There are numerous musical instruments that have a history beyond them – from bagpipe to violin in western folk. Bouzouki, the symbol of Greeks from Asia-minor (Rum- in Turkish, referring Eastern Romans/ Byzantium Empire), has one of the most sensational and melodramatic story among all of them.
The Bouzouki was reintroduced and brought to Greece by immigrants from Asia Minor and Turkey in the early 1900's. The Trichordo Bouzouki has three pairs of strings, each pair tuned the same. It is tuned to "re", "la", "re", (d,a,d,) The (re) string is the basis for the melody, while the A and second D strings are used for playing chords. The first bottom (D) string is known as Kantini. The sound of the top (D) string is known as Bourgana. In the olden days, the Bouzouki was tuned to accompany the different modes (styles of songs) being played. This type of tuning is called Ntouzeni (Du-zeni), and is essential to preparation to playing. The bouzouki is played with a pick, but in the past it was played with a feather or a piece of wood carved from a cherry tree. This helps to create the distinctive sound of Bouzouki playing.” (Skordilis, S.)
Du-zeni, düzen means “order” in contemporary Turkish language and it is coming from the Old Turkic “tüzenlik/tüzülük "tertip, intizam" [ Tuhfetu'z Zekiyye fi'l-Lugati't-Türkiyye (1425)”
“Turkish – Adjectivedüzensiz (comparative daha düzensiz, superlative en düzensiz)24th July 1923- the warranty of the new born Turkish Republic, which ended up the war and established the final borders of nowadays Greece and Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and Eleftherios Venizelos agreed upon a population exchange policy (mübadele in Turkish, antallagi in Greek) following the peace-keeping endeavors between the two nation-states. “No one asked the opinion of the people affected, of course, though their identities as Greeks and Turks, Christians and Muslims were far less clear-cut than the Lausanne arrangement implied. The Times of London reported in 1923 that “few if any of the Turks in Greece desire to leave,” and Christians in Turkish Cappadocia and Constantinople struggled to exempt their ancient communities from the exchange. Orthodox Christian and Muslim communities had lived side by side, if not always amicably, for centuries before the rise of nationalism, and minority groups had assimilated aspects of the language, customs and religious practices of their birthplaces. Many Ottoman Christians had converted to Islam. In Turkey, some had continued to practice in secret as “crypto-Christians,” and in many cases later returned to Christianity; while in Greece, converts to Islam retained aspects of Christian practice in their Muslim ritual. Such multilayered religious backgrounds could not be easily categorized. Linguistic boundaries were equally blurred. Refugees arriving for the first time in Turkey or Greece felt like strangers in their supposed homelands, often unable even to speak the language, and facing hostility from their new neighbors.” (Cooper, B. 2006) At that time period; Bouzouki, was standing as a mermaid in the endless ocean at where a ship is lost in its route due to the foggy weather. The Anatolian Greeks (Rebetika’s, Rum in Turkish) who had to leave Asia-minör (so were Turks had to leave the mainland Greece) had a shared story (a spiritual person may call this a destiny). The Muslim Cretans , when arrived to the new established Turkish Republic, were not able to express themselves fluently in Turkish, but only in Greek. The same applied to many of the Greeks from Asia-minör. Rebetika’s had saz /bağlama (baglamas in Greek) typed of instruments which were the shared heritage of Armenians, Assyrians, Kurds, Greeks, Persians and Turks ) – alphabetically ordered. According to the story tellers (an undocumented history), during the population exchange, one of the Greeks got his bağlama broken on the way. The strings on his bağlama’s (baglama in Greek) was teared up and when he arrived to Thesselanoki (Selanik in Turkish- the birth place of Atatürk and Nazım Hikmet) Giannis takes his broken instrument to the repair guy. The handy man responds when he sees the instrument “Bouzoukia vre !” deriven from the word “Bozuk” in Turkish, which means damaged. The repair guy switches the old strings with the new but different kinds. Bouzoukia, then created in its new tune.
“The (baglama) is a smaller version of the Bouzouki. The baglama is tuned (re,la,re) exactly like the (trichordo) Bouzouki. The baglama was an easy instrument to carry because of its small size. Today the baglama is used to add color and to give a precise, distinct, vibrato sound to the composition. In the 1950's the bouzouki with four pairs of strings was introduced. The three strings limited the musician to playing the "Rebetika" songs only. The four strings gave a new dimension to the capabilities of the instrument. The new Bouzouki that was developed in the fifties is named (tetrachordo) and has four pairs of strings that are tuned (c,f,a,d). The chords played on the Bouzouki are the same as a guitar. A distinct characteristic of the Bouzouki is the taxim.”
Samples of Bouzouki Performances:
Cooper Belinda. Sunday Book review , Trading Places (September, 17, 2006)
Skordilis Spiros . Talks about the History of the Bouzouki
Thank you to Cagin Koray for this fascinating guest blog about the history of the Bouzouki, an instrument that most people will recognise yet know little of the history and cultural background.