EOL 4: Kavals and Dzamares (Tammer)


Across Northern Africa, throughout the Southern Balkans, east through Turkey, and into Persia, the transverse flute is practically unknown. Flutes found in these regions are end-blown, held vertically, played by blowing across an end which has been tapered at an angle to form a sharpened rim. These "rim-blown" flutes are called by various names: fyell in Albania; dzamara and floyera in Greece; kaval in Macedonia, Bulgaria and Turkey, and so on. This article focuses on one type of flute, referred to as the tsel (one-piece) kaval, chifte (paired) kaval, or dzamara, depending upon whether it is found in Greater Macedonia or Greece. I will first discuss the occurrence of this instrument in the territory of Macedonia and then consider a wider domain including Greece and Bulgaria.

Divided between Bulgaria, Greece, Albania, and what is now the Republic of Macedonia, the territory of Greater Macedonia is bounded by the Rhodope Mountains in the East, the Osogovsko range to the North, the Aegean sea to the South, and the Pindus and Shar mountains in the South-West, and North-West respectively. Between the Shar and the Pindus lie the great lakes Ohrid and Prespa, which form a natural boundary between what are today the Republics of Macedonia and Albania. These are mountainous lands of incredible beauty, bursting with wild tulips and African violets in the Spring, cold beyond belief in winter. They are lands which, as part of European Turkey for 500 years, had no national borders. In these lands before the Great War, a quarter of a million semi-nomadic and nomadic shepherds grazed their flocks, ascending with dogs to mountain pastures in Summer, pasturing in river valleys and low coastal lands during winter. The kaval was the musical instrument of these people, a shepherd's tool whose melodies would direct flocks to and from water, from one pasture to another, and at evening bring them into the fold.

The term "kaval" is used in Macedonia to refer to several different types of instruments. Rim-blown flutes in general may be divided into two types: short, diatonic; and long, chromatic instruments. The short instrument is properly called a shupelka. If the instrument has a fipple and is short, it is called a duduk (which also means "dumb"). A long fipple flute, often made of elderberry, is referred to as a kaval, and this leads to some confusion.

The kaval referred to in this article is made in pairs, of ash wood, employing seven equally-spaced finger-holes and a thumb-hole to obtain a rough sort of chromatic scale. References to the instrument may be found in general books on folk instruments such as Marcuse 1964. Marcuse states that the Macedonian kaval was until recently played by Rufai dervishes in Macedonia, and that they played in pairs, with one player holding a drone note while the other played a melody. The flutes are made in matching lengths and fingerhole positions rather than in standardized keys. It is noteworthy also that the instrument is associated with Moslems. Picken 1975 too suggests that Macedonian kavals may result from the influence of a Moslem Turkish minority, and states that of all Eastern European kavals those of Macedonia are most similar to Turkish instruments, but then states there is no "detailed" resemblance to any of the many forms of kavals found in Turkey. Also, Picken found no instance of Turkish kavals being made in pairs.

My acquaintance with this instrument began in 1978, at which time my wife and I lived for a year as foreign exchange students in the Yugoslav Federated Socialist Republic of Macedonia. My first teacher of kaval was Mendo Milevski, then 55 years old, originally from the Shop area of Bulgaria. We met by chance in the town of Bitola, and he invited us to come to his house for lessons whenever we traveled to Bitola from our residence in Skopje. While in Skopje I also took weekly lessons from Mile Kolarov, famous throughout the republic for his kaval playing. Between lessons I attended rehearsals at the Skopje dance group "Vlado Tasevski." We left Macedonia ten months later. I visited the country and our friends again in 1986 and 1998.

Next section: 1. The Ferati Family: Kaval Makers

Contents of "Kavals and Dzamares"

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