Mugham in the West

Mugham in the West

The irresistible power of mugham - Azerbaijani folk music - inspired the American Jeffrey Werbock, who dedicated his life to Azerbaijani music, to popularize this genre. One of the brightest assets of Azerbaijani culture was declared by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Now the highest skill of mugham masters conquers hearts of listeners around the world. For more than three decades Jeffrey Werbock has been informing people in the US, Europe and Asia about mugham by delivering lectures and conducting seminars, filming documentaries.

"A very important feature of mugham that it shares with many ancient traditions of the East is the spaces between the notes, brief or long, so an inexplicable effect takes place," Werbock says. Answering the question about what attracted him to mugham, Werbock says: "Someone recommended me to find an old man who lived in Los Angeles. They did not even know his name. I just had to stroll along the streets until I finally found someone who knew about this man who plays some strange old musical instrument. And I went to his little apartment, and this is 1972, I was your age, and I was dumbfounded by the power of mugham. "

Tar is one of the Azerbaijani people's instruments, which has a perfect and brilliant sound, extracted with the help of a mediator (plectrum), an origin of a guitar and many similar instruments; kamancha, which with its sad sound plunges a person into a world of dreams and fantasies; oud, which deep and gentle sound is made with the help of an eagle's feather, are considered among the oldest musical instruments. Oud is a kind of a lute. Its origins are from Central Asia and Persia, it was called a barbat. "The purpose of this music is to take your ordinary human contentiousness and throw it to some transcendental state of mind. Imagine life thousand of years ago, when this music just began to emerge, life was incredibly dangerous and difficult, and people needed to take a break from their struggle for survival. They wanted to reach transcendent states of mind. This is a legacy that has survived in a modern age. They wanted music to be a form of meditation, a transcendental experience when you leave earthly cares behind and swim through outer cosmic space. What makes mugham special? It's because it is from Azerbaijan. This is the Azerbaijani variant of eastern art music. It is a country with a great history and a rich culture. The Caucasus is a kind of a mystery spot on a globe. It's not Europe, it's not Asia, it's not the Middle East, it's somewhere in the middle," Werbock says.

"I'm always impressed with the professional Azerbaijani mugham musicians. They started when they were children, they are united with this music, it's almost like breathing for them. For me it's a struggle, even though I've been doing it for 35 years. As an American, I feel compelled to try to fill this huge cultural gap. My mission is that the art culture of Azerbaijan, its music, in particular mugham, which is an evolved and world class sophisticated example of the richness of the human imagination, which the people of Azerbaijan are definitely deserve to get credit for. And at the same time, the world deserves to know about the wealth of Azerbaijan," Jeffrey Werbock believes.

The comments to this story suggest to look at the faces of American students and listen to what they say about the deep emotional impact of mugham that was experienced by them during listening.


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