Winter 2001 (9.4)
A Place for Mugham
Music is Focus for New Conservatory
Azerbaijan has such a vast, rich
musical culture. The truth is that we have more music than oil.
We can and should bring investment to Azerbaijan not only through
oil, but also through music.
Azerbaijanis strongly value music education, but up until recently,
the greater emphasis has been placed on learning Western music,
not Azerbaijani music. Students are often encouraged to study
European instruments like the violin or cello rather than traditional
Azerbaijani instruments like the tar and kamancha.
To counter this tendency, a new state music school - called the
Azerbaijan National Conservatory - has recently been established
to teach traditional music. Azerbaijanis are not in complete
agreement about this development, however. Some say that national
music and Western music shouldn't be taught separately. Others
insist that Azerbaijan's music has been ignored for far too long.
Left: Siyavush Karimi with Rafig Babayev,
in 1993, before Babayev was killed by a terrorist bomb explosion
in the Baku Metro in 1994. Rafig is credited with being one of
the founders of Azerbaijan's Jazz movement.
Siyavush Karimi, the Conservatory's new rector, believes that
this type of institution is long overdue. Here he shares his
vision for the Conservatory, the one place where Azerbaijani
music will always be top priority.
There's never been anything like this before: an Azerbaijan National
Conservatory. During Soviet times, we would never have been allowed
to open a school like this - especially one with "national"
in its title. Actually, Uzeyir Hajibeyov dreamed of such an institution,
but especially during Stalin's time, it was too dangerous to
express such ideas. There seems to be anecdotal evidence that
he discussed the idea among close friends.
The Conservatory is still in its formation and organizational
stages, as we are waiting for a building. Eventually, it will
serve as the umbrella for (1) the Asaf Zeynalli Music College,
(2) the Baku Arts Gymnasium and (3) the Traditional Music Department
of the Music Academy, just as the Bulbul Music School is under
the umbrella of the Music Academy. The Azerbaijan National Conservatory
will offer both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Since it's
a state school, a majority of students will attend for free.
The Asaf Zeynalli Music College, currently under the direction
of musician Nazim Kazimov, was established more than 70 years
ago. Its students receive a bachelor's degree in either music
teaching or accompanying. The music teaching degree includes
study in traditional and Western instruments, choir conducting,
singing and music theory. About 400 students are enrolled there.
The Baku Arts Gymnasium, which offers a high school diploma,
currently has more than 1,300 students. All kinds of art are
taught there - not just music. Composer Yusif Mammadov serves
as the director.
I want the Conservatory to become a determining factor in the
development of Azerbaijani musical culture. We will establish
departments for tar and kamancha, wind instruments such as the
zurna and balaban, traditional percussion instruments and khananda
singing. There will also be a department for saz and ashug music.
We want our traditional singers to be broadly educated in general
music subjects, including the Western musical subjects of solfeggio
[sight-reading vocal music], music literature and harmony. I
know that right now there are some very talented khananda students
who do not know how to read musical scores. This is not right
- they should have at least basic information about music theory.
In order to learn Azerbaijani music, it is also very important
to study Persian and Arabic. English will be studied as well,
within the department of foreign languages.
And we think sports should be an integral aspect for the students
who study music. This is a new concept. Musicians should protect
their hands and fingers. So we dream of finding a way to offer
water sports at the new Conservatory.
We also want to computerize the entire educational system, as
we want to establish a modern, progressive approach to studies.
We want our students to know the Internet and have a chance to
study the music of the world's nations via the Internet. We want
them to be familiar with computer software for composing. We'll
need a computerized library system and a language laboratory.
Roots of Mugham
Our national music is based on mugham, Azerbaijan's traditional
modal music. It's the basis for all our improvisation and early
music. In our instruction, we will certainly use the volume Uzeyir
Hajibeyov [1885-1948] wrote in 1945, "The Principles of
Azerbaijani Folk Music." This is a fundamental work.
Besides teaching mugham in depth, we will be researching and
investigating its origins. We plan to send expeditions to remote
villages to collect folklore samples. The idea is to recover
our national roots. Mugham is very old, but nobody knows exactly
how old. One expert claims it was created 8,000 years ago; another
says, 2,000 years ago. We need to expand the borders of research
in this area.
