EOL 4: Kavals and Dzamares (Tammer)

6. Who Plays/Makes the Kaval?

Various peoples distinguished by their ethnicity, language and/or religion, have ranged the mountains of Albania, Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey for hundreds of years, sharing an almost identical pastoral lifestyle: Vlachs, also referred to as Aromanians and Tsintsars, of Romanian origin; Yürüks, of Turkic ethnicity; Albanians, both Christian and Moslem; Saracatsani Greeks; Pomaks (also referred to as Turbe), Slavs converted to Islam; and Slavic Miyatsi, both Orthodox and Moslem. It is pointless to speak of the kaval originating with one of these peoples: the kaval is found wherever they are, in the Balkans or Asia Minor, in slightly different configurations. In this section I discuss the various ethnic groups who have resided in Macedonia, who have been engaged in stock-herding, and whose culture has included playing various shepherd flutes.

Hadji-Manov 1960 mentions that of the many ethnic groups comprising the population of Macedonia, the kaval is associated with but two: Albanians and Miyaks. The Slavic peoples inhabiting Macedonia are comprised of various clans or tribes whose identity was known to travelers in these regions during the 1800s. These clans--Polentsi, Brsiatsi, Babuni, Kopanovtsi, Piantsi, Pirntsi, Sirakovtsi, and so forth, inhabiting the villages of a specific locality--each had their traditional costumes and songs. The clans were isolated from each other by the mountainous terrain, the presence of bandits which made travel dangerous, and the oppressive Turkish regime which often restricted freedom of movement. The Miyatsi, or Miyaks, are shown in population maps drawn at the turn of the century as inhabiting villages along the river Radica, which runs parallel and close to the Macedonian-Albanian border. While most Miyaks are Orthodox, the northern-most Miyatsi villages are Turkish-speaking Moslems (Pomaks). Orthodox Miyaks call their Moslem counterparts "Turbe" or "Kurki" and do not consider them to be real Miyaks at all. Miyaks are said to have a "Galichani" or "Galitsa" accent, and were for the most part shepherds before the wars. Hadji-Manov's association of the kaval with Albanians and Miyatsi would lead us to look for kaval players and instruments in the extreme Western part of Macedonia.

In 1998, a Macedonian friend and I visited the villages along the Radica River known to be populated by Miyaks at the turn of the century. The results were disappointing: some villages consisted of just a few remaining houses (many houses lay in ruins), some were entirely Torbesh (Turks); no one knew anything of kaval players or makers. If we were looking for Miyak villages, we were told, we must go to the villages of Lazaropole and Gari (Gare), situated on a tributary to the Radika. Lazaropole, we learned, is now a weekend resort village for people who own land there, and is not inhabited except on weekends in the Summer. A few weeks after this first disappointing trip I set out with two Macedonian friends to visit the village of Gari.

Gari is a pristine village of 150 houses, nestled in the foothills of the Stogovo mountains. The villagers are very much aware of their Miyak heritage; a plaque (paid for by the Miyak Foundation of Gari) on the Orthodox Church of the village, commemorates contributions of Miyak woodcarvers to the furnishings of various churches in Macedonia. Luckily, our arrival coincided with the festive occasion of the opening of a new coffee shop and meeting place. As we approached we could hear elderly women singing Miyak songs, slow airs, in the new establishment. After admiring the church, we went in the new building and asked about kaval players. The men rolled off the names of kaval players faster than we could write them down: the shepherds Kire and Done Delovski (Kire passed away and Done now lives in Skopje); Boris Popovski, a shepherd who became a pastry chef later in life; the brothers Metodija, Ivan and Gure Lambeski, of Lazaropole, all of whom played kaval and have since passed away.

These players could have played the long kaval, the shupelka, or the duduk. The villagers did emphasize that Done played the long kaval without a fipple. The visit to Gari ended with our listening to Boris Popovski play his duduk and my playing with him. He played wonderfully, and listening to him it no longer mattered whether he played the long kaval, the shupelka or duduk: here was fine, highly-ornamented flute playing from an 85-year-old man who had lost none of his delight of the instrument and of Macedonian folk music. When I handed him my shupelka he tried to play but did not have the breath. He apologized, but it was obvious from the way he handled it that he was very familiar with the shupelka. Boris told us that as a shepherd he took his flocks from the mountains around Gari to the lowlands of Salonika each Winter. Once he happened to meet a Turkish shepherd with his flock. The Turk admired his two fine boxwood shupelkas and Boris gave them to him as a gift.

