Aziza Mustafa Zadeh: Body and Soul and Mugam!
To back track, just a bit, mugam is based on many different modes and tonal scales where different relations between notes and scales are envisaged and developed. The music is meta-ethnic – almost omnipresent throughout Central Asia and the Middle East. Musicologists often mutter incomprehensible things when attempting to dissertate on the mugam tradition. Their explanations are so roundabout that it is impossible to work out the exact nature of the music. In reality ‘mugam’ has two different, but related meanings. The Azeri composer, Kara Karayev, writing in Sovietskaya Muzkya (1949:3) has the following explanation: “The expression ‘mugam’ is used in two senses in the folk music of Azerbaijan. On the one hand the word ‘Mugam’ describes the same thing as the term ‘lad’ (Russian for key, mode, scale). An analysis of Azeri songs, dances and other folk-music forms show that they are always constructed according to one (of these) modes. On the other hand the term ‘Mugam’ refers to an individual, multi-movement form. This form combines elements of a suite and a rhapsody, is symphonic in nature, and has its own set of structural rules. In particular one should observe that the ‘Suite-Rhapsody-Mugam’ is constructed according to one particular ‘Mode-Mugam’ and is subject to all of the particular requirements of this mode.”
Mugam also describes a specific type of musical composition and performance, which is hard to grasp with an understanding of western concepts of music most notably because mugam composition is improvisational in nature. This brings the music close to jazz. At the same time – and this is antithetical to the heart and soul of jazz – it follows exact rules. Furthermore, in the case of the suite-rhapsody-mugam the concept of improvisation is not really an accurate one, since the artistic imagination of the performers is based on a strict foundation of principles determined by the respective mode. The performance of such a mugam does not present an amorphous and spontaneous, impulsive improvisation. The songs are often based on the ancient poetry of Azerbaijan, and although love is a common topic in these poems, due to their immense complexity many of the intricacies and the spiritual and romantic allusions are lost on the untrained ear. For one, the poems do not primarily deal with worldly love but also with the mystical love for God. Yet, strictly speaking, this is still secular music/poetry, as opposed to, say, Sufism. Nevertheless, mugam composition is designed very similarly to Sufism in that it seeks to achieve ascension from a lower level of awareness to a transcendental union with God. It is a spiritual search for God.
There are over seventy mugam and derivatives – based on known Azeri modes. The operatic scores and symphonic compositions were added on later, when musical intercourse was resumed with the west. Almost all have outlived the harsh and repressive elements – including the spread of militant Christianity and erstwhile Soviet era, whose fearful adherents tried their best to suppress the mugami opuses. That the tradition of mugami – first heard of and developed between the 10th and 11th centuries B.C. – has survived until this day is a tribute to the musicians who have struggled to keep it alive. Uzbayir Hajibeyov – who incorporated mugam into operatic scores in the 1910s, Fikrat Amirov, who introduced mugam into Western symphonic form for the first time in the mid-1940s... Singers such as Babayev, and Gasimov... the tar players Guliyev and Abdullayev, kamancha player Sheik Eyvazova... Even today, their names and music reverberates through the streets and auditoriums of Azerbaijan.
But Vaghif Mustafa Zadeh was always different. Like Mingus, Coltrane, Dizzy and Miles, and now Laswell, Vaghif had a world view. He saw through the haze of painful repression that he could fuse its concepts through performances, blended with that other great dialect of liberation – jazz – and take a centuries-old tradition into the modern era. And he was persecuted mercilessly. Vaghif – it was believed – used the emotive elements of mugam to communicate secretly with the liberated world – to subvert the closed society that he lived and died in.