The Art of Azerbaijani Ashiqs

The art of the ashiqs, rooted in the mists of time, is syncretic. It combines several art forms: poetry, dance, drama, impromptu poetry and musical improvisation. Possessing such a variety of artistic skills and talent, ashiq captivates the audience with unique individuality and creates a complete artistic image which allows him to convey his thoughts and emotions through the music. In fact, performance of an ashiq is a spectacle of music, in which saz and the ashiq himself form a unity.

“Gozelleme”, a poem dedicated to the appraisal of beauties, has a distinct place in the art of ashiqs. They are usually dedicated to the loved ones, beauties, and heroes. For example, the brave Koroghlu and his legendary horse Gyrat. Some ashiq songs express sorrow, sadness and melancholy (as in “Sad Kerem”, “Dilgemi”). Others carry the elements of dance, such as “Afshari”, “Shereli”, and are fine examples of the ashiq art.

Ashiq music was an essential part of Azerbaijani wedding celebrations. Often their songs were accompanied by the balaban (small wind instrument resembling zurna) and wind ensembles, but the main musical instrument of the ashiq music is saz (ancient musical instrument of Azerbaijan). In ancient times ashiqs were called “Ozan”, “Varsag”, “Dede”.  The history of the ashiq music has reached us through epics, legends, and songs of the ashiqs.

Ashiq art and mugham are the two important foundations of the musical culture of Azerbaijan. The art of ashiqs has its origin deep in the national culture and has bright characteristics, as well as a variety of themes and structural framework.

Not only is the art of ashiqs an illustration of a distinct poetic thought, but it also carries wisdom, centuries-old experiences and culture. It bears richness and a variety of speech styles, represents simplicity, beauty and poetic features of the national language, and a unique emotional range. Ashiqs produced a rich variety of poems. Ashiq is the main lyrical hero and the main person in the art of ashiqs. He has a talent to compose verses instantly. Ashiq art embraces literary expression and with this it creates a bridge between oral, written and folk literature.

Many genres of Azerbaijani national poetry developed through the art of ashiqs. Among them are found qoshma, mukhammas, garayli, qifilband (carries a riddle or a question), ustadnama (which contains songs of moral and instructive character), tajnis,  vujudnama (reflects major events in a person’s life from the moment of his/her birth), and others. These genres can also be part of dastan.

The most common verse in ashiq poems is syllable and the structure of poem used in ashiq songs is quatrain verses.  Each verse starts with an instrumental into and verses are separated by instrumental solos. “Kitabi-Dede Gorgud”, a folk epic which dates back to VII century, is the oldest among epic works dedicated to life, love and heroism of ancient ozans. Folk music had a great influence on the work of national composers. For the first time some elements of the ashiq music were used by Uzeyir Hajibeyli in his “Koroghlu” opera, as well as by Gara Garayev who combined technical means of contemporary music with ashiq music in the second part of the Third Symphony.

There are over 80 geographical types of ashiq melodies (“Karami”, “Afshari”, “Kurdu”, “Dilgami”, “Yanig Karami”). The alignment between the poetic text and ashiq music has an important impact on their forms and rhythmic features. The main verse in ashiq melodies is syllable. The structure of the melodies is closely linked to the poetic form and the content of the syllable. Ashig Gurbani (XVI century), Ashig Abbas Tufarganli, Ashig Sarah (XVII century), Hasta Gasim, Ashig Valeh, Ashig Dilgam (XVIII century), Ashig Ali, Ashig Alasgar, Ashig Hussein Shamkirli (XIX century) and others, are considered classics of the ashig art. Among modern ashiq masters Ashig Hussein Bozalganli, Ashig Assad, Ashig Mirza, Ashig Islam, Ashig Shamshir, Huseyn Saradzhly, Gulmammadov Amrah, Hussein Javan, Ashig Kyamandar, Imran Hasanov, Azafly Mikail, Akbar Jafarov enjoy popularity. Ashiq music is widely spread in the regions of Azerbaijan – Gazakh, Tovuz, Shamakha, as well as in the historic regions Goycha and Borchali.

In 2009, “The Art of Azerbaijani Ashiqs” was inscribed on the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage at the 4th session of the Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity held in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.