Ethnic Albanians
In 1934, the musicologist Peter Brömse conducted a survey of folk musical instruments and players in Southern Yugoslavia. Concentrating on flutes, shawms (zurna or zurla) and bagpipes, he published his research as a doctoral dissertation (Brömse 1937). Brömse found examples of the "long flute without fipple" in the towns of Skopje, Gostivar, and the village of Nerodimjla near Urosevac, southern Kosovo. His description of these instruments: paired with a sipki holder, unfingered tone-holes, faceted end, and relieved mouthpiece with ornamentation, shows them to be of the same style as Ferati kavals. Brömse included measurements of three kavals, whose lengths range from 72 to 78 cm. (see Appendix 1, sketches A, B, and C).

Of the ten kaval players Brömse lists as informants, eight are ethnic Albanians, seven of which are Moslem. Brömse concluded that most players of the long kaval are Albanian, a few are Slavic. It is strange to me that Brömse did not mention the Ferati family, who would have been living close by Brest at the time of his study. Brest was a day's journey (at that time) from the area in which Brömse collected information, and it is possible that some of the kavals he measured were Ferati kavals, but one piece of information leads me to believe that at least one pair of kavals were not made by this family: Brömse includes a picture of a holder, or sipki, and the styling of this is different from that of Ferati sipki.

plate 9


It seems that Brömse did not travel into the rugged mountains of Macedonia to hunt kaval players, but interviewed players in Northern Macedonian and Southern Kosovo metropolitan areas. Brömse included in his dissertation two interesting photographs of kaval players, which, with his kind permission, I have reproduced. One picture (plate 9) shows two Albanians in Skopje sitting on a bench, playing together. It is interesting to note that one player has his left hand, while the other his right, uppermost on their instruments. As one travels East from the Balkans into Turkey, it becomes more common to hold the instrument right hand uppermost. Note also how the instruments are supported on the players' kneecaps.

Kosovo photo thumbnail
plate 10

Urosevac, Kosovo

The other photograph (plate 10) depicts an Albanian from Urosevac, Kosovo, playing while squatting barefooted on the ground. The distal end of the kaval seems to be resting on the ground, though one cannot say for sure. One kaval player he interviewed "... built himself a kaval from an iron pipe. He had a can-maker drill the holes, and said that an iron kaval had a stronger sound and therefore would be heard better outdoors. For the house, a wood kaval was sufficient."
Brömse wanted to know why the measurements of the flute were thus, and received no satisfactory answer except that they just had to be this way: "The ancient handed-down measurements are accepted from generation to generation without question." He mentioned that a player in Urosevac made a flute the length of 9 fists, using his finger width for the distance between holes. Finally, Brömse was astonished at the fact that all the kavals he heard played the same scale, though they were seen by him in different locations (presumably made by different makers). He attributed this to a common, very fixed tradition, widely spread, of making the kaval. For fingerhole placement measurements of the various  instruments discussed  in this article, see Appendix 2.

Brömse's ethnomusicology studies were cut short by World War II. After surviving five years in an Russian prison camp (released in 1950) he was unable to return to the Balkans. In a telephone interview in 1998, he informed me that all his materials, including the original photographs, were lost in the war.

If one takes the long kaval to be a shepherd's instrument, it is clear why many ethnic Albanians would be playing it: In a census taken in the early 20th century it was estimated that approximately 10,000 Albanians were engaged in sheep-herding in the villages of the Shar Planina. Gramatnikovsky 1984 notes that Albanians took over prime shepherding territories from Slavic peoples by force in the 18th century, and by the end of the 19th century stock-herding was primarily an Albanian activity

Little has been written of the nomadic shepherd Yürüks of the Balkans, as opposed those living in Turkey. In 1938 Kemal Güngör set out by car to study the Yürüks of southern Turkey, in the Toros mountains (Güngör 1938). His photographs of one tribe of Yürüks, the Karahacili, depict men line-dancing to kaval players both sitting in the dirt and standing. Of the kaval, he says it is their most favored instrument. This again is the long kaval, in this case 80-90 cm long. The Yürüks and Macedonians match the length of the kaval to the size of the player in the same way: the long kaval should be about 9 fists in length. The Yürük kaval is a 9-hole instrument, with one extra hole below the last covered tone-hole. The instrument is decorated with incisions. Picken, in his study of Turkish folk instruments, draws his information about the Yürüks and their kavals from Yalgin 1940. Yalgin states that the kaval approaches a sacred status by the Yürüks. Shepherds are noted for their ability to control their flocks with the instrument, and folk stories on this topic abound. Picken 1975 recounts Yalgin's tale:

