selim sesler 1Selim Sesler was a Turkish clarinetist and zurna player from Kesan in the northwestern province of Edirne, which belongs to the region of Thrace. The city is ca. 250 kilometers from Istanbul and is close to the Greek border. Selim Sesler was a Roma born in 1957. His family was originally from the city of Drama in Greece but, in the wake of the population exchange between Greece and Turkey, moved to a small village near Kesan in 1923.
His father was a musician and thus Selim learned to play the zurna as a child. The zurna is a woodwind instrument belong to the family of conical oboes. It is played, accompanied by a davul (oriental drum), at weddings and celebrations in Turkey and other countries that came under the influence of the Ottoman musical culture. In 1960, Selim followed his friends who had switched to the clarinet, which was becoming ever popular at the time. At the age of 14, he began to play at weddings and other occasions, and developed his exceptional talent on the clarinet during that period. He didn’t learn to read notes, though, until doing his military service.
In the1980s, Selim Sesler moved to Istanbul and became a member of various Roma groups. They would play in bars, restaurants and nightclubs, at weddings and on other occasions. Their music included songs from the Roma repertoire (in Turkey, this type of music is popularly known as “fasil”) and depending on the audience, also Turkish folk music. During this time, Selim Sesler recorded several low-budget albums and participated in music theatre productions of Turkish playwright and actor Ferhan Şensoy. In 1997, Selim Sesler met Canadian folk singer Brenna MacCrimmon at a club night in Istanbul. They then recorded the album “Karşılama” together and in the year following, Selim Sesler accompanied the singer on a concert tour throughout Canada.
Selim Sesler got his big breakthrough by his appearance in the movies “Gegen die Wand” and “Crossing the Bridge” by Fatih Akin, the German film director of Turkish descent. Selim Sesler subsequently played at music festivals all over Europe and gave concerts in New York, Chicago and London. Ironically, it was only because of his success abroad that he became well-known in Turkey and then gradually became more successful in his homeland, too.
In 2006, Selim Sesler released his album “Anatolian Wedding” on the Istanbul world music label Doublemoon Records. The album was produced by British world music producers Ben Mandelson and Rob Keyloch. “Yüksek Yüksek Tepeler” (The Song of the Homesick Bride) features the vocals of Brenna MacCrimmon. This album is one of his most successful and offers superb insight into Sesler’s musical work. In 2007, his last album “Romane Clarinet” appeared on the Turkish label Özlem Plak.
Selim Sesler passed away at the age of 57 on 9 May 2014 in a hospital in Istanbul as the result of a heart condition. He was buried in his hometown of Kesan.
Album (excerpt):
Karşılama (with Brenna MacCrimmon)
Kesan'a Giden Yollar (The Road to Kesan)
Oglan Bizim Kiz Bizim (Anatolian Wedding)
Romanes Clarinet


Text: Robert Lippuner / Gypsy Music Network
Translation: Jamie Davies


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