Academic journal article Yearbook for Traditional Music

"The One Who Knows the Value of Words": The Asiq of Azerbaijan

Academic journal article Yearbook for Traditional Music

"The One Who Knows the Value of Words": The Asiq of Azerbaijan

Article excerpt

"The one who knows the value of words": this is a line from the most famous asiq poem in the Azerbaijani language in which the author, Asiq elesger, describes the qualities of the ideal asiq. Interpreted in much of the western world as a traditional bardic art, Azerbaijanis regard the art of the asiq (pl. asiqlar) as a high-class professional syncretic form with its own established canons, traditional forms of teaching and learning, and numerous regional traditions of performance.1 This article is about the asiqlar who live and practise their arts in the Azerbaijan Republic.

The art of the asiq is among the most popular national art forms for millions of Azerbaijanis living both at home and abroad.2 However, the nature and size of audiences are changing. Urbanization, with its related changes in lifestyle and aesthetics, is influencing the rural communities that traditionally constituted the audience for asiq art. While playing at country weddings used to be the main source of income for asiqlar, young people in rural areas now often prefer dancing to the sounds of electric instruments and pop music at wedding ceremonies.

Today, the live performances that are central to the art of asiq are increasingly superseded by TV and radio broadcasts. Similarly, the art of narrating dastan (literary-musical composition; pl. dastanlar), which demands both slow flow of time and an atmosphere of collective listening with feedback from the audience, is under threat. Often an asiq can find no venue to perform dastan as it is not very much in demand by modern audiences. Changes such as those described above are caused by globalization and the transformation of traditional lifestyles. These are not unique to Azerbaijani society; many traditional music cultures today are undergoing similar transitions.

This article addresses the specifics of one culture in transition, looking at the practice of asiq art in modern Azerbaijan and its development to the present based on historic evidence, etymology, language development, and performance practices. Discussion is divided into four major parts:

1. The asiqlar in the everyday life of Azerbaijani society, their role in modern culture, their social status, the milieus that they represent and address, the forms of their professional activity, and how they pass on their craft. This part of the article asks, "Who are the people whose devotion helps the art of the asiq to survive and continue to have a place in a modern and globalized Azerbaijani culture?"

2. The origin of the word "asiq." Exploring the etymology of the term will help us consider the historical origins of their art.

3. The asiq era began in the sixteenth century when Azerbaijani (also known as Azeri) became the main language of the country and the court, and it was the asiq who made it the language of literature. For this reason the evolution of the Azerbaijani language and its role in asiq art will also be discussed.

4. For the final and most substantive section of this article, the focus is poetry and music: words and music are so deeply interrelated in the art of asiq that it cannot be said to be a purely musical or poetic art-instead, it is a synthesis of both. Saz playing is the third key component of the asiq art.

Despite all the changes in lifestyle of modern Azerbaijani society, asiq art has retained its status: asiq concert venues are typically packed; asiqlar are constantly invited to perform at weddings; Azerbaijani children learn the craft; and ratings of TV appearances and for competitions of asiqlar are very high. Examination of the role of asiq art in modern Azerbaijani culture and public conscience- including its ongoing development and transmission and its roots in Azerbaijan's cultural history-enables consideration of the asiq art as a vital part of Azerbaijan's intangible cultural heritage.

The sociocultural framework of the asiq art

Asiq art has traditionally been practised in almost all the areas where Azerbaijanis have lived, with each region being distinguished by its own history, famous representatives, and artistic traditions. …

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