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Representing all facets of the country’s musical heritage, from ancient mugham to cutting-edge jazz, the first night brings together stars from Azerbaijan itself and well-respected performers on the international stage in a celebration at the iconic Royal Albert Hall. The concert harks back to the highlights of the first Buta Festival and sets the tone for the 2014-15 edition, which unfolds over the winter to bring a breath of Caspian warmth to the banks of the Thames.
Nothing comes closer to the soul of Azerbaijan than Mugham, its traditional music. Its richness and complexity instantly evokes the exotic world of the east, while demanding a level of artistry that easily matches the skills of western classical musicians. And yet, while uniquely Azerbaijani, mugham is also a meeting point of cultures from across Asia and the Middle East ‐ and has been sent out into space as part of NASA’s ‘Welcome to Earth’ discs on the Voyager probes. Led by brothers Arslan and Nurlan Novrasli, this concert explores how mugham bridges cultures with a joint performance with the Floreat Cantus Choir.
The silver strings of the tar can beguile the Khans and Warriors of ancient legend, and lures the lovesick in search of their sweethearts. It resounds through Azerbaijan’s poetry, while its distinctive shape was chosen as the design for the Mugham House concert hall on Baku’s waterfront. But the national instrument can make itself at home in a jazz club as comfortably as in the pages of a medieval epic. This concert, led by the virtuoso Arslan Novrasli, explores the tar’s role in mugham, jazz, orchestral music and even flamenco.
Maestro Niyazi was a towering figure in the Soviet Union’s cultural scene ‐ and an enthusiastic champion of Azerbaijani music. He shot to fame as a 26-year-old, stepping up at the last moment to conduct a prestigious operatic premiere at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre and becoming an overnight sensation throughout the USSR. As a conductor he was a renowned interpreter of his compatriots’ music; as a composer he developed a powerful blend of western classical styles and the traditions of his native land. This concert, under the baton of leading Azerbaijani conductor Yalchin Adigezalov, explores both facets of Niyazi’s legacy.
Everyone reads the headlines, but before long the story becomes old news and the world’s camera crews move away in search of fresh images. Yet the impact of conflict and disaster lingers, shattering communities long after the media focus switches elsewhere. That’s where Baku-born photographer Rena Effendi steps in, giving a voice to people whose stories would otherwise go unheard. Her ‘Zones of Silence’ project took her from Native Americans in North Dakota to the conflict zones in the former Soviet Union. Her powerful images remind us that crises cannot be resolved as easily as turning the pages of a newspaper.
‘Sonuncu’ in Azerbaijani means ‘The Last One’ ‐ but for Buta it was a hugely successful debut. This short film, nominated at this year’s Cannes Festival, represented Buta Film’s first foray into feature film after producing more than 80 documentary projects. Describing the fate of the last surviving World War II veteran in a remote village, a man who has outlived his entire family and is now alone, it’s a philosophical fable, a war story shorn of the usual clichs that infect war movies. It forms the highlight of an evening devoted to the nine films short-listed for the Short Film Palme d’Or.
Mugham is the historic song of Azerbaijan, while jazz is the beat of its contemporary heart. Vagif Mustafa Zadeh was the man who brought the two together and on the anniversary of his untimely death this memorial concert traces the story of his life and work. Vagif’s daughter Aziza brings her highly-regarded trio to perform along with renowned Georgian vocalist Nino Katamadze and arguably the top jazzman of the post-Soviet generation, Igor Butman. Vagif’s work was highly regarded in the West, even though the USSR never allowed him to perform outside of the Communist bloc, and a special guest star is lined up to reflect on the influence that mugham-jazz had on musicians all around the world.
The best things are served in small packages, and while Azerbaijan is scarcely bigger than Scotland, its diverse landscapes and fertile soil make it a gourmand’s delight. Almost anything will grow here, so fresh, tasty ingredients are always available to inspire the creativity of the country’s chefs. Buta Kitchen brings the finest foods to London and, coming from a country where a meal is a celebration, serves up a program of music and dance to feast the eyes and ears of its guests as well as tantalising their tastebuds with some exotic delights.
