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Rəşid Behbudov and Persian Santur

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Rashid Behbudov

The Sayat Nova project has had a very productive week. A few days after I returned from Achara, Stefan, Anna, and I headed out to the village of Zinobiani in North-Eastern Georgia and recorded Udi music. (We’ll update you on this trip soon – Anna has a long Udi story to translate, as well as some information on the marriage rites of the Udi people). A few days later our good friend Erekle Qeshlashvili, a painter who specializes in  Georgian Orthodox icons, invited us to visit his icon studio and meet his friend Abbas.

Abbas turned out to be an incredible musician who had studied classical Persian music in his home country of Iran. Abbas is from Tehran but lives and works here in Georgia- He plays violin and Oud in a Iranian restaurant in the old city. We met with Abbas twice, once in the Erekle’s Icon work studio and yesterday he came to our apartment to drink some tea and help me repair my Oud.

During our first meeting, Abbas brought his Santur,  a Persian hammered dulcimer. He played a few improvisations for us while artists  in the studio painted icons and carved traditional Georgian ornaments into blocks of wood. Abbas seemed shy and reserved at first but as soon as we started talking about our project and  music in Iran and Azerbaijain, his eyes lit up:” I will improvise on a Rashid Behbudov melody.” Unfortunately, neither Stefan nor I had ever heard of Rashid Behudov but we still enjoyed Abbas’ playing:

After he’d finished this tune and discovered our ignorance, he told us all about Behudov. ” He was born here, in Tbilisi. He became a great singer and moved to Yerevan to sing in the opera. Later, after the war, he moved to Baku and became very famous.”

After further research, Rashid Behudov seems to be the pop singer version of Sayat Nova. He lived in all three of the major cities of the south Caucasus, he sang in Azerbaijani, Russian, Persian, Turkish and he toured all over the world: Iran, Turkey, China, Japan, Argentina and India where he performed in Hindi, Urdu, and Bengali!

Rashid Behudov was made famous by his role in the film “Arshin Mal Alan.” He played a rich man who disguises himself as a cloth peddlar so he can enter the cities’ courtyards and look at pretty women, in the hopes of finding a bride.

 

Since Abbas introduced me to Rashid Behudov’s music, I’ve watched about 50 clips of his performances but this one has got to be my favorite:

Meeting with Abbas and having these conversations about Persian music and the music of the Caucasus made me realize that the influence of Persian culture in this region is something that I occasionally take for granted. Most of both Azerbaijani and Armenian instruments are Persian in origin. The Azerbaijani Tar (the soloist in the beginning of the video above) was developed from the Persian Tar in 1870, when extra strings where added and the shape of the body was altered. Not to mention the theory behind Mugam has its roots in Persian music. I also live 20 minutes downhill from a Persian fortress in Tbilisi, in the old city which is full of buildings that were built in a Persian style, like this one:

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In addition to introducing us to Rashid Behbudov and discussing the culture of the Caucasus with us, Abbas also allowed us to record him playing multiple improvised tunes on his Santur. I’ve posted some videos and another streaming track below.

Please continue to let people know about the Sayat Nova Project and the work we’re doing with musicians like Abbas, in Tbilisi and around the Caucasus. Our Kickstarter page is still up and running: http://kck.st/WxntHo

-Ben

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UPDATE: Sayat Nova Project

The Sayat Nova project has reached its initial funding goal  in just over a week. We’d like to thank everyone who donated and/or shared our Kickstarter. Thanks to your contributions, we’ll be able to create the website, cover the expenses for your rewards, and pay for some of our travel costs.

With 11 days to go, we’re continuing  to promote the Kickstarter in order to fund even more recording trips across the Caucasus. Because of the abundant support we’ve received in such a short time, we’re hoping to continue fundraising to fully fund the high costs of traveling to hard-to-reach places such as Svaneti, Tusheti, Quba, and Xinaliq. This extra funding will also cover the costs of travel for local volunteers and interpreters when necessary. In the following months we’ll be meeting with Georgian, Roma, Jewish, Kurdish, Azerbaijani, Armenian, Abkhazian, Assyrian, and Ossetian musicians living here in Tbilisi. We also have multiple trips planned to surrounding areas and farther afield. Here’s the general itinerary for a few of our larger scale trips and some information about some of the different groups we’ll be recording:

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February: North-Eastern Georgia: we’re visiting musicians in villages surrounding TianetiAkhmeta Kvareli, and Lagodekhi .This trip will allow to record Georgian musicians from the region and hopefully Batsbi, Kist, Chechen, Dagestani, and Udi musicians as well.

