The Caspian Lights concert is sponsored by the The International Bank of Azerbaijan and BABC. It follows the Caspian Corridor Conference. www.caspiancorridor.org
With pop music and jazz languishing under official suspicion, the musicians of Azerbaijan had to find other ways to squeeze a bit of swing into the Soviet 60s. And so, the country’s tradition of light music was born.
Official requirements demanded music and lyrics that were suitably devoted to the glory of the Communist Party, the traditions of the common people and still rooted in the real world – and failure to comply could have fatal consequences. Foreign influences, especially jazz, were frowned upon, and even the classics faced politically correct adaptations, such as the Soviet-approved changes to the plot of the 1940 ballet ‘The Maiden’s Tower’, inspired by Baku’s most prominent landmark but reworked to cast a fairy-tale Khan as a depraved figure of evil.
Against this background a new genre of light music was born in an effort to appease the apparatchiks while carrying its own echo of the boom in popular music around the world. Composers like Tofiq Guliyev, Rauf Hajiyev and later Farhad Badalbeyli worked alongside Azerbaijan’s famous singers – Muslim Magomayev, Bul-Bul and others – to compile a song-book of their own, taking cues from the forbidden sounds overseas while offering sufficient acknowledgement to the Marxist-Leninist doctrines demanded from the apparatchiks of the age.
And Azerbaijan became the pulse of this new sound. The republic’s unique ability to synthesise supposedly undesirable influences into a form acceptable to the authorities made it the epicentre of Soviet chic. Its leading composers and performers achieved not merely local, but national fame, beamed across the largest land on Earth in TV broadcasts from the most prestigious concert halls of Moscow and Leningrad.
Farhad Badalbeyli, currently director of the Baku Academy of Music, is one of the many gifted and versatile musicians whose work spanned every stage from concert hall to movie theatre. His light music compositions reflect another side to his work, different from his ‘Ave Maria’ and ‘Shusha’ heard elsewhere in this festival. He brings his glittering piano piece ‘Deniz’ (The Sea) to London, where it forms the centrepiece of this concert, given a special audio-visual interpretation.
In truth, of course, this light music put down roots long before the 1960s – back in the 30s Tofiq Guliyev was experimenting with jazz, before syncopation was deemed incompatible with socialism and he switched from jazz band to jazz banned. His song-writing skills continued to flourish, though, as he formed a showband that performed rousing patriotic numbers for Red Army troops during World War II. Guliyev’s music became known as ‘the Golden Songs of Azerbaijan’, an essential part of the repertoire of the most popular vocalists of the mid-20th century.
Guliyev was also a keen composer for the cinema. And film music also played a big role in the output of Rauf Hajiyev, one of his contemporaries and another composer who worked alongside the great maestro Niyazi. Among their collaborations was music for the circus, specially written for Shafiga Bakhshaliyeva, Azerbaijan’s first and only high-wire artiste in the post-war years. Rauf Hajiyev was also an expert composer of musical comedies, masterpieces of light entertainment that offered a local take on the grand Broadway musical tradition.
Caspian Lights opens up this world of little-heard music, giving London audiences a rare chance to hear the popular songs that still live on in the hearts of music lovers in Azerbaijan and beyond.
A city powerhouse since the 12th century, Guildhall’s fine Gothic arches have seen generations of influential figures address the leaders of the City of London. From grand medieval show trials – where defendants included the likes of the nine-day queen, Lady Jane Grey and some of the notorious Gunpowder Plotters – to grand cultural occasions like Chopin’s last concert appearance, performing in a charity event for Polish refugees in defiance of the tuberculosis that would kill him within a year. Today, at the heart of the world’s leading financial and business centre, Guildhall continues that tradition, hosting a wealth of big political, business and cultural events.