ABSTRACT

High in the mountains, where the voice of the khanande competed with the wind and echoed from the mountain heights, Shusha was the crossroads of Transcaucasia. Described by every visiting native poet, it was one of the most influential cities in the Caucasus and "the cradle of music and poetry" (Vurgun, 1943). According to Azerbaijanian musicologist Zemfira Safarova, "From this city, which played the role of musical conservatory for all Transcaucasia, every season and every month brought new songs and new melodies" (Safarova, 1973: 11). "Almost all the famous singers and musicians of Azerbaijan were born in Shusha," claims the Azerbaijanian poet, playwright, and scholar Samed Vurgun.1 The Russian poet Sergei Esenin wrote: "If one is not singing, one is not from Shusha" (Esenin, 1962: 205). In the second half of the nineteenth century, the majlis2-a gathering of poets, musicians, and philosophers-played a major role in the musical life of cities such as Shusha. The central event of these private meetings was the performance and discussion of mugham (Istoria Azerbaijanskoi musiki, 1992: 108). Signifying the community of musicians-students, masters, and performers-the majlis has been referred to as a school of mugham

Many musicians from Garabag moved to Baku at the turn of the twentieth century,3 a time when the landscape of Azerbaijan suddenly sprouted oil derricks and when palaces, theaters, and luxurious residences arose in Baku, signifying the "oil baron period" (Blair 1998: 29). Baku, the oil cap-

92 Song from the Land of fire

Figure 5.1. Mugham Trio: Jabbar Garyaghdi, Kurban Primov, and Sasha Oganezashvili (State Museum of Azerbaijanian Culture)

ital of the Russian empire4 (Altstadt 1992: 21), attracted investments and investors as well as engineers, laborers, and capitalists. The "desert city [with] not yet a single street that might be considered European" became a place of mass migration for Russians, Germans, Englishmen, Armenians, Turks, and Iranians. Due to imperial politics and the development of the oil industry, which lured thousands of foreigners to Baku, the native Azeri population of the city dropped from sixty percent in 1897 to twenty-one percent in 1913 (Altstadt, 1992: 28-33). Yet according to Altstadt, "despite the native's demographic disadvantage, Baku remained the 'natural capital' and drew the educated, talented, and hard-working Azerbaijani Turks from Shusha, Ganja, Tiflis, and elsewhere in the region" (1992: 32).