AND THE MUGHAM OF AZERBAIDJAN
Alim Qasïmov, born in 1957 in Shamakha in the Republic of Azerbaidjan, came from a modest family where music, while not being performed, was greatly appreciated. Before devoting himself with assiduity to studying the art-music repertoire (Mugham) with the greatest singing teachers of the day, people like Haji Baba Huseynov, Aqa Khan Abdulayev and Näriman Aliev, he had worked at different trades: as a shepherd and a chauffeur to name a few. With such an exceptional voice, he could have rocketed to stardom in no time but, never one to indulge in facility, he always aimed for the high standards of his masters, constantly broadening his knowledge of the repertoire and the classical modes.
Winning the Jabbar Qaryaghdi-oghlu Singing Competition crowned him, at the age of twenty-five, top of his field, the best classical singer of his generation. Highly renowned in Azerbaidjan, he benefitted from the support and esteem of the most demanding teachers, like Bahram Mänsurov. He excels in all the genres: improvised mugham, mugham in strict time, songs, the ashïq bard songs and also in daf (tambourine) playing.
Alim Qasïmov's fame spread rapidly beyond his own country. First he toured Central Asia, then the United States, Europe (France especially), and later Japan. Finally, in Teheran -the bastion of maqam (or radif) -he had an unprecedented triumph, sweeping away once and for all the Persian public's jealously guarded but preconceived ideas about the music of Azerbaidjan. He made several recordings in his own country and two compact discs at the time of his first concert in France.
It's always rather brash to go proclaiming an artist to be the best, but there has been no doubt in some people's minds that Alim Qasïmov is the greatest present-day singer in any field. While this is debatable and depends on each musical culture's particular aesthetic criteria, it is perhaps arguably the case when one considers factors like the science of modal composition and improvisation, the virtuosity of the vocalises, the choice of texts, the clarity of their enunciation and their melodic marrying, the variety, spontaneity and impact of the expressive sound-colouring palette, and especially the art of communicating with the public, of moving it, bewitching it over and over again with the most varied effects without ever falling into affectation, mannerism or showmanship. With Alim Qasïmov and his two colleagues, the Greek concept of musical ethos becomes clear, or the ancient Arab concept of tathir, an"effect" arousing strong fundamental emotions, in particular that of tarab, aesthetic rapture, concepts which were attempts at accounting for the marvels that music could produce.
After having performed alongside the greatest tar and kamancha masters, Alim Qasïmov teamed up with two highly talented young artists, Malik Mänsurov (tar) and his brother Elshan (kamancha). Born respectively in 1962 and 1963 in Oazakh in the north-west of Azerbaidjan, they distinguished themselves, each in his own field, by graduating from Baku Music Conservatory with top honours and then winning the "Uzeyir Hajibayov Prize". awarded every four years to promising young talents.
Unites by their deep friendship and complicity, all three have been able to develop, each exploiting his own artistry to unexpected heights. The numerous concerts given in the last four years have led them to evolve even more. Early on, concerts had a professional stamp and a freshness; they were a sublimation, a sort of magic celebration where each musician, letting the thread of his inspiration unravel, wove his own progressive framework in a total, perfect symbiosis. Despite the unfolding ideas and the density of the dialogue, each blended into the ensemble and although Alim Qasïmov is visibly always up front, Malik and Elshan Mänsurov are no less present and indispensable. Only rarely are we given to understand to such a degree, the principle upheld by traditional masters whereby three or four accomplished, creative performers should manage to surpass in force and richness a whole orchestra of capable musicians.
Alim Qasïmov's genius lies largely in the artisty of his performance, in his enunciation of a work (text and music), in the way he unfolds it in real time, an elaboration in which he public participates through their expectancy, response and reactions. While he also sings extremely well in small gatherings, in studio or in a family context, the full measure of his art and charisma is only grasped on stage before a vast public. that's when he gives himself totally, galvanized by his two companions and public feedback. Anyone who has followed him on tour will admit that he is always excellent, no matter where,whether at home in Azerbaidjan or in nearby countries of Central Asia, whether before connoisseurs or neophytes discovering his music for the first time. However, like any artist, from time to time he surpasses himself and the effect is miraculous. This is what happened in May 1992 in the Theatre de la Ville, before a public of compatriots and people from Eastern nations but also, and this more importantly, of admirers from diverse origins. After this memorable concert, he admitted, with his usual modesty, that he had been particulary inspired.