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Top Russian filmmaker Andrei Konchalovsky is uniquely placed to explore the dramatic events that rocked Baku 25 years ago and contributed to the fall of the USSR. As a Russian-born citizen of the Soviet Union, his acclaimed documentary on the political and social turbulence that led to a resurgence of Azerbaijan’s national identity after decades under the hammer and sickle combines the views both of an insider and a dispassionate observer as the history books turned over a new chapter. Buta remembers the 25th anniversary of the massacre of supporters of the Popular Front of Azerbaijan on Jan 20, 1990 with a special screening of Konchalovsky’s work, introduced by the director himself.
Baku’s contemporary art scene is booming like never before and this special exhibition showcases two of the country’s brightest talents. Aida Mahmudova, the driving force behind the Yarat! collective’s tireless work in nurturing the emerging generation of talented artists in Azerbaijan, displays her hazy, moving canvases exploring the contrasts between the city’s fast-modernizing landscape and its semi-derelict hinterland. Faig Ahmed, shortlisted for the Jameel Prize in 2013, takes his country’s colourful carpet-making tradition and turns it into a dialogue between past and present as he subverts the genre and reinvents it as something completely fresh.
The cellar bars of Baku swing to the sound of jazz and two Azerbaijan’s best performers are taking to the famous stage of Ronnie Scott’s to introduce London audiences to the unique Caspian beat. Isfar Sarabski’s blistering piano technique, with influences of Herbie Hancock and Tony Jarrett as well as the sounds of his homeland, is already familiar to followers of Buta’s London events. He’s joined by composer and pianist Amina Figarova, a popular figure in Europe and North America who returns to Ronnie Scott’s after a successful show here during the 2012 London Jazz Festival.
Javad Mirjavadov’s gloriously colourful canvases are vast riots of bright shades and mark him out as one of Azerbaijan’s leading 20th century artists. His swirling style recalls Van Gogh, a forbidden artist in the USSR whose work Mirjavadov snuck into the stores of the Leningrad Hermitage to study. Yet his work also carries echoes of the traditions of Azerbaijan’s ancient visual culture; those dramatic nameless shapes, on closer inspection, bear the traces of geometric symbolism or sinuous flaming ‘buta’ motifs familiar from the country’s carpets. This exhibition, which runs alongside a display of that carpet tradition, follows the successful retrospective of Tahir Salakhov’s work at Sotheby’s and is set to reassess the significance of Mirjavadov’s contribution to the art world.
Our hero lies comatose in a Baku hospital bed as his soul travels to a celestial waiting room where he encounters his first wife … and learns some unexpected truths about the life he led on Earth. Elchin’s quirky comedy invites viewers into an immersive theatrical experience that challenges what we think we know about our lives and the people closest to us. Elchin, one of Azerbaijan’s most eminent contemporary writers, published his first novel in 1959 when he was just 16. His writing for the stage has established the ‘Elchin Theatre’ style, tackling human dilemmas with a noticeably Azerbaijani accent, making them both highly local and, at the same time, universal.
Even behind the Iron Curtain, the Soviet Union could still swing – and the musicians of Azerbaijan were at the forefront of the light music revolution that swept through the country in the post-Stalin thaw. This concert offers a fascinating insight into a rarely heard part of the 20th-century canon, drawing on the genius of composers like Tofiq Guliyev, Rauf Hajiyev and Farhad Badalbeyli as they created the music that helped make stars of Bul-Bul and Muslim Magomedev. Badalbeyli’s ‘Deniz’ (The Sea) forms the centrepiece of the performance with a special visual interpretation of this enchanting, swirling showcase for piano.
The closing celebration of the Buta Festival and launch of the brand new perfume takes place at The Royal Academy of Arts, where guests will be transported to the mythical world of the Lankaran Forest.