From Berlin to Khorasan: seeking the roots of saz music
Starting from Berlin, crossing Anatolia, and ending in Iran, musician Petra Nachtmanova and filmmaker Stephan Talneau went on a road trip in search of the roots of saz music. Charting this journey, the documentary SAZ – the Key of Trust will make its world premiere at the 38th Istanbul Film Festival.

By Yao Hsiao

During a visit to Istanbul many years ago, Berlin-based filmmaker Stephan Talneau was captivated by the magical, melancholy, meditative music performed by saz players on İstikal Caddesi. Later, when he met Petra Nachtmanova—one of the few western European musicians that play the saz—the two Berliners decided to explore the origins and mysteries around this legendary musical instrument.

Behind the scenes of SAZ – The Key of Trust

Also known as the bağlama, the saz is a stringed instrument commonly used in Ottoman classical music and the folk music of Anatolia, Central Asia, and the Balkans. It was brought to Germany by the guest workers from Turkey in the 1960s but remains uncommon outside Turkish communities. According to Talnea, Nachtmanova may be the only person of non-Turkish origin playing the instrument in Berlin. “I was fascinated by the power of an outsider holding a saz,” he told The Guide Istanbul.

As Nachtmanova was researching saz music from different regions, Talneau worked on the idea of filming the root-seeking journey; an adventure of a young musician who has dedicated herself to exploring another culture. The whole project lasted for several years and the traveling took place in 2016, taking them 12 weeks.

Ayşe Şewaqî and Petra Nachtmanova in Pertek, Turkey

“The road trip itself was the most fantastic part,” said Talneau. Covering over 10,000 kilometers, they started from Berlin, crossed Bosnia, Albania, and Bulgaria to Istanbul, then traveled across Anatolia, went to Azerbaijan, and finally finished the ambitious trip in Khorasan, Iran—which is believed to be the birthplace of the saz.

On the road, Nachtmanova visited local musicians and asked them to teach her a song. Using her network of contacts, and with the help from the internet, the team managed to arrange meetings every two to three days during the trip. “It might be hard to believe, but we nearly didn’t run into any problem in the 12 weeks of travel,” Talnea said. “We always received a very warm welcome from everybody.”

Behind the scenes

The hospitality and the connections they made were built on the mutual passion of saz music. “Coming with a saz in your hand to all these different regions was like a magic key to reach people,” said Talneau, echoing the tile of the movie.

Through the project, Talneau witnessed how saz music has helped to create a bridge between people with different cultures, and now his movie is about to do the same. Talneau points out that the Turkish community has been an important part of Berlin for many years but it is also living in a parallel society to some extent. “It is tempting to give up and leave it like it is, but I think there is a big potential in being closer, sharing and exchanging more together,” he said.

Aşıq Mübariz Aliyev and Petra Nachtmanova in Gedebey, Azerbaijan

In addition to raising more awareness of saz music, the director wants to show that there are people working on interactions in musical culture: “Petra is not the only one, and I hope these kind of stories can inspire more people to try the instrument that your neighbor is playing, and loving.”

In the end, Talneau noted that they made the film in large part for people in Turkey. “I really can’t wait to know what the people here will think about the film, the story, and the project,” he said.

Stephan Talneau

Watch Saz – The Key of Trust at the 38th Istanbul Film Festival on April 5, 7, and 9; tickets are available through Biletix and the box offices of Atlas and Rexx cinemas. For the full festival program, visit

Beyond the movie

To share the saz culture and songs they collected, around 50 music videos filmed during the project will be released through the film’s Facebook page: