Jeffrey Werbock: Had I not known Azerbaijan, I would have been living ordinary life - INTERVIEW
- 24 October 2016
Baku. Javid Zeynalli – APA. Interview with Jeffrey Werbock, President of the Mugham Society of America and researcher of Azerbaijani mugham
- Mr Werbock, the documentary called “Young Voices, Ancient Song,” directed by you, was screened a few days ago. I’d like start talking about the Baku premier…
- First of all, I’m more than happy that we were able to screen this film in Baku. I had a lot to say that night. I shared my thoughts with both journalists and spectators. I did not just speak. As you saw, I also played kamancha. I’m much pleased with the Baku premier. I’ve got so many impressions… Through the film, we have not only tried to describe the grandeur of the art of mugham. We have also tried to convey the pain of those forced out of their ancestral lands. I saw people crying when the film came to an end. I do understand the pain of those people. So I was crying with them. I understand too well what it means to a country to have lost their land. But I have to tell you, I had not intended to make this film merely for Azerbaijanis. Rather I had intended to reach all hearts. I see that a country with such rich culture is not well known in the world. So I ought to do my part in filling this gap. Film is the most effective propaganda tool. Propaganda calls for all possible means. For example, I’m currently writing a book. However, no other art is as effective as filmmaking. Thank God that The European Azerbaijan Society and its Chairman Tale Heydarov gave us support in making this film. Azerbaijanis, with such rich culture, truly deserves best attitude and love. Mugham is a phenomenon. The whole world must know what Azerbaijan has.
- The film does not simply talk about mugham. The Karabakh events are one of the main lines…
- That was our goal. When I was in a refugee camp in 2000, a child by name Nizami was bitterly singing mugham. I filmed him with my camera. Mugham is normally sung on ghazal, but that child was singing a poem of his own: Those mountains and graves are calling me. Year later I watched the video recording again and I got so impressed that I came to Baku in search of Nizami. There was only one question occupying my mind: Those kids singing about their homeland. Where are they now? Do they still sing? We managed to find Nizami, with great difficulty though…
- Let’s go back to the past — to the 70’s, when you were young, the years when you first came in contact with the eastern music and when kamancha changed your life…
- That history is so far… I was only 21 at the time. I used to dream of becoming a composer. I had little information of eastern music. I used to listen to Indian music at times, but it wasn’t that widespread then. I had picked up playing guitar by myself. Los Angeles was then a musical center which was attracting young people. Someone told me that I’d better learn eastern music. He told me to go to Zevulon Avshamolov.
- If memory serves me correctly, Avshamolov was originally a mountain Jew from Derbent, right?
- Yes, that’s absolutely right. He was born in Derbent in 1909. He lost his mother and father when an epidemic broke out in 1918. He’s been through a lot. He used to do labor work at the railway station and sing for a few pennies. He told me that I had left Derbent for Baku at the age of 16 where he had learned playing kamancha. After living in Moscow for five years, he lived in Tehran, from where he moved to the United States and started a new life there. Avshalamov played kamancha for me and I just fell in love with it. This sound changed my entire life. I forgot about the guitar and composing, and began learning to play kamancha. Zeynab Khanlarova, Arif Babayev, Polad Bulbuloglu, Zamig Aliyev, Adalat Vazirov, Vali Gadimov, Aftandil Israfilov, Almaz Guliyev went on the first tour to the United States in March 1988. My friend Behzad, who is from Ardabil, then acquainted me with them. They could not believe that an American national play kamancha. After meeting them, I realized that I needed to go to Baku, because both Adalat Vazirov and Zamig Aliyev are the greatest musicians. My teacher Avshalomov was good at playing kamancha, but his technique was very simple. After a while, I found an old woman from Baku living in the US, she wrote a letter for me in the Cyrillic alphabet to send to Baku. By chance at that time, Alim Gasimov, Shafiga Eyvazova and Ramiz Guliyev were in the US. I went to their concert and was admired. I gave the letter to Alim Gasimov and asked him to take it to Baku. They handed the letter to Elchin Afandiyev, who was chairman of “Vatan” society. The American’s playing kamancha and intention to come to Azerbaijan caused the interest of Elchin Afandiyev and he sent the letter to Nabi Khazri.
