Clarinetist Serkan Çağrı is taking the stage on January 27 with Yarkın Rhythm Group and Macedonian Roma band Kocani Orkestar in a concert called “Balkan Fire”. Though you might think there is only one Balkan group among them, geographically they are all from the Balkans: Çağrı is from Turkish Thrace and Fahrettin Yarkın is from Istanbul, both of which are within the Balkan Peninsula.
Çağrı’s hometown of Keşan was also the birthplace of celebrated Roma clarinetist Selim Sesler, one of whose albums is named The Road to Keşan. Born to a clarinetist father who played at local weddings and celebrations, Çağrı later took that sound to the music conservatory and became a well-loved name across Turkey. In recent years he has done more than any other musician to popularize clarinet music in all parts of the country. He is also enthusiastic about sharing the stage with foreign musicians from near and far, exploiting the versatile quality of the clarinet to cross boundaries.
“It’s a very multi-talented instrument, and that quality comes out in many different styles of music,” Çağrı told The Guide Istanbul. “It takes on a totally different spirit in klezmer, Balkan, classical, and jazz music. I like it most in traditional music, because it has a natural quality there. It reflects what you’re thinking and feeling.”
In one recent concert, Çağrı performed with renowned Hungarian Roma violinist Roby Lakatos. These cultural exchanges, in front of a live audience, have a special frisson that Çağrı values. “I love shared concerts. It’s especially good to bring together the spirits of different kinds of musicians. … When I meet with musicians like Roby Lakatos, there’s a meeting of cultures and a special synergy. Lakatos is a musician who I’ve liked and followed for years. In our concert we created a blend of tzigane (Roma) music and traditional Turkish music. It was really interesting and the audience enjoyed it,” he says.
He expects a similar feel from the Balkan Fire concert, where he joins the Macedonian Roma brass band and the Turkish rhythm group. “The Yarkın Rhythm Group is very interesting, because they also create melodies with their percussion instruments. The Macedonian group has a lot of energy, and the Balkans are so musically rich. Their music is quite close to the music where I’m from, in Thrace. That concert we played together was exciting for both of us. Years passed and we still couldn’t forget about it. So now we’re going to do the same project again here.”
Using brass instruments to perform fast-paced tunes that originate from the Ottoman army bands of Eastern Europe, Kocani Orkestar’s live performance is as intoxicating as a shot of Macedonian rakija. “Kocani Orkestrar has really done good things, even playing to full stadiums. Their energy is very high and they’re also my old friends. They play brass instruments, as those come to the fore in their musical culture. They start playing as soon as they’re born. That determines how their organs develop,” Çağrı jokes.