Kazım Koyuncu: Pride of Lazuri

HAKAN ARSLANBENZER
ISTANBUL
Published
Kazım Koyuncu: Pride of Lazuri

Known for making ethnic Laz music popular by mixing it with the rhythms of rock and protest music, Kazım Koyuncu was one of the most loved musicians in Turkey until he died of cancer in 2005

The nation-state orientation prevented people from dealing with their ethnic origins until the early 1990s. The single-nation cultural policies were so tight that people would teach their children to deny their ethnicity in any official setting, especially including schools. Mentioning your ethnic origin would be considered as treason. The only identity one should own was the Turkish national identity.

As liberalization winds began to blow, after the Cold War was over, ethnic diversity also became a common topic of culture, and sometimes politics. Some very young people, who were obviously under the effect of the above-mentioned winds of liberalization all around the world, began to formulate cultural, environmental and artistic experiments on their own ethnic backgrounds.

Kazım Koyuncu was one of those young artists who tried to perform music as a combination of Western rock, Turkish protest and Laz ethnic or folk genres. Unfortunately, we lost him very early because of a bitter illness; however, he could make a challenging production and convincing performance and people liked what he tried to do. Koyuncu is still remembered on various special occasions. His name has become a powerful symbol of Black Sea region folklore and also environmentalist movements in Turkey.

Early life and education

Kazım Koyuncu was born on Nov. 7, 1971 in Yeşilköy ("Pançol" in Lazuri, the Laz language) Hopa, one of the sub-provinces of Artvin known for the Laz people living there. Like any child of Laz people in Artvin, little Kazım also grew up listening to the eccentric local music improvisations of amateur local artists played by kemençe (a stringed musical instrument like a small vertical lute) and tulum (similar to the Scottish pipe). Koyuncu would later refer to a particular local musician, "Kemençeci" Yaşar Turna, whom he mentioned as "my master." He liked to listen to Kemençeci Yaşar and played and sang songs in Lazuri.

However, the first instrument Kazım Koyuncu learned to play was a mandolin when he was in sixth grade. The mandolin and flute were common musical instruments taught in music classes in schools in Turkey. In addition, his uncle brought him a guitar from Germany, where he was working as a foreign worker.

Kazım Koyuncu spoke seriously of his father Cavit Koyuncu. One of Kazım's hit songs is in the form of a short letter written to his father. "Father I am a demolisher," says the song, "but I'm not unaware of myself." Cavit Koyuncu was a book-reading barber in Hopa. He was a member of the Workers' Party of Turkey in the 1960s and was put behind bars for six months in Erzurum after the Sept. 12, 1980 military coup.

Kazım and Hüsniye Koyuncu had six children, five boys named Oğuz, Hüseyin, Orhan, Kazım and Niyazi, and a girl named Canan.

Leaving his village for the first time

Kazım left his village for the first time at age 17 for college education in Istanbul. He attended the Political Sciences Faculty of Istanbul University, from where he would never graduate.

His main concern was music in Istanbul. He joined the Çağdaş Sanat Atölyesi (Contemporary Art Workshop) in 1990. He composed music for a political play performed by the workshop.

In 1991, Kazım Koyuncu founded a protest rock band, "Grup Dinmeyen" (The Unabated) with Ali Elver. Dinmeyen would not be a success. The group decided to make protest rock, but soon they began using the electric guitar; and the group dissolved and re-united several times. Eventually, they made an album in 1996, "Sisler Bulvarı" (Boulevard of Fogs, named after a poetry book of Attila İlhan). This was the first and last album by Dinmeyen.

Koyuncu was part of another band at the same time: Zuğaşi Berepe (meaning "Children of the Sea" in Lazuri) founded in 1993. This was also a rock band but with another agenda. The group members, Kazım Koyuncu, Mehmet Ali Barış Beşli, Metin Kalaç and İlhan Karahan sought to make protest rock music with lyrics in Lazuri, their mother tongue.

Exploring Lazuri, freeing the music

In an interview, Koyuncu said, "In Zuğaşi Berepe band, we were trying to explore Lazuri and free the music to the end by the language we explored." However, the band was in the field of rock. They did not meet the real Laz people. "We had long hair and torn trousers, which would seem weird to local Laz people. Yet, I begin thinking that we succeeded at something, as I see young Laz individuals making rock in Lazuri." Koyuncu defined Zuğaşi Berepe as "something big we did."

Zuğaşi Berepe made two albums, "Va Mişkunan" (We Don't Know, 1995) and "İgzas" (Going, 1998). They also launched a live album from a Berlin concert in 1998. After that, the group split.

Inspired by Rock 'n Roll, fed by ethnic music

After Zuğaşi Berepe split, Kazım Koyuncu lived through hard times. Now he was lonely, unschooled and unemployed, lonely with his guitar. He composed several songs including Lazuri pieces, some of which would become great hits.

He joined occasional programs and recordings until 2001, when he made his first solo album, "Viya." The album was special for two main reasons. First, it reflects Kazım's energetic but emotional heart. Second, Kazım sang ethnic songs in vanishing languages of the Black Sea region including Lazuri, Georgian and Hemşin language. Once he said, "I love Turkish, but ethnic also has a temptation on me." Also he said, "I'm a musician bricked by Rock 'n Roll, but also fed by ethnic music."

Viya brought a limited fame to Kazım Koyuncu. He composed music for two TV series. As his name appeared on TV, his fame broke out its limits and he became a popular figure especially for those who loved the Black Sea region culture and protest-music.
Koyuncu's audience is an interesting combination of leftists and environmentalists, rock music seekers and people of Black Sea origin. He joined the Black Sea region tour with famous local musicians such as Fuat Saka, Volkan Konak and Bayar Şahin. He made his second solo album, "Hayde" in 2004.

In late 2004, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Kazım Koyuncu died of cancer on June 25, 2005. Tens of thousands of fans attended his funeral in Istanbul and Hopa. His posthumous album, "Dünyada Bir Yerdeyim" (Somewhere on Earth) was launched in 2006 by friends.

Various commemorations were held and several documentaries were prepared in homage of Kazım Koyuncu after his death. He is still remembered every year on June 25, and many of his songs, in Turkish or in local ethnic tongues, are listened to by a wide range of people.

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