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Intangible Heritage

National musicians
The rock arts, dated on 5-3 millenniums B. C., musical instruments, being found in excavations (brass band - made of bone, as balaban, 1st century B. C. and etc.), descriptions on ceramic manufactures, legends (heroic epos "Kitabi-Dede-Gorgud" - 10-11 centuries) give us individual information on the periods of development of Azerbaijan music. The musical culture of medieval ages has found its reflection in the works of Nizami Ganjavi, Mahsati Ganjavi, Fuzuli, Khagani and etc. The Azerbaijani music is inseparable from the musical arts of the nations of near and Mid East; however it is characterized with originality, bright national peculiarity.

In the course of last years, Azerbaijan folk music was existed in the frames of folklore art. The vocal - instrumental forms of folklore contain in themselves the elements of polyphony. The peculiarity of folk music clarifies itself firstly with the development of fret system. It contains 7 main frets in itself - rast, shur, segyakh (are especially spread), shushter, bayati-shiraz, chargyakh, khumayun and 3 collateral kinds - shakhnaz, sarendj, chargyakh in some other form. Before it was considered that, each of the frets has its special vivid emotional meaning. Rast - embodies courage and energy: chargyakh - passion, excitation; shushter - deep sadness; segyakh - the harmony of love (it is not by chance that segyakh is considered as an inflexionable basis of majority of lyrical - love songs) and etc. Every fret represents strongly organized scale, possessing firm tonic prop (maye), and each step of the fret has it's melodically function. The frets are divided into self-independent sections (shove). Practically, national frets are existing in the forms of sums of certain rehearsals, inflexions and clear cadencised completions. In the medieval ages, Safi-ad-din Abd al-Mumin al-Urmavi, Abdul Khadir Maragi-the persons writing tractates on the frets, musical forms and rhythmical peculiarities of folk music were engaging in the investigation of Azeri frets. Navvab Mir Mokhsin Shushinskiy has made a contribution into the musical science on frets, in 19-20tyh centuries, far from his hometown. The theory of Azerbaijani frets on the basis of modern science of music was worked out by our composer U. Hajibeyov in his transaction "The basis of Azerbaijan folk music" (1945).

The folk music of Azerbaijan is differed with the variety of genres - they are songs, dance, ashig art and mugam. The song creativity is especially rich, reflecting in itself different sites of the life of people. It contains in itself labor songs, historical, lyrical, ritual etc. The melodic of the songs is always characterized with descending movements, variant development of leading rehearsals. The metro rhythmic of the songs, subordinated to tactic sizes is exceptionally rich - 6/8, ¾, 2/4. The songs are performed in solo, but sometimes chorally (mainly in unison).

The dance music is represented by female dances - slowly lyrical or gaily-animated, and by male dances - solemnly - lofty, incendiary - vertical. The collective dances, such as yalli (festive round dances, performing in the open air), jangi (martial female dances) are widely spread. The characterized tactic size of the melody is 6/8, different with its variety and acuity of rhythmical figures (dotted rhythms, syncope).

The ashig art contains in itself the folklore of peasants. It is extemporaneous, but has special stylistic features (multiple exact or variant iteration of short rehearsals, sometimes of one sound, small diapason of melody and etc.). There are several dozens of classical ashig melodies, and each of them could be performed with different texts (gahramani - heroic songs, gozelleme - lyrical song of laudation and others.). The repertoire of ashigs includes heroic and lyric sagas (legends), songs - dialogs - deyishme (ashigs' musical poetic competition). The ashigs are accompanied by saz (Azerbaijani folk musical instrument), 3 strings of which tune in quartet - quintet correlation (this condition creates simple form of harmonic polyphony). Gurbani, A. Tufarganli (16th c.), Shikheste Shirin (18th c/), Alesger (19th c/) are well - known ashigs of the past years. A. Rzayev, M. Bayramov, J. Yusifov, Sh. Gojayev and others are among the modern ones.

Gopuz
The beginnings of mugams - vocal - instrumental cyclic piece with contrast comparison of impromptuous - recitative sections and of clear rounding dance (with song), melodies is connected with the developing urban culture (tesnif - song in mugam, reng -  instrumental episode).  Each piece is constructed in one of the azeri frets and carries suitable title: "Rast", "Shur", "Segyakh", "Chsrgyskh", "Bayati-shiraz", "Shushter", "Khumayun" and etc. Their performers - professional musicians are entered into vocal instrumental ensembles of sazandari, consisiting of - khanende (singer), tarzen, player of kamancha, tambourine player. The texts of mugams are usually based on the poems of classical poets. The mugams are characterized with the elements of polyphony: the maintenance of supporting steps of vocal melodies in accompaniment, imitating construction of parts of kamancha and tar. The contrast of melodically lines appears in the variety of this genre - in zerbi - mugams, in which improvisative vocal part is sounded in the background of rhythmical - efficient motives of instrumental accompany ("Eyrati", "Arazbazari" and etc.). The well - known mugam singers of the 19-20th centuries are Haji Guli, Kechachi Mamed, Islam Abdullayev, Medjid Beybutov, Meshadi Jamil Emirov, Jabbar Kharyagdi, Seyid Shushinskiy, Zulfi Adigozalov; the tar players are Sadikh Asad oglu or Sadikhjan (reformer  of tar and founder of the school of modern play on this instrument), K. Primov, M. Mansurov, A. Bakikhanov. The ensemble consisting of D. Garyagdi, K. Primov, S. Oganezashvili (kamancha player) was especially popular at the beginning of 20th century; the ensemble has given concerts not only in Azerbaijan, but also out of its borders (Warsaw, Kiev, Petersburg and others). The majority of mugam singers are from Garabakh, especially from Shusha.

