This Saturday was Music Freedom Day, a day to remember the plight of musicians in countries where singing the wrong songs can get you locked up and your music banned from the airwaves. I had the pleasure of meeting Azeri singer Cirttan a.k.a. Azer Mamedov. Cirttan reminded me that even countries that we regard as free can have a very bad human rights track record. Azerbaijan is a newly formed “democracy” with ambitions of joining the EU. As last year’s winner it will hold this year’s Eurovision Song Festival. In the mean time artists like Cirttan flee the country because singing his songs have been made impossible. The specific song that got him into trouble was one he wrote about the president (Who’s never named, but everyone knows the title Mister Necessary refers to the president of Azerbaijan, who routinely says in his speeches his government will do this or that if it is “deemed necessary”).
For an interview with Cirttan go to the great News and Sounds blog of Charlie Crooijmans
It is no wonder a country like Azerbaijan uses music both to propagate its innocent and modern face and at the same time censors its musicians: it is a country with an incredibly rich and old musical tradition, mixing its native Caucasus music with Turkish, Persian, Russian and European influences. We’ve selected only a few songs for you to enjoy and as every week it was hard to leave some of our favorites out, but if there are songs you would like to share, leave them in the comment section!
Vagif Mustafazede was one of the pioneers of Azeri piano music, mixing traditional scales and rythms with Jazz music. Sadly this was done in a time when the Stalinist regime had outlawed Jazz music as a Western perversion. He did not live long. Vaqif died from a heart attack after a performance in Tashkent when he was only 39 years old. His legacy is not only the music he created, but also his daughter Aziza, who is now one of the most popular Azeri artists in the world, continuing the musical experiments her father started
Azeri Lullaby / Sövkət Ələkbərova
Some years ago a russian TV animation series was produced based on lullabies from around the world. This performance by Sövkət Ələkbərova is already perfect, but the animation is a great compliment to the song.
Flora Kerimova / Sen Baxsan
When I spoke to Cirttan he wanted both Azeris and non-Azeris to know there’s more to Azeri Music than the traditional Mugham scales. Too true, enjoy this classic Jazzy-Rock by Flora Kerimova
Googoosh / Ayriliq
The region of Azerbaijan is much bigger than the current borders of the country. A large part of Iran is also called Azerbaijan and many Azeris are sad a border lies between the two parts. In fact the biggest diva of Iranian music, Googoosh, is Azeri, and while most of her songs are in Persian her rendition of the Azeri song Ayriliq is the reason many Iranians know to sing at least one song in the Azeri language. Ayriliq means seperation, and while it can refer to the seperation of friends or lovers, for many Azeri it is the about the borders that separate contact between people of one region.
Vefa / Bayati Shiraz
The last performance in our list is a real tour-de-force. In 30 minutes the young singer Vefa shows all the nuances of traditional Azeri music from mournful laments to powerful rhythms. Her voice emulates the bends of birds’ songs as can only be found in Persian and Azeri music and here and there she flirts with the instruments in their melodies. The performance also shows that after more than a century of Russion influence instruments such as the accordion and the clarinet mesh perfectly well with the centuries old instruments such as the Tar and Qanun.