A letter to Goksel Baktagir
March 21, 2006
I approached your former student, Elad Gabai offering him to play a Qanun solo in my concert. Elad told me that there is a piece including a cello part written by his teacher from Turkey, a wonderful piece, which he would very much like to play.
On Monday he gave me the CD. On Tuesday I listened. Immediately after listening I called Elad in order to tell him that I wouldn’t have enough time. I didn’t tell him on the phone: “I won’t have enough time, I have to cross a whole ocean in order to even start touching Göksel Baktagir’s music”.
The CD’s title is indeed called “Okyanustaki Sesler”, “Voices from the Ocean”. The pieces are called “Kürdilihicazkar”, “Nihavend”, “Nev’eser”, “Suzinak”. I recognized the names. They are the names of maqams. When I listened to the CD I understood what you did. You plunged into an ocean of meanings, traditions, subtleties and delicate features of every maqam. These are the sounds of your ocean, the depths of your immense Turkish culture, so astounding and continuous.
On the cover you have the look of a perfect bespectacled and smiling nerd. “He must love his grandmother”, I told myself. And I wanted to tell you about mine. About Granny Malka. And the word suzinak made me recall her two sisters too, Aunt Zissel and Aunt Mindel. They were all young socialist Zionist women in Radom, Poland. And my grandmother was the queen. They were idealists, Zionists and socialists, active members of the theater club in Radom formed by young Jews. Do you know how they expressed their uniqueness?
Among the Poles, they spoke only Yiddish.
And my grandmother was the queen.
In 1934 they all came to Palestine.
When I was a little girl I asked my father where was he born. He said “Poland”, but added that since he came when he was a very small boy, one can say he is a sabra, a native Israeli. But in 1934 he was already a 10 year-old boy. It’s just that he couldn’t stand his former identity.
Granny Malka found herself in the Worker’s Housing Project in Tel Aviv. Along with her husband, he two children and both her sisters. Nobody there knew she was an idealist, a theater lover, or that she was a queen.
All at once, my grandmother, her sister Zissel and her sister Mendel discovered wrinkles on both sides of their mouths. Two deep-furrowed wrinkles, of disappointment and scorn. This is how I remember them. Not that we met so often. They always seemed to me grayish, Jewish women from the Diaspora, while I came from the green expanses of the kibbutz and was sun-tanned and loved Pink Floyd and the world which belonged to us young people.
They weren’t impressed by me either. I think that to them I looked like a shikse, a gentile girl. Disappointment and scorn, disappointment and scorn, thus spoke the wrinkles to me always…
Dear Göksel. I will work hard in order to succeed in playing your wonderful music. But between us there lies an ocean I will not be able to cross. You are in the water and I am on the beach. Building castles in the sand.
Yours in admiration,