Kemençe of the Black Sea

For homonym instruments, see Kemenche.
String instrument

Hornbostel–Sachs classification 321.322
(Necked box lute)

The Kemençe of the Black Sea (Turkish: Karadeniz kemençesi, Greek Pontic kemenche or Pontiaki lyra (Ποντιακή λύρα), Laz Çilili (ჭილილი), or Armenian Qamani (Քամանի) is a bottle-shaped bowed lute found in the Black Sea region of Turkey (Pontus), adjacent Armenian and Georgian peopled lands, as well as in Greece. It is also known as the "kementche of Laz". The name kemençe comes from Iranian Music Instrument Kamancheh.


The name Kemençe derives from the Persian (kamancheh) and means small bow. The name lyra derives from the name of the ancient Greek lyre.


Pontian Lyra
# Part Name Meaning Function
1 Tepe, To Kifal Top, Head Peg holder (same as the body)
2 Kulak, Otia Fist, Ears Pegs
3 Boyun, Goula Neck Place for hand (same as the body)
4 Kravat, Spaler Bed, Slabbering bib Fingerboard
5 Kapak Cover Soundboard
6 Ses delikleri, Rothounia Sound holes, Nostrals Soundholes
7 Eşek, Gaidaron Donkey, Rider Bridge (pine)
8 Palikar Stalward Young Man Tailpiece
9 Gövde, Soma Body Body (plum, mulberry, walnut, juniper)
10 Solucan, Stoular Worm Sound post (inside)
11 Teller, Hordes Strings Strings


Young Pontian kemenche player in Trabzon, 1910 postcard

It is played in the downright position, either by resting it on the knee when sitting, or held in front of the player when standing. It is always played "braccio", that is, with the tuning head uppermost. The kemenche bow is called the yay (Turkish: Yay) and the doksar (Greek: δοξάρι), the Greek term for bow.

The strings are depressed onto the neck of the instrument by the player’s finger pads in the way violin strings are pressed, such as the large Cappadocian kemane.

The musicians usually play two or all three strings at the same time, utilizing the open string(s) as a drone. Sometimes they play the melody on two strings, giving a harmony in parallel fourths. They tend to play with many trills and embellishments and with unusual harmonies.


Kemençe in Turkey

The kemenche may be a development of an instrument which had an elongated water gourd for its body. The center of Kemenche playing activity seems to have been the historical strongholds of Pontic Greeks such as the district of Trabzon and the contiguous areas of the districts to the west and east of it as well as to the south, Giresun, Rize, northern Sivas and Gümüşhane, whose main town had been called Arghyrόpolis. Also, Görele is a very important centre of kemençe. Every year, kemençe festivals held in Görele. West past Tirebolu towards Giresun (Ancient name: Kerasounta), the number of kemençe players begins to decrease and the lute as well as the violin (keman) and tambourine (tef) begin playing a more important role. Further west into the districts of the Ordu and before reaching the town of Samsun the kemençe has virtually disappeared. East of Trabzon, after Rize, the kemence faces competition from the bagpipes (Karadeniz tulum).

A dance commonly associated with the kemenche and Pontus region is Horon.

In Greece, pontic lyra is played in areas populated by Pontian refugees since the beginning of the 20th century.

The Cappadocian Kemane is a musical instrument from Cappadocia having the same form but sympathetic strings added.

The European rebec and even the later dancing master’s kit or pochette fiddle share also commun features.

Notable kemençe virtuosi

Pontian Kemençe in production

See also



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