The French have turned cultural protection into something of an art form.
But, of course,it isn’t just French culture that is worth preserving.
So, too, are those linked to other countries and that includes Azerbaijan.
Arguably, the one art form that most closely defines Azerbaijani culture is Mugham, a centuries-old tradition that draws on folklore and oral history.
Little known in the West, audiences in Brussels this week got a rare taste of this musical tradition when it was performed at a concert at the city’s Bozar venue.
It was performed by a four-strong group of highly talented Azerbaijani musicians, led by Mansum Ibrahimov, a master of the mugham genre. He was accompanied in the 90-minute concert by Elchin Hashimov, Elnur Ahmadov and Kamran Karimov.
Their instruments include the tar, a long-necked lute which is still made today in the same way it has been for generations. The body is crafted from a solid piece of wood.
Each are master craftsmen and talented musicians who are credited with keeping this distinctive Azerbaijani genre of vocal and instrumental artform alive. Modern representations of Mugham reflect different periods in Azerbaijan’s history and its contact with peoples from other cultures and countries.
The event, played to a sell-out audience, was organised by the Azerbaijani Embassy to Belgium and Luxembourg and the Azerbaijan Ministry for Culture. The country’s ambassador to Belgium Ambassador Vaqif Sadiqov and Luxembourg and relatives of famous Mugham musicians were among the audience.
They included Bayimkhanim Verdiyeva, daughter of the master of Mugham, khanandeh Khan Shushinski, and the founder of Khan Shushinski Foundation.
Also present was Nezrin Efendiyeva,a pianist who plays with Belgian Trio Manestri and is founder of Fikret Amirov International Association.
She is grand-daughter of Fikret Amirov, a world-known Azerbaijani composer and founder of Symphonic Mugham genre.
The concert provided a good opportunity to take a closer look at this rarely heard form of music, the Mugham.
It is a unique Azerbaijani musical tradition handed down over generations and no form of music tugs at the heartstrings of Azerbaijanis more than the sound of Mugham.
It creates a unique and ‘melancholy’ sound and the Azerbaijani Mugham is characterised by a large degree of improvisation and draws upon popular bard melodies, rhythms and performance techniques.
Traditionally, it has been played more at weddings and formal occasions so the Brussels concert represented something of a rare opportunity for an audience here to appreciate this ancient musical genre.
Indeed, such is its cultural significance that Azerbaijani mugham has been inscribed into the UNESCO’s Representative List of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. This seeks to ensure that this captivating and unique art will continue to inspire musicians and listeners the world over.
The event was also an opportunity to showcase the city of Shusha which is often considered the cradle of Azerbaijan’s music and poetry.
It is one of the leading centres of the Azerbaijani culture, having been declared the cultural capital of Azerbaijan in January 2022. The city is particularly renowned for its traditional connections to mugham. Azerbaijani genre of vocal and instrumental arts called mugham.
Historically, Shusha was a cultural and commercial centre and maintained trade relations with many countries in the East and Europe. Besides being one of the symbols of Azerbaijani history and culture, Shusha is also of strategic importance. It is known as the “cradle of Azerbaijani music” because of its famous composers and musicians.
An exhibition on Shusha, which has been declared cultural capital of Azerbaijan, was also held at Bozar to coincide with the concert.