Azerbaijan International

Winter 2001 (9.4)
Page 20

Beyond Borders - Azerbaijani Music Gains Audience in Iran

Tabriz-born garmon player and singer Rahim Shahriyari (1971- ) is at the forefront of the fledgling-yet-growing Azerbaijani music movement in Iran. Even though an estimated 25 to 30 million Azerbaijanis live in Iran (roughly one-third of the country's population), up until recently, Azerbaijani music was rarely heard in public venues.

That's beginning to change, thanks in part to Rahim and the 23-member Araz Ensemble, which features both men and women playing traditional Azerbaijani instruments along with Western instruments. Just a few years ago, women were not allowed to perform onstage at all in Iran. The group's name, "Araz", refers to the Araz River, which divides Northern Azerbaijan (the Republic of Azerbaijan) and Southern Azerbaijan (part of Iran).

Rahim Shahriyari (right) and the Araz Ensemble

Above: Rahim Shahriyari (right) and the Araz Ensemble are making Azerbaijani music very popular in Iran these days.

For many years, Azerbaijani music in Iran was in decline, but once the border opened when Azerbaijan gained its independence in 1991, some of the great masters from Baku - such as mugham singer Alim Gasimov, tar player Ramiz Guliyev, singer Arif Babayev, kamancha player Munis Sharifov and tar player Firuz Aliyev - went to perform in Iran. Rahim himself visited Baku on numerous occasions to perform with, and learn from, other Azerbaijani musicians.

The repertoire of the Araz Group consists of both folk and modern Azerbaijani music. They also introduce some of the new pop songs that are being released in Baku, too.

They like to open their concerts with the Overture to Uzeyir Hajibeyov's opera "Koroghlu". They close their concerts with "Yasha manim khalgim! Yasha Azerbaijan!" (Live, My Nation! Live, Azerbaijan!).

Rahim says recently he has tried to organize the concerts around a specific subject, such as Azerbaijani history, heroes or culture. He explains: "We hope to teach the audience something new by helping them understand the meaning of the songs. We want them to go home wondering to themselves, 'Who's Koroghlu? Who's Babak?'" (Koroghlu was a legendary folk hero who led an uprising against oppressive khans and landowners. Babak tried to stave off the Arabian invasion in the 6th century).

Recently on Iran's Channel 1, four members of the Araz Ensemble were featured playing the traditional instruments of tar, kamancha, drum and garmon. They performed folksongs such as: "Laylay, bala, laylay" (Sleep, Child, Sleep), "Dilbarim" (My Beauty) and "Dur gal nazlana-nazlana" (Come to Me). In the past, it was only the wandering minstrel ashugs who performed Azerbaijani songs on TV, singing about the Motherland.

Rahim notes another trend: songs of love were rarely heard, and female names were often replaced by words such as "flower." Rahim is reintroducing the original text and singing lyrics such as "Girl, you are so beautiful," instead of "Flower, you are so beautiful." "These days, you can start singing lyrics like this in Iran," he says.

Rahim continues, "At our last concert, I sang the words from a poem by the late Azerbaijani singer Hajibaba Huseinov, which challenge the youth to preserve our music, to take care of mugham [traditional Azerbaijani modal music]. The audience really liked this piece."

According to Rahim, many of the Azerbaijani youth in Iran never listen to the music of their roots; they'd rather listen to rap, rock, techno and other types of modern music. But after his concerts, Rahim has received emails from young people saying, "Now I'm glad that my parents are Azerbaijanis. Today I learned that I'm Azerbaijani and I'm proud of it."

These days Rahim's best-selling cassette in Iran is one called "Sansiz" (Without You) in Azeri. Tajir Shahdanli sang this song in Baku, devoting it to Aghdam [city currently under the military occupation of Armenia because of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan]. But Rahim has replaced the word "Aghdam" for his audience in Iran with the word "Azerbaijan". "There are so many Azerbaijanis living far away and yearning for their Motherland," he explains.

Azerbaijan International magazine featured Rahim in its Spring 2001 issue; see "
Azerbaijani Music in Iran" in AI 9.1. SEARCH at Samples of Rahim's garmon music and the Araz Ensemble are available if you click on MUSIC.

Azerbaijan International (9.4) Winter 2001.
© Azerbaijan International 2002. All rights reserved.

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