19 August 2022

Friday, 03:58



How many people can fend off a rhymed question with a rhyming answer? This requires a special gift and wit, because the answer has to be not just rhymed, but even more skillful than the question itself. In Azerbaijan, this skill is called meyxana. Hip-hop wasn't even invented. In fact, America wasn't open to Europeans yet when this wonderful genre of improvised poetry already existed in the northern Turkish part of Persia.


In vino veritas?

The name comes from two words - "mey" (which in one of the dialects of the Persian means "wine" or "hop") and the Turkic "xana", or a room. We can assume that meyxana first appeared in drinking establishments, which is not surprising for the genre. In fact, it is known that taverns have always been the favorite place for the performance of meyxana. At the same time, most of our famous poets were not ashamed of poetic improvisation, did not consider it a low-profile genre and perceived meyxana as an exercise for the brain. We can see meyxana in a film by Hasan Seyidbayli called "Nasimi". It is known that ancient poets and their counterparts in the 19th and 20th centuries also indulged themselves in meyxana. Many people may not believe it, but great satirist Mirza Alakbar Sabir not only composed meyxana but also performed it at weddings. Today, meyxana is considered a special and authentic genre of Azerbaijan folklore, and its performers have generated a subculture unique for the whole world.

However, film director Abdul Mahmudov, who was a member of the jury in a televised meyxana competition, believes that this genre has more ancient roots and carries a completely different name. "Once the father of history Herodotus wrote that the people living on the shores of the Caspian sing rhyming songs and perform rituals. Apparently, a semblance of the present-day meyxana already existed at the time," he says. "The name has often changed, but the essence remained the same. Earlier, it was called "meydanxana", which meant that verses were recited on a square where it was possible to rhyme your arguments before a crowd, demonstrate your ingenuity, poetic talent and a sense of humor." Unfortunately, the director says, this genre has come to be associated with hooliganism and purely street folklore.

Meanwhile, meyxana is a direction of folk music and oral poetic creativity. It is a kind of recitative improvisation. It is a real battle of words. Moreover, the authors are absolutely unprepared for a subject (rhyme or melody), but show their skill of creating short poems instantly.


Soviet paradox

In the 19th century, perhaps even earlier, meyxana was persecuted by the clergy because this genre was closely connected with the consumption of wine and indolent life. However, all attempts were unsuccessful because, as you know, the longer you try to stifle a culture (without resorting to direct violence), the wider it spreads. The plight of meyxana was perhaps at its worst in Soviet times, though no-one actually tried to suppress it. On the contrary, there were artists who popularized the genre. The reason was different.

The Soviet Union, trying to instill its own ideology, started praising meyxana in the first years of it existence, effectively making it its mouthpiece. In theaters (especially in the Worker-Peasant Theater and later in the Musical Comedy Theater), meyxana with propaganda content was often played from stage.

It is not ruled out that this "mouthpiece" undermined the credibility of the genre. After all, meyxana has two important features: first, it is a genre of improvisation based on the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the poet; secondly, meyxana is the poetry of freedom, as it is composed and recited in the atmosphere of fun and free-thinking. The poems of Soviet meyxana were not only written in advance - their content was followed by political instructors and artistic councils.

In essence, only the size of the verse and the musical rhythm were left from the old meyxana in the Soviet Union. Besides, meyxana did not fit into the Soviet ideology, as it was impossible to insert it into a poetic duel involving employees of a culture department who would exercise control over the newly-invented verses.

Meyxana, specifically its size and rhythm, can be heard in a variety of Soviet works, sometimes in the most unexpected places. It is present in the aria of a clown from the opera "Koroglu". In Uzeyir Hacibayov's operetta "If not that one, then this one", it sounds in several versions of the laborer's aria. Theatre fans must have heard meyxana in the duet of Abdulalibay and Mammaedalibay in the opera "Sevil" by Fikrat Amirov. The most unexpected place for meyxana is the jazz mugams by Vaqif Mustafazada. Meyxana is recited from the pages of books, in Sabir Rustamxanli's novel "The Book of Life", a story by Natiq Rasulzada "I have got married". We all remember meyxana in the famous film "I remember you, teacher", and these poems have already become classics.


Meyxana today

Unfortunately, a certain marginalization of the genre occurred during the Soviet era. It was not intentional - because of the lack of the freedom it requires, meyxana lost its strength and relevance. As a result, very few poets referred to it in their works, considering it a "low-profile genre". One of the few exceptions was perhaps poet Aliaga Vahid. Today, meyxana can be heard from generally young people who are not noted for a very refined literary taste. However, the situation began to change slowly but surely in the 2000s. A huge contribution to the popularization of meyxana belongs to satirical poet Baba Punhan, who brilliantly performed (also as an actor) his poems on television.

Well-known poet and translator Salim Babulla points to some causes behind the prejudice towards this genre. "The fact is that author of the classic song genre is regarded by authors of instrumental music as a low-profile genre. But if we recall the names of Fikrat Amirov, Tofiq Quliyev and other luminaries whose music laid the foundation for a lot of songs, we will realize that everything depends not on the genre but the talent of a person," says the poet. "Of course, the reason behind the "cheapening" of meyxana is the general level of culture and education, which, of course, affects the perception of the world. After all, it is difficult to imagine that modern performers carry the same enlightened and profound ideas as, for example, Aliaga Vahid or other performers," says Babulla.

There is another reason for a cautious attitude towards meyxana that it so not so obvious, he said.

Meyxana belongs to a rhythmic art form. Rhythm envisages a major key, while challenges and the expression of sadness or discontent sound better in a minor key. In addition, modern rhymes in meyxana are often inaccurate. There is a concept of "qulaq qafiyyasi", or "rhyme to the ear", in versification. These rhymes, while focused on hearing, are not too correct or delicate from a literary and poetic point of view.

Yet, a serious attitude towards meyxana is coming back. In 2009, the Union of Meyxana Performers was established, and famous meyxana performer Agamirza Mammadov became its chairman. "Meyxana is one of the main directions of our national art. It was not recognized for a long time, therefore it is particularly important for us to make this genre more professional and educate real masters of their craft," he says. "This is what we are doing - we are creating a school of meyxana.".

Theaters also refer to this genre. Since 2010, modern experimental theater "Yug" has repeatedly staged "A child and us", a performance that widely uses meyxana, by young playwright Saleh Sabat.

However, many are still skeptical about the genre. This is associated primarily with its recent withering and departure from professional art. Incidentally, great poets have been engaged in poetic contests since the days of Nasimi. Great Shakespeare did not disdain them either (of course, in the English style). Similar competitions were common in the poetic communities of medieval Genoa and Venice, which is confirmed in the famous film "Dangerous Beauty" by Marshall Herskovitz.

If you approach meyxana without bias, you will understand that there is nothing wrong in the genre that requires authors to juggle words. What matters is the meaning you impart to the words.