UDI HRANT- MASTER OF
Udi Hrant Kenkulian, the blind master of the oud, is regarded as one of
the greatest innovators of modern oud playing, and one of the most
unique singers of this genre.
Born in 1901 near
Istanbul, Hrant was declared blind four days after birth. Despite
frequent treatments, his condition did not improve. In the Istanbul he
studied with famous teachers including Kemani Agopos Ayvazyan, Dickran
Katsakhian, and Udi Krikor Berberian.
so many top musicians that it was difficult for Hrant to find employment.
And because Hrant was blind, no ensembles would accept him as a member.
Consequently, he often played alone in cafes for little money. To
supplement his income, he sold musical instruments. During the hard
times, Hrant never gave up hope to have his eyesight restored, even
traveling to Vienna for treatment. Unable to attract the attention of
famous groups, Hrant's career seemed stagnant until he was noticed,
while playing at the Yenikauh Cafι, by the famous musician and
composer, Serif Icli. He was introduced by a mutual friend, Kanuni
Ismail Sencalar, and soon after, Hrant was invited to play with their
group. The exposure led to concerts on Ankara Radio.
The year 1950
marked a major turning point in Hrant’s life. A wealthy Greek-American,
moved by Hrant’s talent, invited Hrant to the United States to see eye
specialists. Unfortunately, doctors in New York were unable to correct
Hrant’s condition and, ultimately, Hrant would remain blind for life.
Meanwhile, friends approached Hrant about playing in the United States.
At first he was reluctant. His main concern was that middle-eastern
music be presented to American audiences in the same concert format as
European classical music. He felt that Americans regarded middle-eastern
music as inferior to western music.
understanding that concerts would be presented according to his ideals,
Hrant agreed to perform. His friends, Hrant Nishanian, Melkon Ohanesian,
Hovaness Chalikian, Manoog Boyajian and Peprouhi Asvarian, formed the
Association of Putania which sponsored a series of concerts in New
York, Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles and Fresno. The repertoire consisted
mostly of classical pieces of Ottomon composers; however, his
improvisations (taksims) and original compositions were the
tour de force for those who attended.
Hrant returned to
Turkey, and became known as a soloist frequently performing on Istanbul
Radio, and later devoted much of his time teaching young oudists and
A special concert
was arranged to take place in Yerevan in 1963, wherein Armenians in the
homeland would hear Hrant for the first time. After the concert, the
next day’s headlines read, "He came from Istanbul and conquered the
Motherland where people received him with warmth. The sixty-five year
old blind master sees with his heart and sings with his heart".
Udi Hrant died
August 29 1978, and is buried at the Armenian cemetery in Sisli,
Istanbul. He had the title "Udi" which denotes him as Master of the
Oud". His oud playing and singing will live forever!
Notes taken from Article written by: Harold G. Hagopian
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