For some time now we had been considering making a definitive recording of this artist indeed of the trio at the height of their powers: this disc represents the very best of Qasïmov before an enthralled quality audience. The different stages of the performance are reproduced in order with the exception, for purely technical reasons, of a song of a light nature which concluded the first part of the concert.
The musical culture of Azerbaidjan
Azerbaidjan is situated in the western part of Transcaucasia, to the north-west of the Iranian plateau. The northern part constitutes the Republic of Azerbaidjan, the southern being a province of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
In pre-islamic times, Azerbaidjan (in the large sense) was inhabited by Indo-Europeans of the Zoroastrian faith, certain of whom later adopted Christianity, and still later Islam. For almost all their Islamic history, Iran and Azerbaidjan (which was one of its great provinces) were governed by the Turk, Azeri or Mongol dynasties. At the close of the 10th century, an AZERI branch of Türk Oghuz began to control the region. In the 11th century, other Turks from Central Asia, the Seldjukides conquered Persia, Irak and the Caucasus, while in the 13th century the Ilkhanide Mongols - and later a Turkoman dynasty - elected Tabriz capital of their empire. In the 16th century, under the yoke of the Safavides (of Azeri origin), the shiite faith became the official religion and Ispahan the new capital. All these conquerors rapidly adopted Persian and Arabic and their own tongue spread only progressively during large-scale migration not only in Azerbaidjan, but also in the ast and north of Iran.
At the dawn of the 19th century. the Qadjars (Iranian Turks too) took power, but in 1828, they lost Caucasian Azerbaidjan which then became a nation with its own destiny, first controlled by the Russians, and later organized into a Soviet Socialist Republic.
In 1991, after a revolt severely repressed by Moscow, Azerbaidjan won its total independance, its southern part remaining an Iranian province. Each part has over six million inhabitants, and maintains close relations with the other.
Just as the Turkish-speaking population is scattered well beyond the two parts of Azerbaidjan, popular and artistic Azeri musics are related, in form, to a much vaster musical area, stretching south to Kurdistan, and east to Zanjan or Qasvin. Many elements of Azeri music are to be found in Persian music and most Azeris believe their music to be related to that great tradition rather than to the Turkish or Central Asian one. (Most melodies and modes have Persian names and exist in similar or close forms in Iran. Of course, besides its particular style, Mugham has many unique specific characteristics, especially its intervals and modes). An important fact regarding Azeri art-music is also that it was for a long time almost entirely appropriated by Armenians. numerous in Ispahan and the Caucasus. Many instrumentalists of "Azeri" nationality, and the best instrument-makers were Armenians. Due to the rise of ethnic political conflicts, Armenians either tended to neglect this inheritance, with its Islamist, "Iranist" or "Azerist" connotations, or to readapt it.
While differing greatly from other musics of Central Asia, the popular music of the cities of Azerbaidjan, with its characteristic rapid rhythms, has spread to Uzbekistan, first to the Khorzem, then to Boukhara and Tashkent, and even as far as Tadjikistan and Chinese Turkestan.
The musics of Azebaidjan lie on different strata probably corresponding to the cultural influences undergone by the region in the course of its history: Greek influence was followed by that of a brilliant dynasty, completely Iranian, the Sassanides, who reserved a privileged place for music and had organised it into a system comparable to that of the mugham and the dastgah. With Islam, art-music became a sort of international erudite language, a koine, understood and practised throughout all Central Asia and the Near-East. The mugham system, still in use, is am example.
Azerbaidjan's art-music (or Mugham) is in fact one of the heirs of the science of Iranian, Arabic and Turkish maqam, some of the greatest theoreticians and performers of which, people like Safioddin, Jorjâni and Maraghi, were from Azerbaidjan.
A precise outline of its evolutionary stages is not easy to establish, but it seems that at the turn of 19th century there was a renaissance which also affected Persian tradition. The town of Susha in Karabakh (Republic of Azerbaidjan) was at the close of the 19th century the home of musical and intellectual life but it was in Tiflis, the modern cosmopolitan capital of Transcaucasia, and later at Baku that the Azerbaidjan masters found their largest and most varied audiences. At the same time, Russian contact brought European music into the elements are at times detectable in the most traditional performances, which in no way impairs their quality and authenticity.
