Azerbaijan’s long and complex history is often mirrored in its rich culture. If there is one aspect of Azerbaijani culture that reflects the mystery and complexity of Azerbaijan’s society, it is music. The country’s folk music is indeed unique, while still reflecting influences from Persian, Turkish, Arab, and other Caucasian folk music. Though there are several forms of Azerbaijani music, none, perhaps, are as famous as mugham. It has taken centuries for mugham to develop and the beloved art form has seen deep changes take place particularly within the last century. Pure mugham is still performed today, but many artists have chosen to blend it with other forms of music.
Closely related to Turkish, Arabic and Persian maqam, mugham is a modal form of music based on improvisations from preexisting melodies. There are several forms of mugham, often specific to a region or a cultural event. This form is highly complex and has undergone centuries of evolution. The instruments used in mugham are often related to those used in countries and regions with cultural and historical ties with Azerbaijan. The balaban, kamanche, tar, and daf are some of the typical instruments used in mugham. The tar is similar to a lute, and originated in Persia, but has been adopted by Azerbaijani folk music. The balaban is a wind instrument, which is related to other woodwind instruments ranging from Russia to Iran. An example of percussion used would be the daf, which is similar to a tambourine. Though these instruments and other traditional instruments are used in traditional mugham, the music form has undergone significant evolution in the past century.
Since the early 20th century, mugham has been blended with several modern and Western forms. Uzeyir Hajibeyov famously and beautifully blended mugham with opera by using its instrumentation and certain elements of the form in tangent with Western instruments and the opera form. Hajibeyov was also a key figure in preserving mugham during the Soviet era. He published basic teachings on the subject, which are still used to teach mugham to this day. Azerbaijan also experienced a jazz age, in which mugham was blended with jazz. Vagif Mustafazade is the man responsible for first creating jazz mugham. A talented pianist, Vagif blended elements from mugham (bringing its modal scales) into jazz compositions. The blending of traditional Azerbaijani music with jazz is a very logical one as both have a heavy reliance on improvisations. In recent decades, mugham has been fused with many varieties of popular music in Azerbaijan.
Throughout history, mugham has undergone constant changes, be it from a technical standpoint, or as a result of the political realities facing Azerbaijan. In the 20th century alone, mugham has changed considerably. In order to preserve the form, musicians have successfully blended mugham with classical, opera, and jazz. As a result of this diversification, mugham will be available for future generations to appreciate, and perhaps allow them to of their own.
Post Written by Andrew Loughery, Karabakh Foundation Intern
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Samadoglu, Vagif. “The Emergence of Jazz in Azerbaijan: Vagif Mustafazade: Fusing Jazz With Mugam.” Azerbaijani International. Winter 1997. Web. 14 May 2011.