This interview was conducted at 28-02-2008 in Theatre De Regentes, The Hague (NL), in the presence of Alegez, the female manager of Aygun. It was enabled by Gustavo Pazos Conde, NPS producer.
Interview: Ninu Arvaladze
Translation: Jenia Gutova
Adaptation: Daniëlle Dürst Britt
Pictures: Daniëlle Dürst Britt
We would like to ask you some questions about the special type of music you perform, the mugam. To start with; since the mugam has quite a history in Azerbaijan, what place does it currently occupy in the Azerbaijani music scene?
The mugam occupies an important place among the various music of the world; different kinds of world music are actually based on it. We could state that the mugam is like a “mother” or “father” of world music. We are happy that the mugam kind of originated in Azerbaijan; it is our native music. Nowadays, thanks to the spouse of president Mehriban Aliyeva, our mugam has become an official part of world music as well. Due to this development it is protected by UNESCO. We are glad that our music is known and loved throughout the world.
What is the context in which the mugam is played in Azerbaijan today? Is it, for instance, typically played at weddings, or during important celebrational gatherings?
Well, the mugam can be played on weddings, but it is primarily professional music. It is not particularly suited for weddings. The thing is that this music is not only difficult to perform; it is difficult to be properly perceived, as well! It has a deep philosophy, and as such this kind of music is best appreciated in a “chamber” atmosphere. That is why it is not really suited for dancing, weddings, or mere amusement; it is a serious art.
I have read that the mugam was associated with the urban elite of Azerbaijan. Is that still the case?
Yes, in a way that is still the case; the mugam is still related to the elite, yet in the realm of professionals who are able to understand it. Luckily, I am able to travel and perform abroad; but it is very nice that there are so many ‘professionals’ from European, Western countries, and as well as from the East, who during their attendance of our concerts are able to receive our mugam so warmly.
About the Baku conservatory, in the capital of Azerbaijan, is that accessible to everybody?
Yes, of course. Everybody can study there, if only he or she has talent. There are two conservatories in Azerbaijan: the Folk Music Academy, where folk art is taught, and the Folk Conservatory and the Classic Music Academy.
So, everybody who has talent can enroll?
I think you could say that everybody is talented in Azerbaijan! As soon as children are born and put into a cradle, they start to absorb the “couleur” of Azerbaijan, and its air. Because of this, people are talented, and sing from their childhood onwards. I was told I started singing when I was 3-4 years old; I would have been both playing and singing since then. Later, I graduated from the school where I was taught to play the naghara and the daff, particular types of drum.
Your father played the stringed tar, is that correct?
Yes, he played the tar, but he never received official education. However, in Azerbaijan you don’t necessarily need official education in order to perform your music on a stage. Anybody with talent will be acknowledged by others, and this person will be granted the opportunity to perform, also without a diploma.
During the concert you performed yesterday in Antwerpen, I noticed that the interaction between you and your musicians is rather intense. How long have you three been performing together?
We work together for 3 to 4 years now. But I think that musicians, even if they are not originally from Azerbaijan, come to ‘feel’ each other very quickly. Imagine that, right now, there would be some musicians from different countries gathered here; then they would arrange a jam session. In fact, I had this experience at a festival in Uzbekistan, when musicians from different regions played their distinctive ‘oeuvres’, while joining together in such a jam session.
You are a female performer of the mugam. However, I understood that only since the beginning of the 20th century women have been allowed or enabled to perform the mugam. Is there any difference in the reception of female performers by the public?
No; women are also received very well. Again, one’s talent counts the most, whether you are a man or a woman. When you sing well, the public will respond.
Is there any symbolism or traditionalism involved in your choice of dress when you perform?
When I was 15 or 16 years old, I used to play the naghara when I would sing. However, the naghara is generally an instrument for men, since it is a drum. Back then, I was wearing already a hat like the hat I wear now during performances. On stage I wear traditional clothes, with the hat. Honestly, I think I would not be able to sing well without this hat: without the hat, I feel not confident in myself, nor in my singing. The hat makes me feel another person; a man. With the hat I am not afraid of music; I am not afraid of anything.
When you received your education at the conservatory of Baku, where there more girls or women being educated?
Yes, there were many women studying there; they sing well. However, they perform differently, since each of them has her own character and style.
Since your father was a famous musician, you must have been confronted at an early age with music. You told us that you started to sing and play already on a very early age, indeed. But when did you discover within yourself that you were especially passionate about the mugam?
I started when I was 16 or 17 years old; that is already 15 years ago! I used to listen to modern performances of the music of our famous composers, musicians, and singers from the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. The music of the mugam originated in that area. Of course, the old singers are not alive any more, but their music lives on. They are still popular in Azerbaijan.
During the performances, the poetry that is being recited or sung addresses mainly the subject of love, both earthly and other-worldly; especially in the category of the ghazal. This can be associated with its relation to the geographical influence of the Shi’a branch of Islam. How do you experience these lyrics yourself, and what do they mean to you in the realm of love and spirituality?
You are absolutely right with what you say, but I was not really thinking about it myself, yet. The mugam speaks often about love, love that unites humans, and humans and god. If you want to perform this genre, you have to have a big heart, a large soul. When your soul is large, your love becomes great, and your love might encompass the whole world.
Could you say something about the origin of these lyrics?
Many lyrics were written some 500 years ago, by famous poets.
Do you prepare yourself in a certain way before you have to perform on stage?
We rehearse a lot! I also sing at home, but especially just before the concert, some 1 to 1,5 hour in advance. I have to do that, in order to enable my fingers and my voice to do their work during the performance. We take it very seriously, and we prepare ourselves seriously. We have a big orchestra in Azerbaijan. When I was 15 or 16 years old, my teacher created it. This ensemble works for 15 years already; and still there are many ideas and projects for the future.
You are considered a very gifted singer. Some people regard you as the new international representative of the Azerbaijani mugam, next to Alim Qasimov. He is rather well-known in the West. How do you regard your own future? Do you have specific dreams, for instance?
I know that I am very talented, hahaha! Well, of course I dream of many projects in the future. We have big plans, and big dreams, likewise. It is only recently that we started to travel around to perform like this, and perhaps we want everything at the same time. For example, it would be great to record a performance with a Dutch orchestra, with a choir, and to participate at festivals. But we will see what will happen, God willing.