Alim Qasimov from Azerbaijan possesses an international position as one of the world’s best vocalists and the most distinguished mugham performer of our time. Mugham is an Azeri musical tradition rooted in 9th century Persia, and exists in different variations throughout Central Asia, Caucasus and the Arab world. This tradition is known by its usage of a particular musical mode, and passed on orally from one generation to the next. Its melodies and poetic lyrics are thereby subject to improvisation.
Alim Qasimov was introduced to mugham by his parents, who were peasants at a kolhkoz in Northern Azerbaijan. Himself an able singer, Alim’s father recognised the boy’s exceptional talent, and despite the family’s poverty insisted that he received a musical education. Alim finished music school with honours, but at the time Azerbaijan’s Soviet authorities showed little interest for folk music and gave few possibilities to record or perform. Nevertheless, throughout the 1970s Alim won the hearts of a broad audience, and at the time of Glasnost and increasing national awareness in all Soviet republics, he was recognised internationally as a prominent representative of a proud musical tradition. In later years he has developed the mugham tradition with a style that works well with modern musicians, among them Jeff Buckley. Not only is he the high protector of this UNESCO-listed musical style – he is also a master of improvisation and invention.
Text: Kristian Krohg-Sørensen