Sounds of mugham come to University of London

Baku, May 10, AZERTAC

On 9 May – known as Victory Day across the post-Soviet world – Philadelphia-born Jeffrey Werbock, President, Mugham Society of America, celebrated the joy and passion of Azerbaijani mugham music with a landmark film screening at the Brunei Gallery of the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS), a division of the University of London. The event was organised by The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS) and attended by a multinational audience of around 70.

The evening began with a screening of Young Voices, Ancient Song, a new TEAS documentary. Mugham originated in the Azerbaijani region of Karabakh, which has remained under illegal Armenian occupation for nearly a quarter of a century. It is particularly remarkable that the children of Karabakh are extremely talented at performing this complex art form, and in 2000 Mr Werbock embarked on a voyage of discovery to find them in the railway carriages and ramshackle dwellings that housed the estimated 875,000 Azerbaijani internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees who are the ongoing victims of the Armenian–Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. The film charts his quest to find three of the singers he heard at the time in their new settlements, and to discover how their lives and talents had developed.

Mr Werbock began to study mugham in 1973, and subsequently became proficient on three Azerbaijani national instruments – the oud, tar and kamancha. He has now delivered his fascinating lecture–concerts around the Europe, the US and Israel, explaining the spiritual background to mugham, how techniques are transmitted between musicians and teachers, and the modes and microtones of this ancient music.

Lionel Zetter, Director, TEAS, commented: “Today is Victory Day, and we remember the over 400,000 Azerbaijanis who lost their lives in the Second World War. If the Nazis had managed to take the oil fields of Baku, there may have been a very different outcome to the war.

The evening continued with a question-and-answer session covering a range of topics covering the improvisatory elements of mugham; the role of female mugham performers; the poetic nature of mugham lyrics; and how mugham technique is transmitted throughout the generations. It concluded with emotional and evocative performances by Mr Werbock on his solo tar and kamancha.

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