ISTANBUL 

A Turkish singer known for blending traditional Black Sea folk music with rock rhythms is being commemorated on Thursday on the 15th anniversary of his passing.

Earlier this week, due to the coronavirus outbreak, Kazim Koyuncu’s family announced the cancelation of an annual commemoration ceremony in his hometown in the Black Sea province of Artvin.

In a statement, the Koyuncu family suggested alternative ways to honor the unique musician, saying: “On the 25th of June, looking at the sky and smiling, or playing with a child, perhaps adding a plate to our table, lighting a candle, listening to his favorite song, thinking about our memories … drawing a picture, looking at his photo and maybe chat with him.”

Koyuncu made a type of music popular among people in Turkey’s Black Sea region – the Laz people – and took it mainstream, combining traditional instruments such as the stringed kemenche and tulum (bagpipe) along with the modern electronic guitar, bass, and drums.

The size of Turkey’s Laz population is unknown, but they mainly live in the northeastern section of Turkey’s Black Sea region, also reaching across the border into Georgia.

In 2001, UNESCO classified the Laz language as endangered, with around 130,000-150,000 speakers in Turkey and Georgia.

Once Koyuncu was quoted as saying: “I am a musician, then I am from the Black Sea, but above all, I am a revolutionary.”

Outspoken on environmental issues, he campaigned against building a nuclear power plant in Turkey.

Singer in several tongues

Koyuncu was born on Nov. 7, 1971, in the district of Hopa in the Black Sea province of Artvin, though his birth was only made official about a year later, a common practice in those days.

His first instrument was a mandolin which he began playing during secondary school.

In 1989, he enrolled in Istanbul University, but ultimately did not graduate.

But it was during his university years that his musical career grew more active, leading him to put together a band in 1992.

Afterwards he established Turkey’s first Laz-music rock band, Zugasi Berepe, in Turkish Denizin Cocuklari or in English, the Children of the Sea.

Besides singing in Turkish, Koyuncu also sang in Lazuri as well as other languages spoken in northwestern Turkey such as Hemsin plus Georgian.

Their first album, the critically acclaimed Va Mskunan (We Don’t Know), hit the shelves in 1995.

Following the release of their second album, Igzas (Walking), the band split up in 1996.

Later he embarked on a solo music career with his first album Viya! released in 2001.

A year later he rose to fame by doing the score for a blockbuster TV series, Gulbeyaz, focusing on the life of Black Sea locals.

His second album, Hayde (Let’s Go), came out in 2004, the same year he was diagnosed with cancer. Despite warnings from his doctors, he continued to give concerts.

His swan song was on Feb. 4, 2005 at Istanbul’s Yeni Melek Show Center, where he took the stage for fans wearing a knit cap covering his head, bald due to chemotherapy.

He died in 2005 at the age of 33, and was laid to rest in Hopa, the district of his birth.

Many blamed his illness on the effects of radiation from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster in Ukraine, on the other side of the Black Sea, which took place when Koyuncu was around 15 years old.

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