Like any kind of improvisation, meykhana, a musical style akin to rap, has its detractors and its devotees in Azerbaijan. Literally translated as “the place of wine,” meykhana is the poetry of the country’s poorer neighborhoods, occasionally performed at weddings, capable of inducing a chuckle and a raised eyebrow.
The form originated on the Absheron Peninsula. Since Azerbaijan gained independence in 1991, it has gained a broad popular following, prompting televised contests and inviting comparisons with the much younger Azerbaijani hip-hop movement.
Banned during much of the Soviet period for its counter-cultural potential, meykhana was briefly encouraged during World War II to use as propaganda against the Nazis. After the war, it was again banned. The tradition was kept alive by underground poets who passed it on through informal schools that still exist today.
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