- Nabi Khazri has for about 20 years led the Azerbaijan Society for Friendship and Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries….
- I was told that Nabi Khazri is dealing with the affairs of foreigners coming to Azerbaijan. In 1989, I heard that Zeynab Khanlarova again arrived in the US. I met with them and invited them to stay at my house. Zeynab Khanlarova chose to stay at the hotel and Zamig Aliyev with two colleagues stayed at my house. Zamig invited me to their rehearsals.
Then he told Zeynab Khanlarova that this guy plays tar and kamancha and sings Azerbaijan’s national songs. We sang a duet of ‘Deli Ceyran’ Azerbaijani song in New York City. We again sang this duet at a concert in Washington and it was welcomed. The record of this duet was displayed in Baku. This performance was repeatedly broadcast on ‘Dalga’ (Wave) program aired on AzTV, a state-controlled national television channel in Azerbaijan. When I arrived, all embraced me in Baku. After I saw friendly attitude of the Azerbaijani people, I realized that I should come to Azerbaijan more often. So, I learned the Azerbaijani language. I was not feeling comfortable with an interpreter. Maybe, you won’t believe, but I learned this language without a teacher and dictionaries. I was enjoying learning this sweet language. I haven’t felt like an Azerbaijani, until speaking in this language. Now we are speaking in your native language and I feel like an Azerbaijani. I am trying to learn new words. I speak Azerbaijanis living in the US in their native language, and they enjoy my speech.
- In the film there is a fragment reflecting your meeting with Azerbaijan’s national leader Heydar Aliyev. How do you remember this meeting?
- When I arrived in Azerbaijan for the third time, Givami Rahimli organized my meeting with Heydar Aliyev. He worked in the Azerbaijan International Oil Consortium. He is currently working in BP. Givami Rahimli and Heydar Aliyev talked about me, and the latter tasked Rahimli to arrange our meeting. He was the president of the country and had many events and meetings, but he met with me. Our talks lasted one hour and he told me very interesting things. More precisely, Heydar Aliyev explained to me that culture defines people’s national identity, and the people with strong national identity have a promising future. I was just a kamancha player at that time and couldn’t understand so deeply. Those words brought me up. He thanked me for promoting Azerbaijan and Azerbaijani national music. I said to Heydar Aliyev that I am nothing without Azerbaijan. You see that the Azerbaijani state and First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva pays great attention to mugham. An International Mugham Centre has been established in Baku. Have you ever been to National Conservatory?
- Siyavush Karimi is the rector of the Conservatory. I was amazed by the conditions created there. The government is doing a lot of work to promote the country’s culture all around the world. Today, President Ilham Aliyev and his spouse Mehriban Aliyev are successfully continuing Heydar Aliyev’s policy of national identity. I am so glad that I have a small share in promotion of the Azerbaijani culture. Frankly, believe me: "Had I not known Azerbaijan, I would have been living ordinary life. But now I have a very interesting life."
- You have even got married with an Azerbaijani woman…
- (Smiles). Right, my wife is Azerbaijani. We met when the shooting of the film began.
She speaks in English very clearly. Then I saw that she knows Russian well too. She worked with us. Then I and Natavan khanum fell in love each other and we got married in America. More precisely, we had a ceremony in Baku and made our relationship official in America. Natavan’s mother Farida khanum is an English teacher. Therefore, I didn’t have difficulty to communicate with her family.
- What about Azerbaijani national cuisine?
- It is great! However, it is a pity that I keep a diet now. I don’t eat bread, pasta and rice. I adore dovgha. Frankly, I remember the date when I first tried dovgha –- in 1989 in Zamig Aliyev’s house. But I dislike some sweets. For example, shor goghal. I don’t like yellow ginger. I adore Azerbaijani kebabs.