The electric guitar - gitara in Azerbaijani - first entered the music scene in Azerbaijan in the 1960s but the culture that preceded it made room for its introduction. Since the early 20th Century, during the excitement that surrounded the oil boom in the Caspian cost, Azerbaijani musicians and composers had been experimenting with the possibilities of blending traditions, genres and styles. In Baku, the first musical theatres saw the mixing of indigenous instruments, like the tar and kamancheh, with European style orchestras. Under socialist rule this mixing of styles skyrocketed, encouraged by the new Soviet infrastructure of conservatories, theatres, radio and recording industries. Electric guitars made by the Czechoslavakian factory ‘Jolana’ begun to trickle into the Caucasus in the 1960s. The particular design of Czechoslovakian guitar just so happened to be perfectly suited to some of the musical conventions of mugham; the way the strings were elevated between the bridge and end-pin of the hollow-body electric guitar allowed the player to bend the strings with their wrist while playing, altering the tuning by quarter tones in order to match local musical conventions. In the decades that followed, musicians around the country began experimenting with the instrument. Each guitarist incorporated different regional styles, repertoires, and playing techniques into the mix. Rəhman Məmmədli from Karabakh, is one of the scene’s legends. By introducing distortion to his sound in the late 1970s, Rəhman was able to closely replicate the harsher tones of some traditional vocal styles. His style was so original that he was given the nickname ‘oxuyan barmağı’, the one with singing fingers. Elsewhere others experimented with making alterations to the instrument itself, adding frets to make it easier to play traditional modes or hacking the electronics to create new sounds. The lecture traces the development of this musical subculture, following the lives of guitarists from the suburbs of Azerbaijan's capital Baku to the rural villages of Borçalı (Kvemo Kartli) in Georgia. Afterwards, Rəhman Məmmədli will play a Livestream-Concert, directly from Azerbaijan.
Rahman Məmmədli was born in 1961 in the Füzüli district of Qarabağ and grew up surrounded by and immersed in the music of that region. In his childhood he had already mastered the garmon before coming across the guitar. Being deeply connected to traditional music, both muğam and aşıq music, he has managed to transpose these genres onto the electric guitar through his creation of new and distinct playing techniques. His ability to emulate the voice of classic muğam xanənde singers led to him being known as the man with ‘oxuyan barmaqlar’, (singing fingers). Along with his many solo releases on cassette, VHS, and CD he has performed with many of the greatest artists of Azerbaijan. He has performed at concerts throughout Azerbaijan, Turkey, Iran and Russia. As a master musician Məmmədli continues to inspire new generations of guitarists who continue to develop a unique guitar subculture and style in Azerbaijan.
Mountains of Tongues, founded by Ben Wheeler and Stefan Williamson-Fa, have spent the last seven years traveling across the Caucasus region making recordings and collecting examples of lesser known musical traditions. Through selected samples from their hours of field recordings, coupled with carefully curated tracks from a personal archive of collected LPs, tapes, CDs, and home VHS recordings from across the region, their live shows present a unique and vibrant take on the soundscapes and cultures of the Caucasus, highlighting the music’s diverse forms and settings and the local musicians that make all of it possible. Whether it’s lo-fi bootlegs of Azeri guitarists, the vocal gymnastics of Gurian polyphony, blaring Yezidi woodwinds at an engagement party, auto-tuned Dagestani techno, circling Chechen Sufi rituals, or vintage Yamaha synthesizers accompany songs in isolate languages, Mountains of Tongues presents music at the intersection of the modern/traditional, the participatory/presentational, and the sacred/secular.