UDI HRANT- MASTER OF THE OUD Udi Hrant Kenkulian, the blind master of the oud, is regarded as one of the greatest innovators of modern oud playing, and one of the most unique singers of this genre. Born in 1901 near Istanbul, Hrant was declared blind four days after birth. Despite frequent treatments, his condition did not improve. He survived the Armenian massacres of 1915, and in 1918 settled in Istanbul. There he studied with famous teachers including Kemani Agopos Ayvazyan, Dickran Katsakhian, and Udi Krikor Berberian. Istanbul attracted so many top musicians that it was difficult for Hrant to find employment. And because Hrant was blind, no ensembles would accept him as a member. Consequently, he often played alone in cafes for little money. To supplement his income, he sold musical instruments. During the hard times, Hrant never gave up hope to have his eyesight restored, even traveling to Vienna for treatment. Unable to attract the attention of famous groups, Hrant’s career seemed stagnant until he was noticed, while playing at the Yenikauh Café, by the famous musician and composer, Serif Icli. He was introduced by a mutual friend, Kanuni Ismail Sencalar, and soon after, Hrant was invited to play with their group. The exposure led to concerts on Ankara Radio. The year 1950 marked a major turning point in Hrant’s life. A wealthy Greek-American, moved by Hrant’s talent, invited Hrant to the United States to see eye specialists. Unfortunately, doctors in New York were unable to correct Hrant’s condition and, ultimately, Hrant would remain blind for life. Meanwhile, friends approached Hrant about playing in the United States. At first he was reluctant. His main concern was that middle-eastern music be presented to American audiences in the same concert format as European classical music. He felt that Americans regarded middle-eastern music as inferior to western music. With the understanding that concerts would be presented according to his ideals, Hrant agreed to perform. His friends, Hrant Nishanian, Melkon Ohanesian, Hovaness Chalikian, Manoog Boyajian and Peprouhi Asvarian, formed the Association of Putania which sponsored a series of concerts in New York, Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles and Fresno. The repertoire consisted mostly of classical pieces of Ottomon composers; however, his improvisations (taksims) and original compositions were the tour de force for those who attended. Hrant returned to Turkey, and became known as a soloist frequently performing on Istanbul Radio, and later devoted much of his time teaching young oudists and singers. A special concert was arranged to take place in Yerevan in 1963, wherein Armenians in the homeland would hear Hrant for the first time. After the concert, the next day’s headlines read, “He came from Istanbul and conquered the Motherland where people received him with warmth. The sixty-five year old blind master sees with his heart and sings with his heart”. Udi Hrant died August 29 1978, and is buried at the Armenian cemetery in Sisli, Istanbul. He had the title “Udi” which denotes him as Master of the Oud”. His oud playing and singing will live forever!
Archive for the ‘Udi Hrant’ Category
Udi Hrant Kenkulian (1901–August 29, 1978), often referred to as Udi Hrant (“oud-player Hrant”) or as Hrant Emre (“Hrant of the soul”) was an oud player of Turkish classical music, and a key transitional figure in its transformation into a contemporary popular music. He was an ethnic Armenian citizen of Turkey who spent most of his life in Turkey and wrote most of his lyrics in Turkish. He went to the United States of America to have his blindness treated, and performed while in America. As an oud player, he was a major innovator, introducing left-hand pizzicato, bidirectional picking (the tradition had been to use the pick only on the downstroke), double stops, and novel tunings (sometimes using open tunings or tuning the paired strings in octaves instead of to a single note). According to Harold G. Hagopian, he was most respected for his improvisational taksim Born near Istanbul, declared blind four days after his birth, Hrant as a child sang in the choir of an Armenian Apostolic Church. His family fled to Konya in 1915 to escape the Armenian Genocide; there Hrant first studied the oud, with a teacher named Garabed. In 1918 the family returned west, first to Adapazarı and then to Istanbul, where Hrant continued his musical studies under some of the leading teachers of the time, including Kemani Agopos Ayvazyan, Dikran Katsakhian, and Udi Krikor Berberian. Somewhere along the way he also learned to speak French, and was actually accepted at age 16 to a Paris-based school for the blind, but he contracted typhoid fever and was unable to travel. Several attempts (including by doctors in Vienna) failed to restore his eyesight, which prevented him from playing in ensembles. He made a modest living playing in cafes, giving music lessons, and selling instruments. There is some question about when he first recorded; he claimed to have made a record as early as age 19, but his earliest known recordings would appear to be from no earlier than 1927, since they used an electronic microphone. In 1928, he fell in love with Ağavini, the sister of one of his students, but her parents would not let her marry a musician; they met again by accident in 1937 and married ten years later. In the meantime, he had written numerous songs about his desire for an absent love. He slowly, but steadily, gained more fame as a musician. Some of his Turkish recordings were released internationally as early as the 1930s, first on RCA Victor, and later on such labels as Balkan (New York), Perfectaphone and Yildiz (probably, according to Hagopian, a single company, address unknown), and Istanbul (Los Angeles). Composer Şeirf Içli introduced him to Kanuni Ismail Şençalar, in whose group he played for a while, leading to opportunities to perform on Ankara Radio. In 1950, a wealthy Greek American brought him to America for another (unsuccessful) attempt at restoring his eyesight. The trip, however, led to a series of concerts in New York City, Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Fresno, California, playing both Turkish classical music and his own compositions. This tour apparently increased his prestige at home: he began to perform frequently on Istanbul Radio, first as a soloist and later with a chorus he formed. It also recorded in U.S. recording sessions for Smyrnaphon and Oriental Moods. The former, according to Hagopian, are marred by his being “paired… with inferior musicians”. The latter were a deluxe set, believed to be the first ever inclusion of an oud with a violin and piano in a chamber music setting, issued in an elaborately packaged set with English language titles given to the songs. The recording included both Hrant’s originals and classic songs by Kanuni Artaki, Bimen Şen, and others. During his trips to the U.S., he conducted master classes with young Armenian-American oud players such as Richard Hagopian, John Berberian, and Harry Minassian. His recordings for Balkan, (with Şükrü Tunar on clarinet, Ahmet Yatman on kanun and Ali Kocadine on drum, are notable for the fact that although they were recorded in Turkey, with a mix of Turkish and Armenian musicians, they include lyrics in Armenian; he also did other records with Turkish lyrics with the same line-up. His original songs written in Armenian include “Parov Yegar Siroon Yar,” “Siroon Aghchig,” “Anoosh Yaren Heratsa,” “Khrjit,” and “Srdis Vra Kar Me Ga.” He toured internationally again in 1963, playing in Paris, Beirut, Greece, the United States, and Yerevan, then the capital of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic. He recorded again in the U.S. at this time, but according to Hagopian the recordings are “inferior… for small labels and record producers eager to capitalize on the ‘belly-dance craze'”. His last performance was in Istanbul in April 1978, at which time he was already suffering from the cancer that would kill him that August. Get this and Volume 2 and you are well on your way to a stunning collection of music to immerse yourself in. I don’t have the self-titled collection yet. To the best of my knowledge it is an amateur recording made by a student of Hrant’s during some oud lessons. I’ve just always felt iffy as to whether or not that would be interesting. In the end, I am sure I will buy it, but I just haven’t yet. If you stumbled upon this disc, you should buy it.