Spring 2002 (10.1)
Azeri Music Abroad
Ashugs Perform in Europe
by Nanna Hartman
Ashugs are minstrels who travel from
village to village in Azerbaijan, Iran and the surrounding regions,
singing traditional Azeri folk songs and improvising lyrics about
well-known heroic epic figures like "Koroghlu", "Nabi",
or legends of love like "Leyli and Majnun" and "Asli
and Karam". Azerbaijani ashugs accompany themselves on the
saz, a traditional stringed instrument.
Left: Mashasallah Akbari (on balaban) and
Ashug Hasan Iskandari (on saz) perform in a home in Denmark.
In February, two Azerbaijani musicians from Iran, Ashug Hasan
Iskandari and balaban player Mashasallah Akbari, wandered far
from their native land of Tabriz to perform in a concert tour
of Belgium, Sweden and Denmark. These two talented musicians
have performed in various other countries around the world, including
Japan, France, Germany, the U.K., Hungary and Azerbaijan.
Ashug Iskandari, 47, started learning the saz with Ashug Abdul
Ali when he was 15 years old. Today he weaves carpets and still
performs as an ashug. He has taken part in many music festivals,
winning several first prizes in Iran.
Mashasallah Akbari (1932- ) began playing balaban at age 15 under
the tutelage of Ustad Abbas Ibadiyan. His long experience and
love affair with music become evident when you watch him perform.
It's like he and his instrument are one.
You might wonder why these two musicians
chose to visit Denmark? My friend Ashug Abbas Sayidlar, who has
lived in Copenhagen since 1988, arranged for their concerts here
and also in Denmark's second-largest city, Aarhus. The Azerbaijan
Federation in Sweden also helped sponsor these concerts.
Right: Akbari and Iskandari performing during
their concert tour of Europe.
Sayidlar (1966- ) himself started playing the saz when he was
about six years old , learning from Ashug Haji Ali and Ashug
Ali. He has given concerts in Germany, the U.K. and Scandinavia,
including a performance at the Roskilde Festival held in Denmark,
one of the largest festivals in Europe. He works as a shoemaker
in Copenhagen but is very active in the cultural scene and teaches
the saz in his spare time. Many consider him to be not only the
most talented Azerbaijani saz player in Denmark, but the best
in Europe as well.
It's easy to see that life for these ashugs is really their art.
They play from their hearts - from their life, their land, their
mountains, from the roots of the soul of their culture. Even
if one doesn't know the Azeri language (like me), it's easy to
understand the universal, heartfelt, sometimes melancholic, language
of their music.
We were so lucky to have the ashugs
stay with us in our home in Copenhagen while they were on tour.
In the morning we would awaken to the melodies of the balaban
and saz, sounds that call to mind the image of clouds obscuring
the distant mountaintops near Tabriz and floating down to the
Araz River valley below - songs that have been passed from musician
to listener, from heart to heart, generation to generation -
since time immemorial. We hope to welcome them back!
Nanna Hartman, a photographer
and artist in her own right who received her training at the
Royal Danish Art Academy, is married to an Azerbaijani from Iran.
Soon they'll be opening an Azerbaijani restaurant in Copenhagen
called (appropriately enough) SAZ Restaurant. Contact her at
Taping a performance for
a television program in Denmark.
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