TODAY.AZ / Arts & Entertainment

Azerbaijani mugham seizes souls of music lovers abroad, makes them "hostage"

11 January 2014 [12:35] - TODAY.AZ
Bsy AzerNews

The outstanding examples of the overwhelming power of the Azerbaijani music, Mugham, have made it popular in the Western world. That particularity of the Azerbaijani culture finds it very attractive.

Traditional folk music, Mugham, which started to enter into the world culture in the beginning of the last century, warms hearts of every soulful music lover.

The pearl of Azerbaijani music was even send into space with many other cultural achievements of humanity.

Azerbaijanis by all means encourage their beloved part of national music in the modern world, holding international festivals and competitions with the participation of international musical bands.

This magic music conquers hearts of many music lovers abroad as well, making them its "hostage".

Jeffrey Werbock, one of the best known Americans in Azerbaijan, who devoted his life to music, has worked for over 30 years to study and perfect his skills in playing Azerbaijani Mugham.

Mugham attracts Jeffrey with the incredible state of mind it pulled him into time and time again, reliably, unfailingly and consistently.

A watershed meeting with an elderly man from Dagestan who played traditional Azerbaijani music has changed Werbock's life. Being completely enthralled, he began to study cultures and people of the Caucasus Mountains, with a strong emphasis on the traditional Azerbaijan music.

Shaping this art for years, he has given hundreds of concerts and lecture demonstrations introducing the art of Mugham at museums, colleges, universities and community concert venues in the United States, Europe, Israel and Azerbaijan.

How it all begins

"I play three instruments of Azerbaijani origin, Kamancha, Tar and oud, which is an Arabic/Turkish adaptation of the ancient instrument barbat. The first instrument for me is Kamancha partly because my first music teacher to teach me Azerbaijani music played Kamancha," Werbock told Azernews.

Recalling the first years of his acquaintance with this seductive music, Werbock said he taught himself to play Tar to form a traditional trio ensemble with the assistance of a gaval player.

"I also feel closest to Kamancha because the sound is unique and unmatched in the world for what I like to call spiritual radiance, a power to transport the listener to the otherworldly states of mind," he emphasizes.

"Since my first teacher, Zevulon Avshalomov, originally from Dagestan, passed away in 1987, I was fortunate to be able to take some lessons from Adelet Vezirov, perhaps the greatest Kamancha player who ever lived. I was also briefly assisted by a fine young Kamancha player Murad Askarov who accompanied us on our expedition to the refugee camps in the year 2000, now immortalized in the famous video clip of one young teenager who sang so powerfully about the loss of his ancestral homeland of Nagorno-Karabakh. This clip has been viewed on YouTube about 144,000 times.

Right after this extraordinary episode, a young virtuoso Kamancha player named Imamyar Hasanov came to America and I took 60 lessons from him, learning the classic Mughams the way they are taught in the Conservatory. After Imamyar moved away from the general area where I lived, I was forced to learn Mugham on my own."

Jeffrey also mentioned having a few lessons on Tar from several good Tar players, Zamiq Aliyev, Firuz Aliyev, Kamran Maharramov and Nisim Nisimov. In spite of a few Tar lessons, they gave him another perspective on Mugham, as the structure of the Mugham melodies are rendered differently on different instruments.

"Then, someone gave me an oud to keep for a while so I began to teach myself how to play Mugham on oud, translating both from Tar and from Kamancha. What happened then was very interesting to me. The classical "canonical" version of Mugham began to break down and reassemble around a highly improvisatory way of playing Mugham.

I still enjoy classic Mugham as it is played by professional Azerbaijani instrumentalists, but I found a greater interest in playing a looser, more free form Mugham such as might be heard at weddings and other non-concert settings. Teaching myself to play on Oud offered me the opportunity to explore different ways of expressing the melodic lines of Mugham, which then influenced how I approach Mugham on Tar and Kamancha, now very improvisatory."

Azerbaijani Mugham and its motherland

Werbock listened to recordings of great and famous Azerbaijani Mugham singers and their ensembles and then decided to visit Azerbaijan. He came to the Mugham home country for the first time in 1989 and made many visits since then, that all helped to better understand the spirit of this music. "It is like a language of its own, telling a story in musical notes," he said.

"My first impression of Azerbaijan was a feeling of oppression mixed with a feeling of hope. It was 1989 and the Soviet Union was beginning to show signs that it might not last much longer. The Armenians in Karabakh had started up their provocations but it wasn't yet all out war, so there was a feeling of worry for the future which I also detected. The heavy atmosphere which lingered and permeated Azerbaijani society under the fearful rule of ruthless Soviet leaders such as Stalin and Khrushchev was palpable and depressing, yet Azerbaijanis seemed to have a cheerful attitude, perhaps thanks to their legendary hospitality and they wanted me to feel happy to be there.

But it isn't possible to hide fear like that. Nowadays with independence and prosperity, it is difficult to remember just how bad it was back during Soviet rule, the hopelessness of the masses of people in the Soviet Union. I can't even imagine the psychological damage done by the thought that you can't trust your neighbors, who knows who might turn you in to the KGB (special security service - editor) and you disappear forever, no explanations to your family. Yet Azerbaijanis must be a very strong and resilient people to have survived such an awful epoch in the history of humanity. Perhaps it is their wonderful culture which helped them survive."

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