A Brief History Of Azerbaijani Soviet Jazz-Funk

Five years ago, life brought me together with the contemporary Azerbaijani artist Farhad Farzali. From that moment, the discovery of a very interesting and ancient culture of this country began for me, because Farhad and his friends turned out to be those who not only know their roots, but aspire to preserve the heritage and transmit it through their art.

So gradually, I began to immerse myself in the peculiarities of Azerbaijani culture in general and music in particular. As an art critic-orientalist, I found that Azerbaijani culture is interesting to me no less than everything I had already studied during my studies at the university, but it became especially obvious that I was shy in knowledge in this area when I directly came into contact with the huge and beautiful, but unfortunately practically unknown throughout the world, layer of the culture of this country.

All the tracks below, albeit not obvious, but very interesting in sound, resonated in me as particles of the wonderful world at the junction of the East and post-Soviet culture.

After all these years, I transposed, for example, mugham into my music, as I also want to show its beauty to the world (Track 3 from Multiply Intentions (2020) – Spinning Olimplia). I can say that the most powerful influence (of the music selected for the mix) on me in this sense was the works of Akif İslamzadə and Vagif Mustafa-Zadeh.

The friendship between Rafik Babayev and Akif Islamzade is the first and the most striking example of experiments on folk music in the jazz-funk style. Despite the weakening of censorship, the material was never released at the state level and was not released on vinyl in the USSR. In 1986, Akif stopped his musical activities due to complete loss of voice.

The mix also features music from Azerbaijani cinema from the Soviet Union period. I have always been interested in the topic of music in films, so it was difficult for me to ignore this absolutely important part of the visual language.

Russian-born multi-instrumentalist Katya Yonder has just released her first LP since 2017, Multiply Intentions. An ode to her diverse musical upbringing, the album sees Katya explore both local and neighbouring musical cultures and a wide range of social influences. 

Rafig Babayev – Theme from “A Devil Before Your Eyes” Movie

During perestroika, the USSR Ministry of Culture realized that it was losing the “war of entertainment”. Western music sounded better. The Russian leadership began to massively purchase foreign equipment and distribute it to allied countries. Suddenly Azerbaijan got them all: Roland TR-808, Moog Prodigy, Roland JUNO-60, Korg MS-20 and other significant tools became a standard for late 80s.

Вагиф Мустафа-Заде (Vagif Mustafa-Zadeh) – Самый жаркий день в Баку (The hottest day in Baku)

Vagif Mustafa-Zadeh is the most famous and successful jazz performer in the history of Azerbaijan, the creator of a new direction in jazz – Azerbaijani jazz-mugham. He was also the founder of various ensembles such as the Caucasus jazz trio at the State Philharmonic of Georgia. In Baku, he created the vocal and instrumental ensembles “Leyli” (1970), “Sevil” (1971, based on the State Television and Radio of Azerbaijan), “Mugam” (1977).

ВИА Севиль (VIA SEVIL) – Любимая (BELOVED)

The attitude of the Soviet authorities to jazz was ambiguous. Soviet jazz performers, as a rule, were not banned but harsh criticism of jazz itself was widespread in the context of criticism of Western culture in general. Vagif Mustafa-Zadeh was too experimental for that position. To save the situation he was advised to make a more accessible jazz project with a Soviet twist. This is how ВИА Севиль appeared.

Rafig Babayev – Theme from “Shelf” Movie

During the Soviet period, it was difficult to deal with Western alternative music in Azerbaijan. The salvation for Rafig Babayev was the work on music for TV and cinema, where dissent in terms of sound was not prohibited. Since 1984 he has been the artistic director and chief conductor of the Variety Symphony Orchestra of Azerbaijan Radio and Television.

Tracklist
Akif İslamzadə – Durnam
Инструментальный Ансамбль Под Управлением Рафика Бабаева – Bağa girdim üzümə
Инструментальный Ансамбль Под Управлением Рафика Бабаева – Высокие горы
Tofig Guliyev – Theme from “Difficult Roads” Movie
Akif Islamzadeh – Dur gəl
Rafig Babayev – Theme from “The Silver Van” Movie
Akif İslamzadə – Gül açdı
Rafig Babayev – Theme from “A Devil Before Your Eyes” Movie
Вагиф Мустафа-Заде – Самый жаркий день в Баку
ВИА Севиль – Любимая
Rafig Babayev – Theme from “A Genie in the Suburbs” Movie
ВИА Севиль – Во дворце Ширваншахов
Инструментальный Ансамбль Под Управлением Рафика Бабаева – Пой, Земля
Rafig Babayev – Theme from “The Silver Van” Movie
Rafig Babayev – Theme from “Earth – Space Attraction of Opposites” Movie
Vagif Mustafa Zadeh – Qara qaş (Live from Kyiv ’78)
Rafig Babayev – Theme from “Shelf” Movie
Rafig Babayev – Theme from “The Silver Van” Movie

Russian-born multi-instrumentalist Katya Yonder has just released her first LP since 2017, Multiply Intentions. An ode to her diverse musical upbringing, the album sees Katya explore both local and neighbouring musical cultures and a wide range of social influences.

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