and shriek if the song calls for it, alternating between sweet melodies and forceful, droned out marches," she describes, as the music and celebrations unfold around her. 

Cüneyt Sepetçi released his album "Bulgar Gaydas" on LM Duplication in 2017 and most recently took to the stage at Le Guess Who? in the Netherlands, dazzling the unsuspecting crown with his mesmerizing flourishes. This Sunday, November 18th, he will be playing live at ACUD in Berlin: 

"The indisputable don of Turkish Roma music and larger-than-life clarinettist [Living Music Duplication, Istanbul] Cüneyt Sepetçi will grace Berlin for the first time with an exclusive appearance. But beware, this is not for the faint at heart, uneven meters galore and musical adventures at break-neck speed," the event description reads. That being said, if you happen to get the chance, do not, we repeat, do not think twice. Also, feel free to listen to Cüneyt's 2014-performance at Roskilde Festival above or watch the official trailer to "RomanIstanbul" below to get yourself in the right mood.

AUTHOR: Lev Nordstrom