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March: Azerbaijan: visiting QaxShekiGabalaXinaliqQuba, and Baku. We’ll be recording Azeri music (Ashigs and Mugam) as well as Georgian, Lezgin, Tats (Jewish), and Avar musicians. We’re also hoping to meet with some famous Azerbaijani electric guitarists (Remish!) in Baku (fingers crossed).

Digital Maps for Graphic Design

April: Armenia: In cooperation with the Union of Kurdish Youth of Georgia we’ll be visitingYezedi Kurdish villages in the Aragatsotn Province and traveling through villages on the way to Yerevan.

In addition to these larger scale trips we’ll be traveling on the weekends to villages all over Georgia in order to document as many musical dialects as humanly possible! We’re planning on traveling to Racha in May and Svaneti and Tusheti sometime in June (as soon as the snow melts). In addition to all these trips, We’ll be hosting events in Tbilisi with local musicians where we’ll present our work and give talks about the Sayat Nova project. To everyone who has donated so far:

 Thank you! Təşəkkür edirəm! დიდი მადლობა! Շնորհակալ եմ! Большое спасибо! 

Please help us continue to promote this project! 

Here’s our kickstarter: http://kck.st/WxntHo

Our facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SayatNovaProject

And an event we created for the frequent posting of videos: EVENT

– Ben

 

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The Sayat Nova Project

SAYAT NOVA PROJECT Garib offcial LOGO

This week marks the beginning of a new project I’m starting along with my friends Anna Harbaugh and  Stefan Williamson-Fa and with help from the Tbilisi State Conservatory and the Union of Kurdish Youth of Georgia. Since I started the blog and came to Tbilisi, I’ve been posting mainly about trips to record musicians around the Caucasus. The Sayat Nova Project will be a extension of that, and more.

We are currently fundraising to build an interactive website that will host our recordings, along with other audio examples and articles, using an interactive map. The map will display the different examples by using ethnography, as opposed to political borders, as a means of illustrating the diversity of  cultures in both the North and South Caucasus and in order to de-emphasize conflicts of nationality. This region has proven extremely susceptible to inter-ethnic tensions, particularly in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union. As a consequence of this strife, much of the research and resources in the region have gone to understanding the causes of inter-ethnic violence and promoting integration. Meanwhile, efforts to study and record the music of the region tend to examine the unique national characteristics of music, as opposed to an encompassing study of the region’s musical dialects, which are as diverse as its many languages.

We chose Sayat Nova as the symbol for our project because of his unofficial title “The Bard of the Caucasus.” A musician, poet, and polyglot who wrote in Armenian, Georgian, Azerbaijani, and Persian, he is a great symbol of the cultural diversity that exists in the Caucasus to this day.

We are particularly lucky to be currently working and studying in Tbilisi. In addition to figuring as the geographic center of the Caucasus, Tbilisi is renowned for its status as the most culturally diverse city in the region. Historically, it has been home to large populations of Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Kurds, Jews, Turks, and Persians—as well as Georgians. We live in Tbilisi, and the proximity to these different groups has already presented us with opportunities to record and interview Georgians, Kurds, Azeri Ashiks, Chechen refugees, and Kist people (Chechen’s who immigrated to Georgia after the fall of Imam Shamil in the 1870s).

With the Sayat Nova Project, We’re hoping to create a resource for anyone who’s interested in the music of the Caucasus and to include the input of academics and enthusiasts from every country in the region. I’ll be posting updates here on the blog as well as on our facebook page:  facebook.com/SayatNovaProject.

Please visit and share our kickstarter page in order to help us continue our work to document the musical dialects of the Caucasus:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/372148935/the-sayat-nova-project

I will continue to update this page with the locations of our recording sessions as well as the status of the project.

