Azerbaijani music is both varied and eclectic. On this page we describe some of the main genres prominent throughout history and discuss their meaning within society today.
The Azerbaijani people love their Jazz. Due to this appreciation, Azerbaijanis have opened many Jazz cafes in cities and this perpetuates a log-standing relationship with the musical form. Aziza Mustafazadeh is probably one of the most beloved Azerbaijani Jazz musicians. He was influenced by and eclectic set of noteworthy musicians, including, Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett, Isfar Sarabski, Salman Gambarov and Rain Sultanov.
Jazz became a highly popular form of music within Azerbaijan during the early 20th century. During the soviet period Azerbaijan was one of the largest hubs for the development of the genre within the union and after levels of prohibition of music within other cities, Baku (the capital of Azerbaijan) became a place where jazz musicians travelled to. The first Jazz festival occurred in Baku in 1969 after the increased consistency in the city.
Azerbaijani Jazz (Azərbaycan cazı) is a particularly popular variety of Jazz throughout Azerbaijan. It covers a broad range of styles (traditional, post-pop, fusion, free flexion) and above all often features a blend of traditional Azerbaijani music.
Where the genre became so popular in Azerbaijan in the 1950’s & 60’s, new subsections of Jazz emerged – including the popular Jazz Mugham. This is a traditional American jazz infused with traditional Azerbaijani Mugham, Mugham being a form of traditional Azerbaijani folk music. Some of the more famed Jazz Mugham musicians include Vagif Mustafa Zadeh who is known for first fusing the two genres, and Rafig Babayev who pushed it to its height of popularity in the 50s. These identity building sub-sectors of Jazz and the music genre itself continued to grow in popularity over the past century residing itself as the heart of the Azerbaijani music scene. The country now holds the Baku International Jazz Festival which takes place every year. Its aim is to celebrate the connection with the traditional American music and showcase popular and upcoming musicians on the jazz scene.
Mugham /or Mugam (Azerbaijani: Muğam) music is one of the best known and recognisable traditional forms of Azerbaijan. It is a folk musical composition which runs parallel to other forms including, ‘Tasnif’ and ‘Ashugs’.
Mugham musicians use traditional stringed, wind and percussion instruments in their performance. These range from the ‘oud’, a type of fiddle to the ‘daf’, a type of drum. The musicians play with a number of instruments in a band formation or in contrast, as a solo performance.
The name Mugam draws a similar wording to the Arabic ‘Maqam’, and likewise there are links to Turkic instruments during the evolution of the art form.
Composition and Performance
It takes great skill to learn, play and compose Mugham music, as it is a highly complex art form. It blends classical poetry and musical improvisation. Sometimes musicians do this using specific local modes.
Unlike Western music, “Mugham” is associated not only with scales but with an orally transmitted collection of melodies and melodic fragments. Performers use these forms through improvisation.
Mugham is, furthermore, a composition of many parts. The choice of a particular Mugham and a style of performance will always fit a specific event. As the musicians dramatically unfold the performance, they typically increase the intensity and pitch. It is a form of poetic-musical communication between performers and initiated listeners.
Mugham musicians have passed their art form throughout generations of Azerbaijani’s. Unfortunately, due to the drastic changes in modern life, traditional art forms have become less and less easy to maintain.
However with the help of UNESCO, Azerbaijan hopes that the traditional formation of this type of unique music can live on for generations to come. A piece of Mugham music, the 16th-century miniature of ‘Nizami Ganjavi’s Khosrow and Shirin tragic romance’ has a UNESCO Masterpiece of Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Music of Azerbaijan builds on folk traditions that span nearly a thousand years. For centuries, Azerbaijani music has evolved under the badge of ‘monody’, ultimately producing rhythmically diverse melodies that have beautiful narratives.
As with Maghum, Azerbaijani modern music also has uses a ‘branchy mode system’, where conversion of major and minor scales is important.
Among their national musical instruments there are 14 string instruments, including eight percussion instruments and six wind instruments. Azerbaijan’s music production in this sense is similar to its neighbours in Iran and as with Mughum, an evolved link to Turkic music.
Popular Folk Music
Azerbaijani’s are very connected to their heritage and as such, folk-based music is still wide spread and popular across the country. Uzeyir Hajibeyov and Gara Garayev, in particular, have received much acclaim for the pieces they composed. Hajubeyov has, in his honor, had a statue unveiled, recently in June 2011.
Despite the deep connection to traditional music, Azerbaijani’s are also very familiar with western pop culture. Its TV channels show an array of Russian pop-stars and Western ballads. Moreover, western dance music is popular in bars and clubs in the larger cities.
Eurovision Song Contest in Baku
As you may have noted from recent ‘Eurovision’ entries, it is difficult to tell modern pop from Azerbaijan to British pop.
The quality of Azerbaijani music was there for all to see in 2011. Approximately 115 million people watched their national entry, Ell and Nikki, defeat global superstars such as Blue in the Eurovision Song Contest. As a result of the national success, Azerbaijan hosted the competition in 2012.
The Crystal Palace in Baku was built especially for the event, and has left a legacy for Azerbaijan on the pop scene hosting more global stars in the City, including Rhianna.