Azerbaijan musical instruments are famous with their variety (more than 60). The widely spread ones are: wind instruments - pipe, balaban or balaman, zourna (a sort of flute); stringed musical instruments played by plucking - tar, saz (its sorts: dshure-saz - small saz, boyukh saz - big saz, goltug-saz - armpit saz), ud, canon; stringed musical instruments playing with fiddlestick - kamancha; percussion instruments - drum (tambourine), nagara, gosha-nagara. The old instruments becoming out of use, - musigar, nesrir, peypur, erganun (wind instruments); chagane, pandura (stringed musical instruments played by plucking); berbet, rud, rubab, kanun, chyang (stringed musical instruments playing with fiddlestick); tebl, khus, dumbekh (percussion instruments)

"Azerbaijani Mugam" was proclaimed a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by the Director General of UNESCO in November, 2003. At present, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism is implementing, with the support of UNESCO, the National Action Plan, which has been designed to ensure the safeguarding of the musical tradition of Mugam and to support the preservation and promotion of this cultural expression. On 9 September 2004, the Director-General of UNESCO, Koichiro Matsuura, designated Mrs Mehriban Aliyeva, First Lady of Azerbaijan and President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, as UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Oral and Musical Traditions.

Applied folk art. Most of the country's centuries-old crafts have survived into modern times.  They include carpet-making, stone-carving, silk-weaving, copper-working, jewellery-making, etc. Industrial development obviously tended to erode these traditional crafts, but the continuing demand for certain craft items produced in Sheki, Baku, Gazakh, and other towns and regions, helps to ensure that there are still plenty of masters to keep the old skills alive.

Problems of inventorying and preserving the cultural heritage

National Musical Instruments
These problems have always been of central importance for those who concern themselves with Azeri culture.  A central role in identifying and studying folk-music trends was played by Uzeir Hajibeyov, who first put music in Azerbaijan on a fully professional footing.  The founder of the Azeri Singing School, Professor Byulbyul, initiated the systematic collection and cataloguing of folk music, when he set up the Musical Research Office in 1932.  The Office organized field trips throughout the country, and the result was a unique collection, comprising over 15,000 examples of folk music. A number of leading composers, including Asaf Zeynalli, Gara Garayev, Fikret Amirov, Seid Rustamov, Tofig Guliyev have been inspired to take an interest in the collection and transcription of folk music, with undoubted effects on their own style.

One of the aims of research is to stop authentic folk art from being lost forever, and replaced by an urbanized and often spurious brand of folk culture.  The first priority of state cultural policy in this area must thus be to collect and preserve examples of this heritage.

How much progress has Azerbaijan really made on this front?  It is safe to say that a substantial amount of material has already been collected.  A particularly important contribution has been made by the Dede Gorgud Cultural Research Centre, which is run by the Literary Institute of the National Academy of Sciences.  Huge amounts of material of major historical and cultural importance are also in private collections.  It is obviously vital to centralize all this precious and widely-scattered information on a single data-base, operated by one of the existing cultural institutions.  The importance of doing this cannot be exaggerated.  Unless we acquire a thorough knowledge of national folk art as it really it - i.e. free of synthetic modern overlays - we can do nothing to preserve and develop our cultural heritage effectively.

The Centre for Cultural Studies

The center was established in April, 2007 through the order of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Its main task is the creation of favorable conditions for the development of cultural-material infrastructures and cultural studies in Azerbaijan.

The Azeri Union of Ashugs

The second organization which we are considering - the Azeri Union of Ashugs - is a self-governing union of traditional epic poet-singers.  A non-governmental organization, it is carrying on the work of the Republican Union of Ashugs, which was established by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in 1984.  A general review of its activity shows that it has proved remarkably adaptable in facing up to new conditions.

At its fifth meeting, held in September 2000, at a time when the Union was going through a serious crisis, various organizational changes were discussed and decided.  Since then, and in spite of financial problems, the Union has organized numerous events, including evenings devoted to famous ashugs, past and present.  It runs two ashug ensembles, and publishes "Ozan", a journal dealing with folk culture.  It also seeks to establish and develop contacts with epic poets in neighboring countries (Iran, Turkey).  Links with ashugs in Iran are particularly close.

Festivals and competitions

Since the early 1990s, there has been a sharp increase in the number of folk festivals and competitions.  The first Khary Byulbyul Festival - of folk music - was held in 1989, and was followed by a second and third in 1990 and 1991 in which the representatives from Afghanistan, Austria, Germany, Holland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Russia, Turkey, USA, etc., took part.  They all gave a wide-ranging picture of folk music genres, styles and trends of peoples of the world. The Festival's holding was interrupted as a result of Garabagh conflict.

In the last ten years, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism has paid special attention to the development of applied folk arts.  This was most evident in its sponsoring of three national competitive exhibitions of traditional crafts (1998, 1999, 2000).  The aim of these exhibitions was to provide a comprehensive picture of the full range of applied folk arts practiced in Azerbaijan: carpets, jewelers, wood-work, metal-work, embroidery (tekalduz), traditional musical instruments, and many other craft items from all parts of the country were included.  All of this obviously had a powerful stimulating effect on the development of traditional crafts, some of which were in danger of being lost.

Azerbaijan has also been extensively represented at international folk festivals held in various countries in the last few years.  It took part, for example, in the first and second World Folklore Festivals, held in Holland (1996) and Japan (2000). Since 2002, till today the competitions of national music instrument and young mugam performers' are organizing in our country.


Part of Shahnezerli piled carpet, Guba
Chepken, manís outer garment
Arkhalyg, summer ladyís outer garment


The authors are responsible for the choice and the presentation of the facts contained on this website and for the opinions expressed therein, which are not necessarily those of UNESCO and do not commit the Organization

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Information Observatory on Cultural Policy of the GUAM Countries