– Ben

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The Ashigs, Ashiks, Ashiqs of Algeti

My updates have been less than prolific the last 2 months but I think  have a decent excuse: things are happening. Tar lessons, new research subjects, a new conservatory-backed project to document the different ethnic minorities of the Caucasus and put together an interactive website (more on this later), and plenty of recording sessions out in the field (figuratively and literally; some musicians actually played for me while standing in a field.) Here are some recordings, videos, pictures, and some descriptions of a session that happened last weekend:

Anna Harbaugh (my girlfriend and a speaker of Russian), Stefan Williamson-Fa (my friend and fellow ethnomusicology enthusiast), and I took a bus 45 minutes south of Tbilisi to a small city called Marneuli. The city is the center of the Azerbaijani population of Georgia (83% of the population are Azeri).We had a contact named Zaur who knew of a small village outside of the city where an elderly Ashig lives.

Simply discussing the correct spelling of this term gives you some idea of its trans-Caucasian nature and this figure’s importance to the different peoples of the region. It has six spelling, not including the English: AzerbaijaniAşıq, Turkish: Aşık, Persian: عاشیق‎, Armenian: Աշուղ (ashugh), Georgian: აშუღი (ashughi). In western terms the position this title denotes is the equivalent of a bard or a troubadour: someone who incorporates playing, singing, and poetry. In Tbilisi’s old city there is a monument to Sayat Nova, the Bard of the Caucasus, which in Georgian reads: თბილისის დიდი აშუღი (directly translated: Tbilisi’s big Ashig).

In Azerbaijan, the classical repertoire of Ashiqs “includes 200 songs, 150 literary-musical compositions, nearly 2,000 poems and numerous stories.” Ashigs play the Azeri saz, an instrument distinct from the Turkish saz due to its larger body, its playing style (held horizontal against the chest), and brighter tone.

We arrived in Marneuli and  Zaur called a local representative from the village of Algeti. He agreed to meet us once a marshrutka dropped us off outside an abandoned cultural center in the village. The short ride to Algeti felt like entering a completely different country. Around Marneuli we still heard both Russian and Georgian and saw signs in both alphabets, as well as Turkish. Once we entered the claustrophobic little van and headed off in search of the ashig, we heard only Azeri, spoken by old women with bags of vegetables and golden teeth. As we neared Algeti, more and more of the passengers exited, until it was just the three of us and the driver. He stopped at the edge of a dirt road and signaled for us to get off. He eschewed payment, muttering shyly, “but you are guests.”

Upon arriving at our destination–a three way intersection of scrubby grass and road–we learned that the cell number we’d been given by Zaur didn’t work. We loitered around  discussing our next step until we saw a tall, lean figure in a black suit approaching us from down the road.  We knew not to expect the ethnomusicologists dream session: Azeris in sheep skin hats and traditional dress playing songs unchanged for centuries, without a sign of western influence in sight. But still, we didn’t expect our Ashig to be dressed like an businness man.  He turned out to be the representative here to meet us and introduce us to the musicians. Behind him, carrying a large instrument case and wearing the traditional grey woolen hats of the Azeri Ashigs, was Ashig Garib.

Garib was born and raised in Algeti. He is 75 years old and has been playing since he was in his late teens. Not only is he a venerated performer (he carries in his wallet  a photograph of a certificate from the Georgian government, signed by Misha himself, in which he was declared a national “cultural landmark”); he had also succeeded in pretty much single-handedly replacing the region’s only music school, acting as mentor and teacher to all of the region’s many ashigs–some of whom we were soon to meet. Garib, as far as we could tell, spoke no Georgian and very minimal Russian which was so accented it was incomprehensible to us. We quickly set up our microphones, cameras, and video equipment out in the front yard of a boarded-up community center and Anna started interviewing the representative (who we began calling “the mayor” because of his nice suit, white hair, and omniscient air).  Ashig Garib slowly took out his Saz, which was beautifully ornamented and engraved with his name and title. Unceremoniously, he started in on his first song, while curious groups of older men from around the village began strolling over from across the fence.

