The Revitalization of Memories through the Music of Romani-Balkan Clarinet Virtuoso, Hüsnü Şenlendirici
Years ago, when I was only the naive age of ten, my uncle Hakan handed me a cassette tape upon returning from Turkey. I knew little about the band, Laço Tayfa, and even less about Turkish music at the time; as I was familiar with only the older traditional tunes emanating from my father’s desktop on Saturday mornings. They were, coincidentally, very peculiar and nomadic to my younger ears, so I had meager expectations for the cassette. Listening to it once on the ride home I was unimpressed and unmoved, forgetting the tape in the car – never to be seen again, or so I thought.
Six years later, at the ripe age of sixteen, now fluent in Turkish popular culture, I stumbled upon the same cassette tape during Eid preparations and it struck a new chord. Hüsnü Şenlendirici’s face popped out at me on the elegant cover; the enchanting gaze of the musicians and the striking name of the band caught my attention. Hurriedly I searched the house for a cassette player. Luckily my parents were conservative with their property, and I quickly found several “boom boxes” in the closet and proceeded to insert and hit “play”. The house became warm with Anatolian strings and a Romani-Balkan breeze. How had I missed this?
Looking back, I realize over those six years I had morphed into a new being with a pocket full of life experiences and memories. The instruments came alive to reenact the six years that had escaped from me. The oud took me back to my trips to Turkey where I steered tractors perched on my grandfather’s lap in the golden wheat fields of the plateau; the qanun and bass took me back to my middle school years in North Jersey and the many family meals bustling with commotion and excitement; and the clarinet took me back to a certain summer where I met my first love at the local mosque. In unison, these instruments allowed me to transcend time and relive my cherished memories. Still today, it is my favorite album to play on our morning rounds to relatives’ homes on Eid: my father in his olive-green suit captaining our vessel and my pearly mother lighting the way and stopping momentarily to head the swaying waves of our screaming and laughter from the rear.
From that renaissance onwards, I continue to listen to and enjoy Hüsnü and friends’ music. It is with them that I discovered the beauty of interpretation in music. The lack of words and traditional rhythm (sometimes jazzing out), furnished the very orchard of creativity within me so that I could pick from it the fruit of my emotions. These tunes have lifted me up when I was down and humbled me when the world was too much to bear. As if the ghost of my many yesterdays had sat me down for a cup of tea and a story, I was reminded of my past, present, and future in the same instant and assured everything would be alright. I was only to wait, and maybe listen once more.
I lose patience as I wait for Hüsnü to step on the Penn campus and present again the secrets of my past and share with me the glory of the moment and all the moments they call to.