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The pain, joy and poetry of mugham comes to Paris

For the sixth consecutive year, the Paris office of The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS) foundation has collaborated with Europa Film Akt (EFA), organiser of the twelfth L’Europe autour de l’Europe (Europe around Europe) film festival bylined with the timely expression “Migrations exist. Death does not exist.”

 

This phrase was penned in 1929 by the great Serbian expressionist author and diplomat Miloš Crnjanksi, TEAS told APA.

 

The evening marked the French premiere of the new TEAS documentary film Young Voices, Ancient Song, which was screened to around 120 Parisian diplomats, cinéphiles, and friends of Azerbaijan, including H.E. Elchin Amirbayov, Azerbaijani Ambassador to France and Hedva Ser, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and Special Envoy for Cultural Diplomacy. In the festival, the film was showcased alongside works old and new by such great cinéastes as Carlos Saura, Jean-Luc Godard, Volker Schlöndorff and Andrej Wajda. Jeffrey Werbock, President, Mugham Society of America, and director of the film, attended the premiere.

 

Young Voices, Ancient Song was screened on 12 April at the long-established multi-disciplinary Parisian literary arts hub known as L’Entrepôt, founded in 1975 by Frédéric Mittérand, former French Minister of Culture. Irena Bilic, Director, EFA, introduced the evening, commenting: “Tonight we have a unique event, comprising a film, dialogue with the director, and a concert. I would like to thank TEAS, our partner for the sixth successive year, for making this exceptional evening possible, and for introducing us to another facet of Azerbaijani culture.”

 

Lionel Zetter, Director, TEAS, stated: “We are proud to have produced this important film, the purpose of which is to speak of mugham music and those Azerbaijani children who are refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) – the ongoing victims of the Armenian–Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.

 

“Despite the ceasefire that was brokered in 1994, the conflict still claims its victims. We must not forget that, just one year ago, the ‘Four Day War’ claimed numerous lives and reiterated the urgent need for resolution.

 

“Our greatest wish at TEAS is for a peaceful conclusion to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. This would enable the civilians, who are the primary victims, to one day return to their homes and bring the Azerbaijani culture of mugham to its original land – the region of Nagorno-Karabakh.”

 

Marie-Laetitia Gourdin, Director, TEAS France, remarked: “Young Voices, Ancient Song speaks of the tradition of mugham – which is very dear to Azerbaijan. Mugham is an improvised music with its roots in Nagorno-Karabakh, which expresses joy like sadness, and love like loss.

 

“The Armenian–Azerbaijani conflict cost around 20 per cent of Azerbaijani territory, which remains under foreign occupation by Armenian forces and has resulted in around one million refugees and IDPs, placing mugham in danger of disappearance.

 

“This film demonstrates how IDP children now keep the mugham tradition alive and charts the quest of Jeffrey Werbock – a mugham musician of American nationality, but Azerbaijani at heart – to find, after many years, the IDP children who were living in camps across Azerbaijani territory, and to discover that mugham survives.”

 

The Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which has remained under illegal Armenian occupation for a quarter of a century, played an essential role in the development of mugham. It is particularly remarkable that the children of Nagorno-Karabakh are extremely talented at performing this complex art form. In 2000, Mr Werbock embarked on a voyage of discovery to find the whereabouts of the singers and instrumentalists he had interviewed amidst the railway carriages and ramshackle dwellings that housed the estimated one million Azerbaijani IDPs and refugees. The film charts his quest to find three of the singers he heard at the time in their temporary settlements, and to discover how their lives and talents had developed.

 

Mr Werbock began to study mugham in 1973, and subsequently became proficient on three Azerbaijani national instruments – the oud, tar and kamancha. He has now delivered his fascinating lecture–concerts around Europe, the US and Israel, explaining the spiritual background to mugham, how techniques are transmitted between musicians and teachers, and the modes and microtones of this ancient music.

 

During the question-and-answer session with Mr Werbock at the end of the film, one viewer stated: “I was extremely moved by the film, which was a real discovery, explained a type of music and introduced me to a country of which I was previously unaware. It was a great viewing experience, as the music was very profound, and it was a marvelous film. It was amazing to see these children singing this music to their grandparents.”

 

Mrs Ser, who has erected 11 peace statues around the world as an UNESCO Artist for Peace, commented: “I was so touched by the film, which demonstrated your love for the country. But it also encapsulated the warmth of the people, which I discovered myself when first visiting Azerbaijan. The people are so kind and friendly. I was also moved when I saw the small children playing mugham. Art is the shortest way for one man to speak to another man. All of the children were happy, despite the tragedy of displacement – when they were singing, they were on a higher aesthetic plane – which is a lesson to us all.”

 

The question-and-answer session also covered the state of the peace negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan that could facilitate the return of Azerbaijani IDPs to their homeland; the extent to which child khanende protégés become professional adult singers; the similarities between muqam and mugham music; and the Turkic roots of the Azerbaijani language. It concluded with an evocative performance by Mr Werbock on the solo kamancha, generating an emotionally-charged ambience that resulted in a moment of rapt silence, before an eruption of applause concluded the evening.

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