The Golden Voice Of Azerbaijan
If you’ve ever visited Azerbaijan and happened to use one of the first metro lines built in the Soviet Union, you’ve probably noticed the changing tunes on each station before the announcement of the station name. It is a unique way Azerbaijan is preserving its musical history through the most frequently used mode of transportation, both by locals and visitors of the city.
Each 10-second fragment is connected to the history of the station name and all the songs are performed by the greatest musicians of Azerbaijan. Almost everyone knows these melodies without realizing it, having listened to them on their daily commute to work or school, despite the fact that most of those masterful compositions are quite a bit older than their contemporary listeners.
Perhaps one of the most entertaining melodies is played on the Inshaatchilar (Builders’) station and it is called Reyhan, Girl of the Mountains. It has been performed by several renowned musicians throughout the Soviet times, but one of the most memorable performances was by the People’s Artist of Azerbaijan, Zeynab Khanlarova. Going over her impressive biography, there is no doubt why it was her version of this song that was selected to be played on the trains, as a constant reminder of this country’s greatest talents.
The youngest in the family of five, Zeynab khanim has always been attracted to the melodic sounds of eastern poetry that her father had taught her from early age. She often participated in school activities that involved singing mugham, which, by its nature, is heavily influenced by the eastern poetry. Later, when she was accepted to Baku Music Academy, she was mentored by Seid Shushinski, a famous khanende – a folk singer who performed specifically mugham.
Seeing an incredible talent in Zeynab khanim, he taught her the basis of musical performance and once decided to try an experiment: he asked her to sing “Chargah” mugham, which previously has only been sung exclusively by men. Zeynab Khanlarova accepted the challenge and at the age of 24, became the first ever female to perform this mugham so well, that the record of her performance to this day is preserved by the Golden Fund of Azerbaijani Radio.
In the years that followed, led by her strong and hardworking character, Zeynab Khanlarova has reached many successes: she performed on the best stages of the world. Particularly in Baku, it was the Muslim Magomayev Azerbaijan State Academic Philharmonic Hall and the Akhundov Azerbaijan State Academic Opera and Ballet Theater. On the stage of the latter, Zeynab Khanlarova created a lasting impression with her breathtaking performance as Leyli in Uzeyir Hajibayov’s “Leyli and Majnun”, as well as Asli in “Asli and Kerem”, Arabzangi in Muslim Magomayev’s “Shah Ismail” opera and Sanem in “The Bride’s Rock” opera by Shafiga Akhundova.
However, despite her stunning success at the opera theatre and her unique ability to perform the complex mugham pieces, her most successful performances were her variety music compositions. Known for her artistic and temperamental performing style, Zeynab Khanlarova performed not only songs written by famous Azerbaijani composers but also wrote her own lyrics, which instantly made her the nation’s favorite. Her performances were always accompanied by dancing elements and her dazzling smile momentarily energized the entire concert halls.
Throughout her long career, Zeynab Khanlarova has given concerts in countries a lot further than her native Azerbaijan. In fact, she was one of the first musicians representing Azerbaijan beyond Soviet Union, with concerts in the US, Canada, Japan, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Spain, France, Yemen, Syria, Kuwait and many more. To this day, people across the globe remember her performances in her native Azerbaijani language, but her signature tribute to every country she visited was her performing any national song in the native language of the host country. She could easily sing in Russian, Ukrainian, Moldavian, Pashto, Georgian, Farsi, Arabic, Indian, Greek, Turkish, Chinese, Japanese and other languages – instantly winning over the audiences.
One of her biggest contributions to the global awareness of the Azerbaijani musical culture was her being among the few musicians, who in the time of Iron Curtain, were building the very first bridge of understanding between countries, seemingly so different, but at the end of the day so similar and united my music. During her very first American tour of 1988, she performed a duet of Deli Jeyran (Crazy Gazelle) with Jeffrey Werbock, who at the time was just at the beginning of his journey with mugham. Later on, he became a very skillful player of Azerbaijani national musical instruments, becoming a great friend of Azerbaijan, promoting Azerbaijani music worldwide.
In the time of her active career, she has released 38 albums and the records of her retro concerts on YouTube to this day continue to get millions of views; thousands of comments of viewers reminiscing their youth, are written about the idol of many countries and generations. Since 1985, Zeynab Khanlarova is involved in the matters of culture on a state level, becoming a Culture Commission Member and later being elected to Milli Majlis (Azerbaijani Parliament). For her incredible input to the cultural heritage of Azerbaijan and her role in promoting the culture of Azerbaijan abroad, Zeynab Khanlarova has been awarded numerous times, including the orders of the highest degree: Heydar Aliyev Order, Shohrat Order and Istiqlal Order.
Time goes on, music as well as the musical preferences change, new performers crowd the prime time on the television, but the phenomenon of Zeynab Khanlarova continues to live on. Her songs and her voice, are like a nostalgic air of the time long gone that we all want to breathe once in a while and allow it to take us back in time.