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A Master, A Hafiz, and A Mavlidhan

From the Eyes of His Son,

Mehmet Ali Karaca...

Interview by Bora Durmaz


Kani Karaca was born in 1930 at Adalı village of Adana. His father Durmuş Ali Bey has his first marriage to Döndü Hanım. They have two daughters born into that marriage. Durmuş Ali Bey cannot help longing for a son. So, he gets married for a second time. His second wife is Zeynep. Zeynep Hanım gives birth to a boy after a short while. Durmuş Ali Bey names his son Kani.

The household balances change upon delivery of the baby boy. Now, Durmuş Ali Bey gives all his time and energy to the newborn Kani, and this gives rise to jealousy at home. Step mother Döndü applies some liquid on the eyes of three-month Kani, claiming that it is an ointment. From then on Kani Karaca is irrevocably sightless. He loses his sight forever when he was only three months. Upon learning about what has been going on, the father Durmuş Ali Bey reacts fiercely to Döndü Hanım. But it is too late.


After three years of time Kani Karaca loses his father. Now three-year old and blind, Kani remains fatherless and is vulnerable on the face of earth. His birth mother Zeynep Hanım is a young woman. She does not want to live in misery, so she thinks of getting married again.


“The blind little one would hobble me from moving on. Nobody would take me and I may not get married again as long as he is with me." she thinks. So, she wants to get rid of the baby. She takes the blind baby and attempts to bury him alive claiming that "he is dead". The baby is saved by the community. They take the baby from his birth mother Zeynep Hanım, and deliver it to Döndü Hanım, who is the very same step mother who blinded his eyes in the first place. The step mother Döndü Hanım takes care of Kani Karaca from then on.


Guided by his aunt, Kani Kara begins to take courses from the Hafiz Ali Nergis. Merchants of Adana who listen to his beautiful voice at concerts organized at the provincial community centers send him to Istanbul at a young age so he carries on with his education. He is introduced to the Hafiz Sadettin Kaynak. Once listening to the young Karaca chanting, Sadettin Kaynak calls for him to attend courses. Kani Karaca learns from Sadettin Kaynak the immortal piece by Ahmet Avni Konuk, named Kâr-ı Nâtık, composed of 11 modes. As Sadettin Kaynak grows old and his health deteriorates, he trusts Sadettin Heper with Kani Karaca.


While practicing with the Hafiz Sadettin Kaynak on the one hand, Kani Karaca practices the Holy Quran with the Hafiz Ali Üsküdarlı on the other hand. Interestingly, the dispute between to two great masters is on the rise. Even though Kani Karaca continues to practice with both his masters in a strict secrecy, one day the Hafiz Ali Üsküdarlı reveals to him: "Look here, son. You are taking me and him in hand simultaneously. I am aware of it all. I am not saying anything for the moment because I care for you.".


He is lucky to enjoy practices of remarkable artists of the time, namely, Sadettin Heper, Nuri Halil Poyraz, Refik Fersan, Mesut Cemil, Münir Nurettin Selçuk, and Alâeddin Yavaşça. It is good enough for him to listen to a piece only two times to exercise it perfectly. Kani Karaca is the greatest sound of all times. The saz masters remain helpless when he switches between frets. It is even said that the best chord is tuned with his voice. He learns entirety of ayin-i şerif from Sadettin Heper, and most of the classical pieces from Mesut Cemil. He keeps mawlid and Holy Quran recital styles alive.


Mesut Cemil lets him in the Istanbul radio. After Cemil's death, he is discharged from the radio regardless of his art, as in the case with other artists who were also accepted to the radio as himself.


He begins to teach at the Turkish Music Conservatory established in 1976. Kani Karaca has such a flawless sense of rhythm that when he starts his rhythm course, Ercüment Berker teaching at the next class discontinues his course and tells his pupils to listen to Kani Karaca's rhythm course.


He goes to the States for giving a concert. There, the scientists examine the great artist's voice at the laboratory. After the sonic testing sessions, the US musicologists announce Kani Karaca the sound of the century. The BBC wants to purchase all his recording; unfortunately they are substantially lost to a big fire at the radio archive. The Flute Player Niyazi Sayın figures it out when a senior director of the radio is about to "chuck" out" part of Kani Karaca's recording. This is how they are saved from destruction.


In 2004, he departs this life in financial difficulties due to a serious illness. His son, the mathematician Mehmet Ali Karaca teaches, like his father, at the Istanbul Technical University. He is our guest, answering our questions about his father, the great artist...