A shepherd wishes to marry his master's daughter. His master says that he will give him his daughter if he becomes famous for his kaval-playing. His master specifies: for a week the herd is not to be watered and is to receive much salt. At the end of the week, the shepherd is to lead the sheep to water, playing his kaval. Arrived at the spring, he is to cause the sheep to turn back from the water without drinking. If he succeeds in this, he shall have the hand of his master's daughter in marriage. All comes to pass as ordered: the sheep are let to be watered and turn back from the water; but the leader of the flock, Karakoch (Black Ram) shows signs of disobeying. Immediately the shepherd changes his tune to one of supplication to Karakoch, and the obedient animal desists from drinking.

According to Tanyildiz, when the subject of famous kaval players is brought up, "Old Mustafa" comes to mind. Living in the 1800s, his fame at kaval playing was known to all Yürüks. It is said when he put his kaval to his lips, one could hear as music the sound of camel hoofbeats on the caravan, the sound of their high and low bells; the bleating of the caravan sheep with their bells; the mooing of the cattle, the yelling of the shepherds; the singing of each and every different bird, among them the sound of the rifle; the crying of a Yürük baby; the scream of an eagle.

Yürüks of western Anatolia were settled in the Skopje region as early as 1390. By the mid-1500s thousands were employed as soldiers, settled on heights north of Skopje. Yürüks in Summer occupied the heights from Salonika, in the South, to the Plachkovitsa range in the north. As the centuries past, these groups became settled in small communities along the river valleys in eastern Macedonia. It is estimated that there were some 25,000 Yürüks living in Macedonia in the 19th century. A large number of descendants of Yürüks remained in Macedonia, even after the large 1960s emigration of urbanized Macedonian Turks back to Turkey. Today some are still employed in shepherding, working in the state-owned agricultural cooperatives in eastern Macedonia.

Sarakatsani / Karakachani
In 1987, some ten years after my our trip to Macedonia, I was given a copy of Anoyanakis 1979. In this work there is a picture of a kaval which is so similar stylistically to Ferati kavals, and yet obviously made by different hands, that I realized the Ferati kaval is but one version of a generic style encompassing a much wider geographic domain. Specifically, a rim-blown flute 82.5 cm long is depicted. Labeled "dzamara," the flute has a raised mouthpiece and is faceted on its distal end much like the Ferati instruments. Looking at this illustration, I felt determined to explore the connection between the kaval and dzamara.

The foremost authority on Greek flutes, residing in Athens, is Thespina Mazaraki. In 1987, my wife and I spent a year abroad in Greece. While in Athens I spent many hours with Mazaraki, discussing and playing the flutes in her collection. Incidentally, Anoyanaki states that Mazaraki's writings are the only "disciplined" study of shepherds' flutes to be found in the literature. Mazaraki, however, is acquainted only with Greek instruments and is not familiar with their Slavic, Albanian, and Turkish counterparts.

Mazaraki showed me one instrument, particularly impressive, which she referred to as a Sarakatsan dzamara. I recognized it immediately as being identical to the instrument in the Anoyanakis collection. Indeed, Mazaraki referred to it as the "mate" of that dzamara, so it seems these instruments, like Macedonian kavals, might also be made in pairs, though I have not verified this. Mazaraki 1965 includes a photograph of a Sarakatsanos shepherd playing a dzamara which appears very similar to the Anoyanakis instrument and (perhaps) its mate in her own collection. The photograph was not taken by her, but was reproduced from an illustration in Hadjimikalis 1957. Her huge two-volume work is undoubtedly the most important ethnography of the Sarakatsani. The photograph shows Illias Vangelis Varondas, a village headman, sitting on the ground, with the distal end of the flute resting in the dirt. A sketch of a Sarakatsan dzamara is presented in Volume II, pg. 151 of Hadjimikalis (See Appendix 1, sketch E).

Hadzimikalis tells us that the dzamara is the pride of the shepherd and his stani (a stani is a group of two or more families related by kinship or marriage, and who work together on common rented pasture land). An adult will almost never play a small flute if he has a dzamara. Young people cannot play the dzamara, since it is too long to hold, and its technique, being more difficult than the small flute, is too much for a youngster to master.

