EOL 4: Kavals and Dzamares (Tammer)

1. The Ferati Family: Kaval Makers

The circumstances surrounding the long Macedonian kaval are certainly interesting. In the entire republic all the kavals I had seen (until recently) could be recognized as being made by the Ferati family, of Albanian ethnicity and Moslem faith. Since 1957 this family has resided in the village of Arachinovo (Harachino), a few kilometers east of Skopje, just south of the Skopska Crna Gora Mountains.

My wife and I visited Arachinovo, one of many ethnically Albanian villages in Macedonia, several times in 1976 to purchase kavals from the 75-year-old Islam Ferati. Entering Arachinovo that first time was like stepping back hundreds of years into a sort of medieval European village. As we got off the bus and gathered our bearings, a small crowd immediately gathered around us. We explained that we wanted to buy kavals and were escorted to Islam's house. There was no question of wandering around the village as a tourist. We started out down the main dirt road of the village walking deliberately slowly; a boy had run ahead to warn women along the street not to show themselves, and for the women of Islam's house to descend into the kitchen to prepare a meal for guests. We meandered along with our escorts, enjoying the scenery: high mud-brick walls on either side of the narrow road, topped with broken glass, and into which were set stout wooden doors. Some were ajar, and in the dusty courtyards behind them we could glimpse great blue-eyed Shar Planintsi shepherd dogs eyeing us.

We were greeted by Islam at his house. He was an incredible-looking man with sparkling blue eyes, set close and deep, separated by a large aquiline nose. As we sat shoes off on the floor in the front room of his two-story house, devoid of any factory-made furniture, his son Liman entered carrying a stove whose pipe he pushed through a flap in the roof. A low, hand-hewn table was taken off a peg on the wall, and soon we were enjoying a meal of cheese pie and yogurt, with plum compote for desert. Eventually conversation turned to the kavals I was there to buy, the furniture was cleared away, and five or six pairs of kavals were set on the floor before me. Each pair was a matched set, mounted on holders (sipki), and of varying lengths corresponding to no musical key. The ash wood of new kavals is creamy-white. The instruments were ornamented with curious cut markings - 6-pointed stars, triangles, "snakes," into which sheep-fat blackened with soot is embedded (see Appendix 1, sketch D), making them appear very dramatic. With age and oil, kavals turn brown and this effect is lost, but spread before me on the colorful Albanian carpets covering the room, these pristine, white, slender instruments on their holders showed themselves very elegantly. We had been instructed on etiquette by Kolarov before setting out on our trip to Arachinovo: No money may be mentioned in the house; no woman may be looked at directly; no questions may be asked about how kavals are made. When it came time to pay for a pair of kavals, I set some money down on a pillow, and later noticed it was gone.

kaval wallsMacedonian kavals are so thin-walled that, if held to the sun, light may be seen through them. They are so delicate they must be stored and carried on sipki made of beech wood which are cut for each pair (see sketch at left). The kavals hardly play at all when new. They must be saturated in sheep fat or oil for days, which the relatively porous ash wood soaks up; sticky fingers and the smell of rancid sheep fat are sensations associated with playing the instrument. Prior to playing they are wiped down with clean oil on the outside. A little oil is poured in the bore to smooth it out and thus improve the response of the kaval, and with time the instruments turn brown. I have seen one pair of kavals over 35 years old, a beautiful dark brown, without cracks and still playable.

kaval augerAt Islam's house (though I had been warned not to by Kolarov) it was impossible for me not to ask questions about how kavals are made. Each pair cost a foreigner $35 or more, which was a substantial amount of money at that time. Islam derived his entire income by selling his flutes. Flute-making was thus a serious, well-guarded activity, kept in the family. I was shown, however, the instrument used to bore the hole in the ash stick. This is a long T-handled auger, with a lead screw to pull the bit through the softer, pithy center of the wood. The auger has a slight back taper (see sketch at right), acting as a reamer to shave the bore smooth. The drill is not sent all the way through the branch; a length of about 17mm is left un-drilled, to be carved out in a taper towards the mouthpiece blowing edge. This taper gives the instrument its characteristic breathy sound.

Islam told me the auger must be sharpened every six months. The drill was taken to a friend (an ethnic Albanian) in Kumanovo, a town north of Skopje. I traveled to Kumanovo to see if I could find people making augers like this, and I did find some Gypsy blacksmiths who made an auger for me right there on the spot. Though it was fun to watch them form the tool from an automobile shock absorber shaft, the resulting auger was a poor specimen compared with Islam's gleaming, razor-sharp instrument. This information was as much as I could obtain during my visits to Arachinovo in 1978.

I visited Arachinovo 20 years later, in 1998. Much had changed: The village was about 5 times larger; instead of rocks, the road to Islam's house was asphalt; women were visible both on the street and in the house. And Islam himself had passed away. His son Liman had taken over the tradition of kaval making. There was much less formality in our meeting, though of course shoes came off, and there still was nothing in the room that one would call furniture. During those 20 years I had been playing kaval, and gathering information on similar types of instruments found in Greece. I showed Liman the article I was attempting to write, and now I put to him the question I could not ask his father: Could I watch him make a kaval? Liman looked at my article with its pictures. He looked at the machine-made kaval I had made and brought with me from America. Then he gave my article to his son, who asked sharply: "Why do you call it a Macedonian kaval, why not an Albanian kaval?" I feared an endless debate about ethnic politics in Macedonia, and explained, lamely, because it is found in the country called Macedonia. Liman agreed. "This is an article about music, not about politics," he told his son. And then he said, "Come back tomorrow. And bring your camera." The following description of kaval making is based upon my observations and those of my Macedonian friend Jovan Patchev, who took the photographs.

Liman Ferati is aware of three generations of kaval-making including himself, his father Islam Ferati, and his grandfather Sahit Ferati. Sahit was a semi-nomadic shepherd who traveled from his family residence in Brest, in the Skopska Crna Gora Range (about five miles within the northern Macedonian border) through Macedonia and Greece into Anatolia with a herd of about 1,000 sheep. This journey took at least three months. He spoke Turkish as well as his native Albanian language. Sahit died in 1941, when he was seventy-three years old. One son, Islam, started to make kavals with his father when he was twelve years old. Likewise, Liman learned from his father Islam when he was a young boy of twelve. Liman made his first complete kaval when he was about twenty years old. While Liman (who is now retired) worked in a shoe factory in Skopje, and made kavals for additional income, his father derived almost his entire income from making kavals. Liman related that his grandfather Sahit was a great kaval player. His father could not play so well, but made finer quality instruments.

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