Here we will limit ourselves to the art of Mugham as part of the erudite classical tradition and distinct from the art of the Ashïq bards, more typically Caucasian, essentially oral and steeped in popular culture. Mugham predominates in the north of the country and in the karabakh mountain-range, while Ashïq milieu is in fact more rural and provincial while mugham flourishes in town in scholarly circles, even though it has a large popular public with some fine connoisseurs.
In the Iranian part, Azeri mugham has been supplanted by its Persian counterpart the radif, a form always kept alive by great masters of Azeri descent, but sung in Persian.
Despite their uniqueness, mugham and the Bardic tradition have aspects in common like their rhythms, modes and vocal techniques. Some Ashïq are also familiar with mugham while "mughamists" also know Ashïq songs. For both, their favorite contexts for playing are marriage-feasts (toy) and other celebrations. During such Caucasian events, with their age-old atmosphere, artists give totally of themselves, vying with each other for brio and invention as an audience deeply passionate deeply about music listens attentively.
The Classical Mugham
All classical pieces necessarily belong to a melodic modal genre (mugham, gushe, etc.) defined by a scale, a main group of notes and a phrase outline. The intervals used call for fine nuances of an eighth-tone (instead of a quarter-tone in Persian and Arabic maqâm). In practice, this means that in seven-note scales made up of notes and semitones. certain degrees are sharpened or flattened by an eighth-tone (or comma).
The art-music tradition recognises twelve main modes (mugham) and ten other mugham considered as secondary, Other classifications are also accepted however. As well as these, a certain number of little mughams, played generally in the context of a more important mugham, can also be cited. These important mugham are called dastgah (systems) when they integrate a certain number of secondary mugham sho'be or gushe. All these mugham can be used in modal "substance", and "aspects" (sho'be "annexes" or gushe "corners) which appear in the course of the development. About one hundred and fifty types of melody (sho'be or gushe) exist, all with their own name. Some of them can be integrated into different modal contexts and the performer is to a certain extent free to combine these elements according to his own taste. Free mugham interpretation habitually demands a precise knowledge of the gushe and their specific ornamentation. However, as a general rule, this model is supple enough to allow several levels in improvisation (in the details and ornamentation of connecting passage-work, modulations, legato phrasing etc). This enables the musician to choose either to play the model he has learnt by heart, or to stray from it by composing or improvising in the modal substance (maye), adapting a poem of his own choice or giving free rein to his imagination.
Peripheral to Mugham, there are some canonical pieces Zarbi mugham. "rhythmic songs" (see Track 4 the finale of Chahargah). These are set compositions for voice and instrument, which probably came from the Ashïq repertoire. A great many ancient or recent rhythmic pieces have a definite place in the unfolding of a mugham and adhere to the following categories:
- the däramäd ("introduction"), a measured instrumental piece, played as an overture.
- the bardasht ("résumé"), an unmeasured rhythmic sequence used to introduce the mugham, exposing its main characteristics. The bardasht is of a brilliant nature, usually beginning in the upper register, and finishing in the lower one.
- the rperformanceng, an instrumental piece, generally in a rapid 6/8 time which assures the liaison between different modes or sections of them. It most often ends with a sort of suspended pause leading back to the free mugham performance.
- the chaharmezrab, a brief rhythmic instrumental piece in a very fast tempo which is inserted between free sequences of a mugham. The chaharmezrab is a solo piece and unlike the other forms is never accompanied on the percussion.
- täsnfi, generally from popular poetry, are songs in 2/3/4 or 6 time, whose structural composition can be either very simple or very complex.
In the free performance, the instruments generally begin with a daramad in a moderate tempo or with a bardasht. After a few developments (sho'be or gushe) a brief intermezzo in rang form is introduced. the mugham or dastgah development rises in momentum, but this progression always returns in concluding to the lower register (ayaq or forud "descent") and to the initial mode if there has been any modulation. In the same way, any modulations introduced during the performance resolve rapidly back to the initial mode before continuing the development. The performance often ends with a täsnif or a rang.
