The Belgian-Azerbaijani Cultural Society kicked off on Monday evening, 16 January, with a double act jazz concert at Brussels’ Muzic Village jazz club. Launched by Kevin van Nuffel, the new society aims to foster cultural exchanges between the two countries.
The event, organised by the Belgian-Azerbaijani Cultural Society and the Embassy of Azerbaijan to the Kingdom of Belgium, featured two sets, a more conventional rendition of Azerbaijani ethno-jazz in the first part and an avant-garde surprise in the second.
Starting off the evening, pianist and composer Salman Gambarov took the stage with his trio “Bakustic Jazz”, featuring Nicat Bayramov on drums and Fuad Jafar on bass guitar. An acclaimed theorist-musicologist and composer, Gambarov started playing piano at the age of four. Self-though in the caveats of jazz music, under his guidance, Bakustic Jazz has played around the world in clubs, at galas and renowned festivals, including the Montreux Jazz Festival, the second-largest annual jazz festival in the world after Canada’s Montreal International Jazz Festival.
The second part consisted of the screening of Latif, also spelled Lätif or Lətif (in Azerbaijani) and known under the English informal alternative title of Face to Face. Directed by Mikayil Mikayilov, the 1930 silent film tells the story of 7-year-old Latif Safarov who lives in a small village during the USSR collectivisation policy.
In 2001, Gambarov composed music for the film and has been performing the soundtrack live while screening the film ever since. Accompanied by Fakhraddin Dadashov, playing the kamancheh, and Eyvaz Hashimov, on the naghara, on Monday, the trio performed the avant-garde jazz composition for the Brussels audience.
Jazz in Azerbaijan
Jazz music is staple in the cultural scene of Azerbaijan. The genre became a huge success in the country in the 1920’s, with pianist Tofig Guliyev and conductor Niyazi creating the first Azerbaijani jazz orchestra in the 1930’s. However, after the Second World War, the jazz was forbidden in the Soviet Union, so musicians were forced underground.
In the time of prohibition, in his apartment in the old city of Baku, pianist and composer Vagif Mustafazadeh started incorporating mugham elements into jazz, creating a subgenre. Mustafazadeh is considered the founder of “Azerbaijani jazz”, or jazz-mugham, and although at the time he couldn’t freely play his music to the world, his legacy remained and evolved into what is nowadays called ethno-jazz.
“Just like jazz, mugham is multifaceted, inexhaustible, based on improvisation and possessing different forms. In Baku, a new and already local sub-genre of jazz organically and subtly merged into one, wisely and philosophically revealing to us the intricacies of jazz improvisation in mugham stops”, Rain Sultanov wrote about the emergence of ethno-jazz.
When the prohibition ended, jazz re-surfaced and flourished in Azerbaijan. The Baku International Jazz festival has been held annually since 2005 to celebrate jazz music and encourage and support young, upcoming musicians.