Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Azerbaijani Villagers Protest Hijab Ban In Schools

Nardaran is a small town located in close proximity to Baku. It is known as the Azerbaijan centre of conservative Islam. Women of the town wear headscarves and are rarely seen on the streets.

Recently, the government imposed a ban on the wearing of hijabs in schools. During this years Ashura ceremony in Nardaran, several thousand villagers protested against the ban. Ashura is a Shia holiday commemorating the death of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, Hussein.

According to Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty, the villagers chanted slogans and blamed unnamed officials for depriving them of electricity, closing and destroying mosques, and ordering a reduction in the loudness of the Azan, the call to prayer.

Such government behaviour may cause the rise of extremism in the region. It has been criticised by international organisations for oppressing its religious minorities (International Crisis Group, 2010).

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Music of the East

Recently, we attended an amazing concert, organised by the Polish Embassy as a closing event of the celebrations of Chopin’s year in Baku.

During the first part of the concert, a Polish group Prusinowski Trio performed Chopin’s compositions and their own variations on Polish folk music. During the second part we could listen to the famous mugham artists: Alim Qasimov and his daughter Fergana Qasimova. But the most exciting part of the concert began when the Polish and Azerbajiani artists began performing traditional Polish music jointly with mugham music. It was a kind of competition between the two groups but it created an amazing, moving and harmonious performance. I’d love to share it with you, but I don’t have a recording of it. I simply did not expect it to be so good!

Instead, I’ve also uploaded a few videos of Alim Qasimov and his daughter performing in different places. But firstly, a few words about mugham music. Since 2003, it has been recognized by UNESCO as one of the great forms of intangible cultural heritage. Mugham could be best described as the art of passing oral tradition in an improvised vocal and instrumental form. Traditionally, a mugham artist would perform accompanied by players of bowed kamancha, plucked tar and oboe-like balaban at the weddings. Mugham music is intensely emotional and spiritual. Below you can see a great example of it:

Short film about Alim and Fargana Qasimov and their music, and some good shoots of Baku:

I would also like to show you a few videos of the Prusinowski Trio, great avant-garde performers bringing the traditional Polish folk music to the 21st century.

I also tried to find some examples of the modern Azerbajiani music and came across jazz-mugham Shahin Novrasli Trio:

And here is something that I find incredibly humorous... at least I hope they are not for real. A good example of what not to do with music:

Thursday, December 2, 2010

People of Baku

Kids from the neighbourhood :)

Of course, the best photos were taken by J :) 
(the one above and the one below)

Nard - Azeri backgammon. Very popular with local men.

Some very nice school kids. I reckon, in the UK they would all be sticking their middle fingers up!

Ladies making bread in the old town.

He actually asked me to take a picture of him...

This is why Baku is not boring ;)

The omnipresent Heydar Aliyev - deceased former president, the leader of the nation and the father of the current president.