Singers choose their poems from among classical poets like Fuzuli, Khaqani, Nizami, but also from more recent authors like Ali Aqa Vahid, Suleyman Rostam, Mir Mehdi Seyid-zade.
The classical mugham ensemble formation is exclusive to three instruments, daf, tar and kamancha, But the music can also be played on other instruments like the lute ud, the zither kanun, the zurna and balaban oboes, and even the conventional oboe or the accordion. The latter have not acquired canonical traditional status.
From the Caucasus to Turkestan, the daf (also called qaval) is the most widespread percussion instrument. In Azerbaidjan, it consists of a circular wooden frame, thirty-eight centimeters in diameter, on which is strung a catfish-skin, or failing, this a goat-skin. Resonating rings are placed on the inner side of the frame, which is played by striking the fingers with a sophisticated technique perfected by the Azeris and the Armenians. the singer traditionally uses it to accompany himself.
The tar is the principal instrument of the art-music of Azerbaidjan, Armenia and Iran. This long-armed lute of the rabab family probably came from Iran where it is still played in its barely modified original form. At the end of last century, the Azeris added sympathetic resonating strings and slightly changed its shape. The sound-board is made of two distinct planes covered with a fine membrane of beef heart. A horn bridge lies on the larger one which is almond-shaped. The tar has become the emblem of the music of Azerbaidjan.
The kamancha is a spike fiddle with a spherical sound-box and a cylindrical arm fitted with four steel strings. The sound-box carved out of a block of walnut-wood is covered with a fine sturgeon-skin. the kamancha has been in existence for roughly ten centuries and, over the last five centuries, is represented in miniatures just as it is today with the sole addition, a hundred years ago, of a fourth string.
In the trios, the voice leads, followed by the tar and then by the kamancha, but it happens in the course of improvised sequences that each instrument "leads the way".
In antiquity, and later in the 17th century, it was remarked that Azeris (and Persians) prefered high voices, Moreover, they use a technique called tahrir which consists in Passing the voice quickly (from time to time or repeatedly) from the back of the throat into the head (a little like yodelling). This technique and timbre are typical of a cultural area which comprises Georgia, Kurdistan, Western Persia and certain regions of Irak.
The Mugham interpreted
1. Rast is a basic Middle eastern mugham. the Azeri version uses a major (Western type) scale whose intervals are modified by a comma according to melodic attractions. It is pared down here to its basic form with two modulations, Ushshaq at the third and Araq at the octave, in the final tasnif.
2. Segah, is a mugham specific to Azerbaidjan. Its modal outline, gravitating around an E, is: b flat, a (flat), G, f, E, (d, c). In Mubarriga, the centre gravitates around an A; the yarim parde variant is played on : g, a flat, b flat, c.
3. Mahur, like rast, is played in a "major diatonic" scale familiar to Westerners. Here it has a modulation into Dilkesh (A flat) and Shikasteyi Fars (in the scale of Segah) in the initial tasnif.
4. Chahargah is one of the great modes (dastgah) of the Azeri tradition. Its bold, martial accents are supposed to excite the passions, but as accomplished a musician as Alim Qasimov can express the most diverse feelings in any mode.
Its characteristic scale, strongly centred on C is: g, a-comma, (or a flat), b, C, d flat, e-comma, f G, a-comma (or a flat) b, c. The motif or "signature" by which the mode can be immediately recognised is the jump to the tonic: a-comma, c.
The main phases of Chahargah contain no actual change of mode, but rather a displacement of the tonic, transpositions of the basic mode to an F and then to a G. The main sho'be sections and transpositions are basta-nigar (c, d flat, C-comma, f, g, a flat, then e, F, g flat, a-comma). Hissar (d, e-comma, f sharp comma, G, a flat+comma,b...), manandi Mukhalif, centred around B, mukhalif (e, f, g, A-comma, b, c) and Mansuri, up an octave.
register), maye (in the lower register), chaharmezrab, rung in Chahargah, Basta-nigar, rang, Hissar, Mukhalif, Manandi Mukhalif, tasnif in Mukhalif, Mansuriye (Zarbi mugham).
Alim Qasimov (chant et daf)
accompagne par Elshan Mansurov (kamancha)et Malik Mansurov (tar)
MP3 320 kbps including full booklet scans in "PDF".