Musical intimacy, model citizenship, and Sufism in the life of Niyazi Sayın

Banu Senay*, Christopher Houston

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Niyazi Sayın is an Istanbul-born ney (reed flute) virtuoso, and the most acclaimed musician of a musical tradition controversially called “Ottoman-Turkish classical music.” Now 94 years old, Sayın has been called insan-i kamil (a perfect human), kutb-ı nayi, (the musical spiritual axis of his age), and hezarfen (master of a thousand arts). What do such titles mean? Building upon the work of Martin Stokes on popular music and its fashioning of intimate publics, this paper explores Sayın's musical life. We argue that it provides an exemplary expression of cultural intimacy for listeners and students, one that (as reflected in his titles) demonstrates a particular way of becoming a person, a Muslim, and a model citizen. In contrast with more official constructions of citizenship, as well as with the political neo-Ottomanism of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Sayın's life and music open up alternative possibilities of self-alteration for those who engage with it.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-242
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Middle East Studies
Issue number2
Early online date21 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - May 2022

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2022. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • citizenship
  • music
  • Turkey
  • Istanbul
  • ney
  • Sufism
  • Niyazi Sayın


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