Bahri Karacay

Turkish saz player
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Bahri KaracayBorn in Erzurum, Turkey, Bahri Karacay appeared regularly in annual school folk dance performances from the time he was in second grade. In the sixth grade, he joined Turkey's first children's folk music choir and just after six months, he was performing solo in a sold-out concert organized for the independence day of his hometown. Music and folk dancing remained his main activity, filling his weekends at the Erzurum Folk Dance and Folk Music Foundation throughout the years until his sophomore year in college. He performed solo in numerous concerts and appeared many times on local and national TV. At 14, he was hired by the government-owned radio station, TRT, to become part of TRT's regularly broadcast Folk Music choir. Some of Bahri’s recordings from those years were placed in the national folk music archives of Turkey.

Bahri took a break from performing to attend college and graduate school in Turkey, Germany, and the U.S. After he earned his Ph.D. from Ohio State University, Karacay formed a band called Turkana in 1997. He also composed his first song that year, which became the cover song of Turkana's first CD Keyfim Yerinde. Turkana has toured the U.S. and Canada, and the group has also been heard on National Public Radio.

During the fall of 1999, Bahri moved to Iowa City, where he works at Children's Hospital at the University of Iowa as a pediatric neurology researcher. His musical career has continued and branched in different directions — as part of the Iowa band Lazy Boy and the Recliners, which enabled Bahri to bring Turkish music to an Iowa City audience, and in a duo with harmonica player and pianist Patrick Hazell. Bahri also formed the nucleus for the new Turkana, with renewed emphasis toward performance and composition of Turkish popular music.

Karacay’s instrument of choice, the saz, resembles a lute with a long neck and is similar to an Arabic ’ud or an Indian tambura. Played throughout the Middle East, the saz traveled to those parts of Europe under Ottoman rule. According to Karacay, the saz is likely descended from the kopuz, a term used to refer to any number of long-necked stringed instruments used by Turkish tribes at the turn of the last millennium. In the 15th century the use of metal strings marked the emergence of the cogur. The cogur is believed to be transitional between the kopuz and the saz. The saz is played by plucking or strumming the strings with one hand and fretting them with the other. This solo instrument is used most frequently to accompany love songs, and, for immigrants, songs about their homeland. It is also used partly in religious (Sufi) music as well as to accompany Turkish folk dancers. This stringed instrument (telli saz) is a symbol of Turkish traditional music, though today, it is also played with a variety of other traditional (and not so traditional) instruments in popular bands.

When Bahri Karacay plays his saz and sings, his deep connection to his music is transparent. He plays for the sheer joy his music brings him.

Contact: Bahri Karacay, Iowa City, IA, 319.354.5174,,