Author: Salatyn MIRZAYEVA
The melodious sound of his instrument fascinates millions of people around the world. This is a harmonious combination of local cultural heritage and the traditions of other cultures, Azerbaijan and the rest of the world.
Imamyar Hasanov was born in the family of a musician from the village of Mardakan. He studied at the Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiyev local school No. 123, but received primary musical education at school No. 17 in Mardakan, attending the kamancha class of Hamil Aslanov. In 1990, Imamyar entered the Asaf Zeynalli Music College, where he took lessons from the famous masters of kamancha - Mutallib Novruzov and Arif Asadullayev. Imamyar was ten years old when he first took the kamancha in his hands, having absolutely no clue where this instrument would take him in the years ahead. Prior to that, he was interested in clarinet.
In 1995-2000, Imamyar studied at the Uzeyir Hajibeyov Baku Music Academy. Soon, the student of Agha Jabrayil Abasaliyev became the youngest soloist of the Azerbaijan State Instrumental Orchestra. He also received a master's degree in art and music from the Uzeyir Hajibeyov Azerbaijan State Conservatoire.
In 1996, the first national instrumental trio Qala (tar, kamancha and piano) founded by the same young man won the national contest In Search of Talents. Then, Imamyar and his kamancha began travelling the world to introduce the rich musical culture of Azerbaijan to various audiences under different titles: An Undiscovered Treasure: Kamancha of Azerbaijan at Georgetown University, World Music Festival in San Francisco, Silk Road Festival at Indiana University, The Best Secret of World Music at George Washington University, etc. In the following years, he performed at famous contests and festivals in Turkey, London, Gothenburg, New York, San Jose, Iraq...
In 2000, the kamancha virtuoso moved to San Francisco, US. Although Imamyar lives far away from his homeland, he does not forget about the customs, traditions, rich cultural heritage of the Land of Fire. On the contrary, the life in a foreign country only exacerbates a sense of emotional attachment to the native culture. Communication with world musicians of different genres enriches the musician, contributes to the knowledge of various instruments, and arrangement techniques.
Imamyar Hasanov continues to reveal the potential of kamancha by performing traditional Azerbaijani and Middle Eastern improvisations, as well as European classics. This is the intrigue that attracts foreign audiences. They listen to him again and again. Isn't it a success of any musician and his main accomplishment? To discuss this and other questions, we decided to talk to Imamyar Hasanov personally.
"You left for the US soon after graduating from the Uzeyir Hajibeyov Music Academy. How did you start your musical project in San Francisco?"
"When I was living in Virginia, I often visited California to take part in various concerts and festivals. I soon made some connections here and there. Later I was enrolled by the organization called San Francisco World Music Festival and moved to California to continue my creative activities there."
“In 2012, you became the music director of the San Francisco World Music Festival...”
“I was elected from among the three contenders representing three different nations living in the United States: Azerbaijanis, Chinese and Indians. Long before that, each of us were directly involved in various projects of the festival. Being not a state-run organisation, the selection was entrusted to five chief directors, who elected me after examining and evaluating our activities.”
"What is the role of Azerbaijani music in such a significant festival? Which musicians did represent Azerbaijan?"
“Being an Azerbaijani myself, I try to represent the Azerbaijani culture in all our projects. Among the representatives of the Azerbaijani culture during these years, we enjoyed the company of Chingiz Sadigov (piano), Rufat Hasanov (tar), Elshan Gasimov (naghara), Fikret Hasanov and Yusif Alizade (gosha-naghara), ashugs Gulara Azafli and Zulfiyya Ibadova, singers Ilkin Ahmadov, Vusal Musayev, and Ayten Maharramova. For example, in 2013, the festival began with the World Classes project. Our goal was to invite performers from around the world to American universities to teach national music.”
"What can we take from the American model of music culture? What changes and innovations would you recommend to introduce to the music culture of Azerbaijan?"
“I always try to touch on this important point in my interviews. The music culture of Azerbaijan is rich and unique. Unfortunately, the world is less aware of the versatility and depth of our national music. I believe that to correct this significant nuance, it is necessary to organise a series of large-scale events covering various musical genres. They should be held both in Azerbaijan and abroad. And the target audience of these projects should be foreigners who do not yet know what a wonderful culture we have.
“When I lived in Azerbaijan, I also joined other musicians for the tours. As far as I know, such tours are getting increasingly popular among the Azerbaijani artists. But their repertoire and, in particular, the presentation of works are tailored for the Azerbaijani listeners. That’s why they look and sound exotic for foreign audiences, who listen once and never return to them. In reality, it is important that after the concert or live performance, the listeners are able to have simple access to these works in the Internet so that they can search for information about the music, artist, country to which this music belongs. This will help Azerbaijani music remain in daily playlists of foreign listeners. Our music deserves to be known to a wider audience. Believe me, this is possible if true experts are involved in the promotion.”
"You had a course at the Stanford University called Azerbaijani Music. What did you teach there?"
“I gave my students a general information about the Azerbaijani mugham. I explained them the secret meaning of mugham and taught them how to play our folk songs, tesnifs and rengs on their musical instruments.”
"What about your master classes at various universities. How do your students perceive our music?"
“As a matter of fact, perception of each individual depends on his imagination. If the presentation is correct, convincing and worthy of attention, then this will certainly cause a response, an interest from students. It makes the whole process simple and fascinating.”
"How apt are your students in their study of our musical instruments? Any success?"
