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Azerbaijan: In a Pop-Music World, Still Moved by Mugam

Baku’s International Mugam Center opened in December 2008. (Photo: Shahin Abbasov)

When it comes to Azerbaijan and music, Eurovision – and, now, Jennifer Lopez – have largely hogged the outside world’s attention. But practitioners of mugam, an ancient Azerbaijani form of musical poetry set to percussion and strings, feel no sense of threat. Western pop music and mugam – the one about glamour, the other about ghazals – can peacefully coexist, they say.

Azerbaijan’s most popular mugam singer, 55-year-old Alim Gasimov, performed in the opening for Eurovision’s May 26 final and also accompanied Azerbaijani contestant Sabina Babayeva’s performance.

The inclusion of mugam into Babayeva’s song was unexpected, Gasimov told EurasiaNet.org, but he described the decision as a matter of “mugam’s destiny.”

“Eurovision guests and TV viewers saw our rich culture firsthand,” Gasimov said proudly.

Easily the country’s most popular folk music, mugam is believed to predate Islam’s 7th century arrival in Azerbaijan, though the practice of oral Koran readings and the musical ceremonies of the Sufi sect exerted an influence, according to MugamRadio.az.

To read the full story

Shahin Abbasov is a freelance reporter based in Baku.

Azerbaijan: In a Pop-Music World, Still Moved by Mugam

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