Last updateTue, 11 Nov 2014 11am
La Nueva Posada

Azerbaijani folk musician brings beauty to Guadalajara

There was a pause in Alim Qasimov’s concert last Thursday when the Azerbaijani vocalist spend a full two minutes wiping his face and clearing his nose with a cloth. The rest of his ensemble and the hundreds gathered in Guadalajara’s Degollado Theater waited in respectful anticipation for the singer to indicate that he was ready to continue.

Finally, he gave a subtle nod and the musicians continued with their next song. This act perfectly captured the sense that Qasimov is seeking a purity in his music that could not be compromised by the normal conventions and time-constraints of a public concert.

Qasimov is an artist of huge importance within world music. In a career that has already spanned five decades, he has won the International Music Council – UNESCO Music Prize, and received numerous plaudits from international artists and the media. The New York Times described him as “one of the greatest singers alive” and the Icelandic pop star Björk declared him to be her favorite singer on the planet today. As a side-note, Qasimov also provided the backing vocals for Azerbaijan’s entry in the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest, bringing some rare genius to that annual carnival of kitsch.

Qasimov is famed for mugham, a style of music originating from Azerbaijan and now popular across the region. While it is hard to define this genreexactly, the performance blends poetry with musical improvisation, where the themes often explore the folk and religious traditions of Arabic culture. One musicologist has compared the structures of mugham to those of traditional Azerbaijani carpets with a strong focus on repetition and disruption.  

At the concert last Thursday, Qasimov was joined on stage by three other musicians. One of them being his daughter Farghana who has recorded several albums with her father and is a popular musician in her own right. The quartet had a humble set up, sitting cross-legged on cushions throughout the performance, a dramatic contrast with the golden walls of the Degollado theatre. The only words spoken (apart from the music) came at the start from a member of the theatre staff informing us that Qasimov was dedicating the night’s performance to Ricardo de Jesus Esparza Villegas, the UdG student who died recently in Guanajuato.

What followed was 90 minutes of truly beautiful music; at times building into mighty crescendos, at other moments dropping into more tranquil tones. The opening song featured Qasimov accompanied by the two other male musicians playing traditional stringed instruments, before he was then replaced by Farghana for the following two songs. The best came in the remainder of the set, where father and daughter shared the vocals, playing out heartfelt conversations that cried out above the instruments. The drama was intensified by Farghana banging a snakeskin drum throughout. It was a performance reminiscent in spirit, if not form, to the way Spanish flamenco music can build through impassioned vocal exchanges between male and female.

The fact that most of the audience probably had no idea what the pair were saying in these musical conversations only added to the otherworldliness of the show. This was pure musical passion, bottled in Azerbaijan and enjoyed wholeheartedly by the Guadalajara audience.