“It becomes easy only if the student has a burning desire to learn. I have many international students communicating with me through Skype. All of them have one thing in common: they decided to take my lessons only after they listened and loved my performance. They feel kind of a special sympathy for kamancha and the music that I play. As to success, let me tell you about the two of my students. My Japanese student, Tomoko Maruono, has been performing with kamancha for several years at events organised by the embassies of Japan, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Iran. The most interesting thing is that she plays the music of these countries on kamancha. Two years ago, Tomoko and I gave a joint concert in Tokyo. My another student is American Raquy Danziger, who recently gave solo concerts in Turkey, Germany, Spain, Israel and the US. The repertoire of both of them includes Azerbaijani music, which stands out in its full colour and uniqueness. Of course, I am really proud of them, and this encourages me to do more.”
"Your works born from the synthesis of kamancha with the national instruments of other countriesalso sound interesting. For example, you played the song Lachin with the Israeli duo Anna RF. What do you want to achieve by making these mixes? Is it not difficult to make local and foreign instruments friends? I remember that more than 70,000 people watched your performance of Lachin back in 2012...”
“Despite the great difficulties, this is my favourite genre. The main difficulty is that it requires ultimate responsibility. One should find a common language with the representatives of other peoples to make them love and be interested in your culture. Life in the USA gives me great opportunities in this area. Our main mission is to disseminate the national and classical music, bring it to a wider audience, make it accepted and loved by other peoples. Secondly, we should be able to convey the following message to audiences: the contribution of Azerbaijani kamancha to the world music is significant and inalienable. Thirdly, synthesishelps me study the national and classical music of other nations directly through working with their musicians. This enriches my experience educationally.
“As for Laçin, I was very glad that our listeners liked it so much. This was just after I finished anothermaster class on Azerbaijani mugham for my Israeli students. On the day of my departure to the States, two of my students invited me to go to the Shaharut Desert. This is an extraordinary place with unique and attractive energy. We decided to perform something as a keepsake. That’s how Lachin was recorded - no rehearsal, no preparations. I always loved this song, but I had never performed it in public before.”
"Which musical instruments and the music of which country are close to yoursoul?"
“I would probably say the sounds of the Turkish and Iranian ney, Irish harp, and Spanish guitar.”
"Balaban players complain about the lack of new composer songs. What about kamancha?"
“It’s the same. But my personal view on this matter is slightly different from the generally accepted one. As musicians, we should be happy and lucky that we have Uzeyir Hajibeyov and many other composers of international recognition as part of our cultural heritage. Their creations are a musical treasury for us and the future generations. If the players use this heritage properly and worthily, let alone our invaluable folk music, ashug art and dances, there is no need to look for new music. As a music performer living outside Azerbaijan for twenty years, I want my words to sound like advice and guidance to the young generation.”
“You are also a composer...”
“Yes. I have several works of my own, but I do not consider myself a composer. This title has more meaning and responsibility in it. But all the melodies I compose are tailored specifically for my kamancha.”
"How are your melodies born? Do you need a special atmosphere and inspiration, or planning is enough?"
“Planning is not enough, even if necessary. In the end, you will have a melody that touches neither your soul, nor the soul of other listeners. If I can choose the necessary atmosphere that gives inspiration, then the result will satisfy both me and my listeners, which are the main target of my music. Any creative work is based upon soul.”
"Which of your tunes impressyour listeners the most?"
“I would say these are Ay işığında, Laçın, Bayatı Şiraz, Sarı gəlin, Ayrılıq.”
"Your performance of Ağla kamançadeserves only the best words. Why is your kamancha ‘crying’ (ağla in Azerbaijani, R+)?"
“As a musician, I believe only the inner world of the performer can make any musical instrument ‘cry’. His individual perception of life, compassion for others, ability to hold national and moral values above all and, most importantly, to fulfil the commandments of the Almighty will surely be reflected in his performance. I just try to replace my voice with the sound of kamancha. One can feel all my thoughts and understand me through my music. Honestly, whatever I play comes from the deepest corner of my heart.”
"Young generation is going through the process of digital transformation of society, which affects literally everything. How can this process influence the national music? Is there a risk of losing the unique culture same as some traditions are lost, forgotten or become irrelevant?"
“Indeed, we live in the age of digitalisation. We cannot deny or criticise it. We just need to accept this fact as an integral part of our life. As to the preservation of customs, traditions, and national values, our ultimate goal must be the relentless promotion of our cultural heritage. When I say ‘we’, I don’t mean the arts society only, I mean each of us. The control and criticism that we get from the middle generation and adults are especially important. We should listen to them for guidance. Otherwise, we risk to lose our cultural identity as a nation.”
"What is the peak of your achievement? Did you hit that point already?"
“There is no concept of ‘peak’ in creative work for me. Creativity is an endless process. As soon as I reach one stage, I discover new opportunities and set new goals. Only by comparison do we have this feeling of creative peak, as you called it. Personally, I believe that each of us is able to discover endless peaks through imagination and hard work. If an artist believes that he or she has reached the pinnacle of creativity, is it worth continuing to create?! This must be the end of the road for him...”
"You have been living away from Azerbaijan and your loved ones for many years... Who do you miss more when you think about your homeland?"
“I miss my mother and siblings, of course, and all the people close and dear to me. I miss the good old times in Azerbaijan, the time I used to spend with my friends and relatives. These memories will live with me forever. I miss our traditions and customs, beautiful days...”
“We wish you good luck. We’ll closely watch your work and be proud of you.”
“Thank you for your interest in my work.”