Ashig Garbib played four songs and during each more men showed up to watch, smoke, and join in with shouts of encouragement at key moments. Some of this group were actually his students and were eager to take over once he was finished. Here is a clip of Ashig Aleskar, a 36 year old student of Garib’s:

The mayor said he was playing “Melodia Dastana,” which is a genre of Ashig music that involves the narration of heroic deeds or love stories. Unfortunately, Aleskar had a soar throat and wasn’t able to play for too long. While we were off to the side asking the mayor more questions, one of the men picked up  Aleksar’s saz and started fiddling with it. It looked like he was having trouble tuning it and it also appeared he’d just wandered in with one of groups of men so I incorrectly assumed he wasn’t an ashig. But then he started playing.

His performance incorporated all the different aspects of the Ashig art: virtuosity on the saz, passionate singing, and the recitation of poetry. The five seconds between 1:43 -1: 48 in the video below were my favorite part of the entire day; this guttural, rhythmic ornamentation in time with his saz playing united all of the interesting aspects of this tradition into one little moment.

The youngest performer we recorded that day was a 25 year old named Rolan. The mayor wrote down his name without “ashig” so I am assuming he has yet to earn this title. He played this instrumental tune:

Rolan and Ashig Gymbat, the surprise Ashig, disappeared as soon as we were finished recording them. We were left sitting in front of the community center with the mayor, Ashig Garib, Ashig Aleskar, and a friendly old man with a cap and mustache who had wandered over to watch. Oh, and a flock of sheep. During the last song about thirty sheep swept into the courtyard and started grazing.

We headed to the tea house in the middle of Algeti. It took us about 5 minutes to take in all the sights. There is a mosque, a chaikhana (teahouse) , and little groupings of houses. Boys were riding horses around in the street and huge groups of men (we didn’t see a single woman the entire time we were in Algeti) sat outside the Chaikhana playing backgammon. We drank some delicious black tea, ate the strongest cheese I’ve ever experienced, chewed on the toughest meat in Georgia, and talked with the four men. We talked about Stalin (“All this land was my family’s until Stalin came and took it” – Man with the cap and mustache), living in Georgia (“This area has been part of Azerbaijan for 6,000 years!), Remish (Ashig Aleskar has a picture of the two of them together), and they told us there are more musicians in Algeti who play Zurna. We promised to come back soon and record them. They insisted on paying for our meal and our marshutka back to Marneuli. I can’t wait to go back. Here are a few more recordings of Ashig Garib and Ashig Gymbeck as well as some pictures of the recordings session:

More posts to come sooner than later.

– Ben

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Azerbaijani Mugam Resources

The music of Azerbaijan, specifically the folk tradition of Mugam music, has a history closely tied to the regions changing borders and influences:

“Mugham belongs to the system of modal music and may have derived from Persian musical tradition. The Uighurs in Xinjian (Sinkiang) call this musical development muqam, the Uzbeks and Tajiks call it maqom (or shasmaqom), while Arabs call it maqam and Persians dastgah. In Azerbaijan the word is mugham from Arabic Maqam.”

There are so many topics I want to cover with Magum:  Soviet repression, historical origins, instrumental traditions, Uzeyir Hajibeyov and his Mugam operas, Regions of Nagorno Karabakh traditional recognized as hubs of Mugam music, and Jazz Magum! to name just a few. For now I just want to list a few resources for those interested in Magum:

  • This site has Magum streaming 24/7 along with an in-depth history, list of famous instrumentalists and composers,  background on the traditional instruments, links to recordings and video. I’ve already spent a few hours and have barely skimmed the surface:

http://www.mugamradio.az/

  • This is great article that deals more with Stalinist repression of Azerbaijani music:

http://azer.com/aiweb/categories/magazine/ai142_folder/142_articles/142_aida_repression_music.html

  • This is the youtube channel of Sir Richard Bishop, one of my favorite guitarists. He has put together a collection of all black and white films from all over the Middle East, Asia, and India.

http://www.youtube.com/thefreakofaraby

  • This Kronos Quartet recording of Franghiz ali Zadeh’s works is another fusion of Mugam/Western Classical Traditions. My favorite tracks is a solo piano improvisation performed by the composer in which she places a beaded necklace across the piano strings to create a buzzing tremolo in the middle range of her melody. 

http://www.nonesuch.com/albums/mugam-sayagi-music-of-franghiz-ali-zadeh

Here is a clip of Vagif Mustafazade, a Azerbaijani musician responsible for a fusion of traditional Mugam scales with jazz forms and instrumentation.

– Ben

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