Thought Archive

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Cradle of the Best....

Jeffrey Werbock is a musician who plays Mugham but most of all he is an unusual and inspirational human being. I had a fortune of and meeting him in London, and devoting a full evening to Azerbaijan mugham where he is the authority over us – natives. Yesterday’s session was a great success, and all of us longed to ask him a a question as to how, he, an American without any Middle Eastern blood, devoted his life to study of an Azerbaijani artform, and through this art coming to love Azerbaijan probably more than many an Azeri.

The notes are scarce:

In 1971 he moved to Los Angeles, California and the following year he met an older man from Daghestan who played traditional Azerbaijani music on one of their native instruments, the kamancha. From the first moment of listening to this strange and ancient music, Jeffrey was completely enthralled and this event changed his life forever. With the guidance of Mr. Avshalomov, he began to study the cultures and peoples of the Caucasus Mountains, with a strong emphasis on the traditional music of Azerbaijan. Since then, he has given hundreds of concerts and lecture demonstrations at museums, colleges,universities and community concert venues in the United States, Europe, Israel and Azerbaijan.

But our fascinating conversation revealed much more than his life story. His is a great life to demonstrate positive, life affirming side of any culture and cultural space. In this day an age, where native cultures are disappearing and we are taught to believe that our lives are inferior to Western ones, where the “Clash of Civilizations” is becoming a cliché, a beautiful sound of mugham performed by a Westerner and an opera composed by a Muslim serve to tear down many a wall that the World seems to excel at pointlessly building.

I have great respect for people like Jeffrey, tirelessly working to preserve for posterity a great art, not for the sake of Western consumption, but for the art's own sake. They possess that spiritual intelligence, that is so lacking in many a “civilized” human in the West. We – the educated Rest, have an imprint of the great Western Civilization in us, appreciating its science its churches, philosophers and operas. We, also have a great responsibility on our shoulders, to save for posterity a great gift that God bestowed of humanity – a gift of tradition. Herein is the geat dialectical truth – without a Tradition there is not going forward, no real Progress (but only imitation of it), but without Progress Tradition becomes Dogma.

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Riri said...

Sounds terrific! Glad you had a good time!

NoolaBeulah said...

Is there anywhere online that you can hear Mugham?

Hazar Nesimi said...

Paul, Not sure, but here is a sample from youtube:

This is famous Alim Qasimov and his daughter with devotional mugham

Something more showy:

and something as traditional as it gets

tell me what you think!

Hazar Nesimi said...

Riri, i know you like some Azeri madness. Here is one for you...

this is a improvisational poetic competition, called meyhana - also a tradition in Azerbaijan. ANything goes from sublime to most prophane to destroy an opponent. Goes on for hours on end.

NoolaBeulah said...

Extraordinary voices.

Questions and observations from a superficial foreigner.

Does it develop, or is it always variations on the passion of the moment?

Are they always in such a high register?

Why do they keep holding up the tamborine next to their faces?

[Alim Qasimov and his daughter] They rock like Jews at prayer.

I prefered Hacibala Huseynov because I could understand the relation between the singing and the music better.

I watched Meyxana-Mene kim ilishse alcag gedicey as well. I bet you rap goes down well in Azerbaijan. I liked this one, as well, because it showed the audience. And there are so many smoking. I may well end up in Azerbaijan. Do women do this, too?

Hazar Nesimi said...

Its interesting you like late Hajibala - his is more traditional mugham with three participants and a set piece. But I like both, especially that Alim studied with this guy in 70s. Alim experiments a lot with different forms of Oriental music and includes them in mugham.

Mugham is rather like jazz, it revolves around a set theme (there are several dozens of those) but as Jeffrey explained to me it is a highly controlled improvization: you should know exactly were you place every note in time. but there is not rhytm, which makes it hard.
Tambourines close to face I think are for increasing voice reverberation in the air. Mugham voices can be in lower register too, but reverberations do not come as well then.

here is great article by Jeffrey on mugham:

Meyxana - is a very much "lower" classes activity so no girls allowed.

Hazar Nesimi said...

On the second thought Meyhana is a good passtime. You know, despite the profanity and coarseness of poetry now, it originates in Shia religious chanting, which if you see by Iraq can be quite intense, and traces origins to 16-17 century. It also exists in Iran, but it is much tamer, as profanity is not encouraged there... Actually rap is very popular amongst youth in Azerbaijan (not my favourite style).