Azerbaijani Gitara

19/09/2020Feast Your Ears On The Dextrous Sounds Of Rüstəm Quliyev's Electric Guitar

Ornate electric currents course through our veins, touched by the incredible sounds of Rüstəm Quliyev's recently-released posthumous full-length. "Azerbaijani Gitara" marks the first international release of Quliyev's music, a long overdue tribute to one insanely gifted individual, who took electric guitar playing to a whole new level, yet whose career was suddenly cut short in 2005, after a bout with lung cancer.

His legacy, however, lives on through hundreds of songs, his memory kept alive by his nephew Vasif Javadli. Javadli has been running a YouTube channel, regularly uploading archival footage that has meanwhile amassed over a million views, thus also coming to the attention of Swiss label Bongo Joe. Together with ethnomusicologist Ben Wheeler and anthropologist Stefan Williamson Fa (Mountains of Tongues), the imprint just curated and released this essential part of music history from the historically confict-ridden and often overlooked Caucasian Republic of Azerbaijian. 

Born in 1969 in Kosalar, a small village located in the formerly highly disputed, mountainous territory of Nagorno Karabakh in southwestern Azerbaijian, young Rüstəm took to music at the age of seven. After mastering the tar, a long-necked, lute-like Iranian string instrument, and then the saz, a similar instrument rooted in Ottoman classical music, he picked the electric guitar to be his proverbial mouthpiece, an instrument he first came in contact with, while on military service for the USSR in Russia. Said encounter turned out to be a fateful one; an understatement, considering Quliyev's undeniable impact and spellbinding virtuosity.

Forced to flee his home in the early 1990's  as a result of intense fighting in the region, Quliyev resettled to Baku, where he became a staple at weddings, making regular TV appearances and going on to record numerous cassettes. His 'gitara' not only became popular in Azerbaijian, but also resonated with audiences in countries such as Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Iran, and Turkey.

To attempt and describe his style would not do his playing and artistic vision enough justice. Drawing "on the rich traditional music of Azerbaijian, [Quliyev's] thirst and passion for music also meant that he incorporated styles from across the globe into his repertoire: from Bollywood disco tunes and Afghan pop songs to Iranian street melodies and Spanish flamenco," the release notes read. "It was like he had many cultures in one body", his nephew Javidli describes in an interview with Bandcamp's Megan Iacobini de Fazio. In fact, listening to him play, his wailing, sometimes frenzied yet somehow boundlessly warm sounds permeating your soul, you may find the need to remind yourself that what you are hearing is indeed an electric guitar. Add to this his witty inventiveness and keen feel for melody and you are left with a deep sense of yearning fulfilment. Such was the powerful, heartfelt experience we had, when listening to the unique release of archival recordings by Rüstəm Quliyev that is "Azerbaijani Gitara".

AUTHOR: Lev Nordstrom