I have related the myth about the devil piercing the kaval to destroy its sound. The Sarakatsani also have a myth concerning this hole (the first hole below the fingerholes) but instead of the devil it is Christ who pierces the dzamara, to give it eleven holes rather than ten. At the moment of its piercing, all of the artifacts of the shepherd's life came into being. The dzamara is a thing blessed by Christ, and it is said that Christ heard the dzamara when he was born. Later, when "fleeing from the Jews," he sought protection in a barn in which a Sarakatsanos was playing the instrument.

Hadjimikalis was not the first folklorist to study the Saracatsani. In Volume II of Hoeg 1925 there is a sketch of a Sarakatsan dzamara, and it is interesting to compare this instrument with that of Hadjimikalis. The Hoeg instrument appears to be more slender, more finely made (see Appendix 1, sketches E & F).

To squat or sit crossed-legged was a common posture for playing the kaval. Kavadias 1965, in his study of the Saracatsani of Greece, includes a photograph of a Saracatsan kaval player sitting cross-legged, holding a 90 cm instrument to his lips, with the distal end on the ground. It is amazing how much longer this instrument is below the last fingerhole. It is unquestionable that the posture provides support to steady the embouchure, and it may be that the flute itself serves as a crutch to support the shepherd sitting for hours at a time.

My second sighting of a "Saracatsan" dzamara was one belonging to the small instrument collection of the Center for Asia Minor Studies in Athens, at that time directed by Marcos Dragoumis. Dragoumis, showing me the instrument, referred to it as a Saracatsan flute which had been collected by the great folklorist Melpomene Merlier. Merlier and Hadjimikalis were comrades who shared a love of Greek folklore, living at a time when it was passing away rapidly. Again, the instrument was practically identical with specimens depicted by Hadjimikalis, Mazaraki, and Anoyanakis. The similarity suggests a dzamara maker residing in Epirus, a single individual or family which provided instruments for the entire region, as the Ferati family has done for Macedonia.

The term "dzamara" is not Greek, but is most likely derived from the Arabic "zamara," meaning to blow or play. Today the north African zumara is a small double clarinet, with two parallel lengths of cane, found in some places with cow-horns for bells. The Albanian zumare is the same kind of instrument. Al Faruqi 1981 tells us that "In earlier times, the term was used for a single piped instrument similar to a shepherd's pipe." What is the connection between North Africa and the Balkans? One possible answer: In Ottoman times many Moslem subjects, especially Albanians, traveled to North Africa to serve in armies under the Turkish Sultan or local rulers such as Mehmet Ali. It is possible they brought the instruments and/or the name back to the Balkans.

The Saracatsani are depicted wonderfully in Campbell 1964, an ethnography of these people. They are Greek, semi-nomadic shepherds, inhabiting mountainous regions from May until November, descending into the coastal plains the remainder of the year. Numbering some 80,000 in Greece the 1950s, these people also ranged the mountains of Greater Macedonia and Bulgaria, where they were referred to as Karakachani. Until the 1930s when the borders were closed, the Saracatsani of Greece would travel down from the Pindus with their flocks into Albania during the Winter. The Saracatsani of western Macedonia also used Albanian lands as their Winter pastures, coming down from Mounts Bistra and Yablanitsa. Central Macedonian Sarakatsani would winter their flocks in the Salonika Valley. On the eastern side of Macedonia and into Bulgaria, shepherds journeyed from the Ovche Pole and Rhodope mountains to Serres and east towards Istanbul and south. Provided there was no fear of bandits, shepherds would travel south-east through valleys formed by the great rivers Vardar, Maritza and Mesta. Since the Great War the borders between Macedonia, Greece, Bulgaria and Albania have been closed, preventing long-ranging travel of the Sarakatsani.

Among the shepherd peoples of the Republic of Macedonia, the Sarakatsani are rarely mentioned in ethnographic documents, perhaps out of fear that their Greek origin may lend support to Greek claims upon Yugoslav territory. The scant references to them (mainly in works originating in Bulgaria) show them to have resided in the Shar mountains, just north of Macedonia in Kosovo, in the Pelister Range near Bitola, and in the Karaijitsa range, south of Skopje.

Fermor 1962 is a wonderful, light article on the Saracatsani. Two mentions are made of flutes in his article. While attending a Sarakatsan wedding, some Gypsy musicians arrive, and Fermor asks his Sarakatsanos friend if they too are Sarakatsani. His friend turns to him and scornfully replies that they are Gypsies, that the Sarakatsani only play the flute. Later on, retiring at the end of the day, Fermor is lulled to sleep by a Sarakatsan flutist:

The music that began to hover through the hut was moving and breathless. It started with long deep notes separated by pauses and then shot aloft in protracted patterns of great complexity. Repeated and accelerating trills led on to sustained high notes which left the tune quivering in mid air before plummeting an octave to those low and long drawn initial semibreves. Notes of icy clarity alternated with notes of a stirring, reedy, and almost raspy hoarseness. Then after a long breath, they sailed again into limpid and piercing airs of the most touching softness. . .

