Holy metal: Istanbul cymbals star in Oscar-tipped film

Published 23.02.2015 02:03

Turkey-based cymbal makers are creating instruments that remain true to the Turkish code of handmade products, using nearly 800 years of tradition

Two Turkish hand-hammered cymbal companies have made their way to Hollywood by being featured in a movie nominated for five Academy Awards.

The 2014 drama "Whiplash" tells of the relationship between a young student jazz drummer and his fearsome teacher.

Turkish brands Istanbul Agop and Bosphorus Cymbals are featured throughout the movie as the protagonist, an ambitious drummer, bleeds while playing furiously.

"When anyone thinks about jazz cymbals, they immediately think about Turkish cymbals," said Ibrahim Yakıcı, 43, one of the founders of Istanbul-based Bosphorus Cymbals. The firm has around 20 skilled smiths who work to produce around 30 cymbals a day by molding, rolling and hammering molten metal into precision-made golden-colored discs.

Istanbul is home to more than 10 cymbal-making companies, but most them engage in contract manufacturing, said Yakici, whose company has a product range of more than 500 different cymbals with prices ranging between $90 and $550.

British drummer Robert Brian, who played with Siouxsie and the Banshees, Simple Minds and Peter Gabriel in his 30-year career, has endorsed Bosphorus Cymbals for the last decade. He says it is well-known that "the first and best cymbal makers originated from Turkey."

"The Zildjian family, who are the most famous name in cymbals, have always had a tie-in with Turkey, even though for many years they have been made in America," he said.

According to Brian, Bosphorus Cymbals believes in the real "artistry" of making good-quality, handcrafted cymbals.

"They do not wish to compete with market leaders Zildjian and Sabian," he said. "Bosphorus Cymbals is not interested in that kind of mass production - they want to create quality instruments that remain true to the Turkish cymbal making code," he said.

Bosphorus Cymbals' founder, Yakıcı, along with his co-founders Hasan Seker and Hasan Ozdemir, worked as apprentice cymbal-makers in Istanbul's working-class Bağcılar district during the 1980s. "I was around 11 when I started making cymbals," Yakıcı said.

Today Yakıcı and his colleagues sell their products in more than 40 countries around the world. When asked what differentiates their products from the others, Yakıcı said: "We learned a secret way of making cymbals."

Yakıcı said their cymbals are made of copper, tin and a secret ingredient that they will not reveal.

"We are still producing hand-made products by using an almost 800-year-old tradition," he explained.

Being a master cymbal maker needs not only time but talent, said Bosphorus Cymbals' international sales director, Emrah Sipahi.

"Sometimes drummers come here and just describe the sound that they want. A master should be able to design what kind of physical process the cymbal needs to get that sound," he said.

Yakıcı and his colleagues were actually working for what today is called Istanbul Agop Cymbals, founded by the Istanbul-based Armenian, Agop Tomurcuk, who began working as an apprentice cymbal smith when he was nine.

Today Agop's son Arman is the co-president of Istanbul Agop Cymbals, which employs 30 cymbal makers and produces 250 to 300 pieces a day. The company has more than 700 items in its product range and prices range from $15 to $200.

According to Tomurcuk, each Istanbul Agop Cymbal has its own distinctive character and tonal quality, which makes it different from others.

"This ... comes from our secret alloy and hand-making skills of our craftsmen using centuries-old techniques. Each cymbal is hammered by hand into its proper shape and form," Tomurcuk said.

The different sound and character of each cymbal comes from the number of hammer strokes. "This makes every cymbal very special and personal. The sound of the cymbals you love will be your own sound and no one else can have the same sound," he said.

Istanbul Agop Cymbals exports their products to around 45 countries and some of their customers include drummers for international acts such as Lenny Kravitz, Kylie Minogue, Noel Gallagher and Tori Amos.

Drummers have their own reason to like Turkish cymbals.

A French musician and drummer, Simon Goubert, told Anadolu Agency that he was dreaming with pictures of his jazz drummer heroes when he was just 11.

"All of them were playing Zildjian," Goubert said, referring to another worldwide brand that was born in Istanbul during the Ottoman era and moved to the U.S. after World War I.

"I love the sounds they can have - harmonics, deep, power, fundamental notes," he said. "Cymbals are the most intimate part of drums. It is the reason why I can play on different drum sets, but it is impossible to play with different cymbals. For every concert, I need my 17 kilograms of holy metal."

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