We also plan to establish a department for ancient instruments,
which unfortunately tend to be forgotten these days. We want
to learn more about their origins and how they are played. [For
more about Azerbaijan's medieval instruments, see "Piecing
Together History, String by String: Reconstruction of Azerbaijan's
Medieval Instruments" in AI 5.4 (Winter 1997). Search at
We are also hoping to create brand new instruments. For example,
right now there is no Azerbaijani instrument that can be used
as a bass for harmonizing with traditional instruments. We could
create something like a bass kamancha or bass tar. It would be
just an experiment, but you never know - if we create a new instrument,
a thousand years from now, historians might say, "Such-and-such
an instrument was created in Azerbaijan."
It's our plan to go out to the refugee camps, find talented children
and bring them back to our Arts Gymnasium. Maybe somewhere out
there, a future Gara Garayev [famous 20th-century Azerbaijani
composer] is living in a tent. How will we know unless we look?
Our task is to improve the level of national music genres and
attract young people to Azerbaijani music. As part of our effort
to find and establish new genres on the basis of existing ones,
we will be teaching Azeri jazz and pop music. Vagif Mustafazade
(1940-1979) and Rafig Babayev [tragically killed in a terrorist
explosion in the Metro in Baku in 1994] have already proved that
there is such a genre as Azeri jazz.
Pop music is very popular right now, especially among young Azerbaijanis,
but the level of quality is very low. When singer Rashid Behbudov
[1915-1989] was performing in the 1950s and 1960s, Azerbaijani
pop music was at a much higher level. We'll have to work hard
to bring it back to that level again.
Another important point is the integration of Azerbaijani music
into world culture. We are planning to work on more projects
that mix Azerbaijani music with the music of other nations. The
SKRUK CD is one such example.
Azerbaijani music is such strong music that it can easily be
synthesized with other kinds of music. I have made experiments,
and I believe that Azerbaijani music can be very well fused with
music from South America, Tanzania, China and Japan.
Mixing is very important. Not everyone can comprehend mugham
the first time they listen to it. Mixing makes it easier to understand.
For example, if mugham is too complicated for Americans to understand
and accept in its pure form, we can present it to them through
American music. This prepares them to comprehend mugham in its
Student exchanges are especially helpful in this regard. We want
to establish two- or three-week summer school programs for foreign
students to come and study Azerbaijani traditional music. We
could even establish these schools in picturesque places of Azerbaijan,
like Shaki or Lankaran. If the students are interested, they
could stay here longer and enroll in degree programs.
We would also like to send our students to study abroad. They
could visit universities in Texas or New York to learn Western
jazz elements. They would then have the ability to mix Western
jazz with Azerbaijani national music. If we claim to be a National
Conservatory, we should not restrict ourselves to Azerbaijani
music. We should also embrace the music of other nations.
We want to make it possible for our students to go out and represent
Azerbaijan all over the world. They should be able to participate
in international festivals, but obviously, this will require
a lot of financing.
A few days ago, Per Oddvar Hildre, the head of SKRUK, was visiting
Baku. We talked about organizing an international folklore festival
here in Azerbaijan. I think that this should be one of the National
Conservatory's first projects.
The audience for Azerbaijani music is growing. We hope to promote
our music throughout the world, especially in Turkey, Norway,
Japan, Peru and Venezuela. We are currently working on a project
to bring Latin American musicians here to record Azerbaijani
Azerbaijan has a vast, rich musical culture. We have a responsibility
to demonstrate this to the world. If the world gets to know us
through our music, our reputation will grow considerably.
If we act now, I think we can earn a leading position for our
music in the world. Today Arabian and Croatian music is becoming
very popular. I'm optimistic that Azerbaijani music is capable
of becoming popular as well.
In Azerbaijan the truth is that there is more music than oil.
We can and should bring investment to Azerbaijan not only through
oil, but also through music. I'm optimistic about our plans.
This is education and education is sacred. We are building a
society for our future generations. How can I be indifferent
about what kind of world our own children will grow up to live
There's a political cartoon that shows an Azerbaijani soldier
going off to war, but in place of a rifle he has a saz slung
over his shoulder. There's truth in such a depiction. No doubt
about it, a person with a saz slung over his shoulder is different
from one who knows only how to lug a rifle.
is a professional musician who graduated from the Azerbaijan
Academy of Music in 1977. He plays several instruments, including
the keyboard, tar and ud. He also works as a recording studio
(9.4) Winter 2001.
© Azerbaijan International 2002. All rights reserved.
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