Fermor is describing a skaros, a shepherd's improvisation. That is the Greek name; in Macedonia this type of playing is called ezgia. Each shepherd can be recognized by his ezgia, my teacher Mile had told me. The description of the reedy low notes means the flutist can only be playing a long flute, a dzamara. The low notes of the instrument are referred to in Macedonia as meden kaval (honey kaval).

In the city of Serres, which has a sizable urban Saracatsani population, there is a Saracatsani ethnographic museum. In the summer of 1997 I asked a friend, a Sarakatsan from Serres, to find out if flutes were part of the exhibit. He mailed me back a photograph of two flutes currently exhibited: one is a Bulgarian kaval plain and simple (which does not mean that it was not played by Sarakatsani); The other is much more interesting. It is an unjointed kaval, whose sheen and color suggest boxwood. The fingerholes are oval and undercut, and there are some scratch markings on the instrument. The distal end is slightly flared. Not much more can be discerned in the picture. The flute is certainly not faceted in any way. Next to it is a case, consisting of two carved-out wood planks.

In the Winter of 1997, I wrote to the director of the museum, asking him about the dzamara on display. He did not relate any information specific to that instrument, but endeavored to enlighten me about dzamares in general. He explained:

The sound of the dzamara is very special; by listening to it, wild animals such as bear and wolves become tame and do not threaten the sheep. The sound of the dzamara imparts souls to trees and lifeless rocks. As strong as the effects of its sounds are said to be, the instrument itself is very delicate. A good player can crack a dzamara just by playing forcefully upon it. The best dzamares were to be found in Epirus, around Ioannina. In this town, it is said, a shepherd once went to a shop where dzamares were sold. He didn't like any of them, saying they were too weak, that he would crack them if he played them. "Show me, how can you crack one of these instruments?" the shopkeeper asked. So the shepherd picked up several instruments in turn and played them. Each one split. Finally the shopkeeper said "Take one, I don't want any money for these others."

In Greece today it is easy to find modern recordings of clarinet skaros, complete with sheep's bells in the background for effect, played by urban Gypsy musicians. Almost nothing is recorded of the real shepherd's skaros on dzamara, however. Dietrich Wolf's recordings, Popular Music of Northern Greece, (Albatross VPA 8289) feature Konstantinos Kostas of Vissani (Epirus) playing a skaros on dzamara. The recording was made in 1975, when Kostas was 43 years old. This is the only modern folk recording of the dzamara I know of. For the shepherd's flute has almost disappeared from the mountains of Greece and Macedonia, replaced by the transistor radio. Tassos Halkias, one of the greatest Epirotic clarinet players, in conversation with my wife, recalled that long ago, in his childhood, almost everyone knew how to play the dzamara, of wood or metal. Leake 1835 related:

In the mountain pastures in every part of Greece, the shepherds may be heard pouring forth a wild melodious strain from their pipes, amidst the murmuring of the waters, and the whispering of the wing through the trees.

Spencer (1851), traveling through the Balkans in 1850, noted in Southern Albania:

. . . not the least beautiful and interesting feature in the landscape was the number of hamlets peeping through bowers of fruit trees, while the distant sounds of the shepherds' reed sounded cheerfully through the clefts of the rocks.

Flutes were not used exclusively by lonely shepherds playing to their flocks. Spencer goes on to tell us that he saw it used on festive occasions such as the celebration of saints' days, and for no other reason than to forget the cares of the day:

When the service was over the women and children retired to their homes, and the men, with the officiating Papa, to the han, to drown the cares of the week in copious draughts of wine and raki, and to kick up their heels to the sound of the pipe and the gusla [fiddle].

In 1987, I spent ten months in Greece hunting for flute players, and found the flute to serve the same function: In a village in the Peloponnesus, at the end of a hard day of literally breaking rocks, a few townspeople would gather in the local tavern, the flute player would take his instrument (in this case a cane fipple flute made in the Philippines) down from the shelf, and people would sing and drink together. The same case applied to a dzamara player in Epirus. In both cases the flutists had very high status in their villages. One player was the mayor of the town.

Next section: 7. Thoughts On The Origin Of Ornamentation Of The Dzamara

Contents of "Kavals and Dzamares"

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