Author: Salatyn MIRZAYEVA
The prototype of modern balaban made from brass was discovered in Mingachevir and dates back to the 1st century BC. The word balaban is a combination of two words–bala (smaller, low) and ban (cock crowing)–associated with the peculiar tone of the musical instrument.
Azerbaijan has always been known for its strong school of balaban, whose representatives continue to promote Azerbaijan thanks to their professional performance not only in the country, but also abroad.
Alafsar Rahimov is one of such balaban players and a composer, who currently lives and works in Turkey. He actively supports progressive ideas to improve balaban’s sound and to unleash all sorts of its facets. He performs music of various genres on balaban. Mr. Rahimov’s two compositions–Panic and Quantum–specifically made for balaban are included in his first album Panic released in 2021.
Mr. Rahimov’s shows his emotions and love for life not only on stage, but also in his everyday life. He doesn't need prominence but a stage. His audience is composed of people indifferent to ethnic and national differences. His ambition is to revolutionise and add a value to his favourite national instrument. At the same time, Mr. Rahimov firmly believes that anything based on national origins and traditions should not be forgotten. This is the essence and meaning of balaban. Although the musician lives outside Azerbaijan, he works closely with his local colleagues. His due performances with Shahriyar Imanov, Alim Gasimov, Elnur Huseynov and Etibar Asadli are remarkable...
"Congratulations on the release of Panic. What’s its general concept and what compositions are included in the album?"
"Thank you. Releasing this album was my dream. I was patient and did it at the right time and in the right place. An album is sort of a passport for any creative person and plays an instrumental role in his or her development. My first jazz album Panic contains Azerbaijani folk music and composer songs, including two of my own–Panic and Quantum. Now I have a new goal ahead: to release two more albums. But they will contain exclusively my own compositions."
"What is your composition, Panic, about?"
"What we call panic is an endless state that all human beings experience and will experience beyond their control. Perhaps panic is what helps us see the truth and take conscious steps forward. The most important thing is to be able to extend a hand to someone who is in panic. One of such brave persons who extended his hand to me in due time when I was working on my album was a talented pianist and my friend Etibar Asadli. He arranged all the melodies of the album and added brilliance to the sounds. Seizing this opportunity, I’d like to thank him from the bottom of my heart."
"The album also includes your duo performances with Elnur Huseynov and the famous khanendeh Alim Gasimov. How did the idea of a joint performance develop?"
“I have known Elnur for a long time, since his participation in the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest. We even went to Belgrade with a concert to support him. We were not that close at that time yet. Two years ago he attended my concert in Izmir, where we got to know each other better. Gradually, our friendly relations have grown into a duo. Indeed, I’m not afraid to call Elnur a godsend for our country. I thank him very much. He supported me in making my dream come true. Then we were joined with Master Alim Gasimov, who also contributed to the success of our duo. I love the works of poet Imadaddin Nasimi. I cannot explain the reason but his poems give me great confidence, which encouraged me and other wonderful musicians to re-arrange the composition Qafil Oyan based on Nasimi’s lyrics. It has become one of the favourite compositions of many listeners by now.”
"Your contribution as a composer helps solving one of the vital problems of the balaban art–the lack of new melodies..."
"In music, the absence of new works means one and the only thing: a rapid fall regardless of how quick was one’s creative growth. Unfortunately, not everyone can be creative. Indeed, there are many popular compositions and folk songs also played on balaban. But how long can you play the same?! Many do not even know how versatile a musical instrument balaban is. We live in the age of the Internet and social media. It is very difficult to talk about it, but Armenia is doing everything to popularise this instrument as its own through supporting various serious projects. We have to develop the art of balaban as much as possible and never oppose innovations.
“In 2018, I took part in the International Mugham Competition, where the older generation were very critical of the innovations demonstrated by young performers. Sometimes this criticism was justified, yet sometimes it was unfair. I am not fan of spoiling a certain composition with my own performance style. But there are many other performers who, thanks to adding some good touches to the same melody, can create something wonderful. You know, listeners enjoy not only the composition, but also the skills of the performer.
“I don’t think Azerbaijan sufficiently promotes balaban worldwide. I have projects that, due to lack of funds, are gathering dust on the shelf. But I will do my best to revive this art by demonstrating my own style and creative attitude without compromising our national values. I support evolution and progress.”
"Is it true that young musicians don’t think balaban can earn them money, hence mastering another more profitable musical instrument. Then they just put the balaban aside. Does this have a negative impact on the balaban school in Azerbaijan?"
"So true! The most popular musical instruments in music schools are accordion and naghara. Parents also advise their children to choose ‘profitable’ instruments. In some music schools, you can seldom find children learning to play balaban."
"What musical instrument is the best for synthesising music with balaban?"
"Piano, trumpet and stringed instruments. Least of all, balaban can sound in harmony with garmon (Oriental accordion). Their sound frescoes do not match, but balaban goes quite well with the piano accordion. I still find it difficult to fully decide on this issue."
"Your choice of music is known for its sharp contrast: from The Pink Panther theme by Henry Mancini to Said Rustamov’s or Habil Aliyev’s compositions. What are your criteria of selection? Do you rely on your instincts, or is it an attempt to please the tastes of your listeners?"
"You hit the point again (smiles). Different performers choose different paths. The music of each of these composers is beautiful on its own. I use different genres in my music: folk, classical, ethno-jazz. I love listening to each of these genres. I am trying to find a path for balaban in each of these directions. I want to win the love of every listener in the large audience of the music lovers."
"How adequate or important is focusing your works on the taste of the audience. It may be so different..."
"Today everyone is used to listen to simple music, which instantly become popular hits. In Azerbaijan, the music business has been dependent on wedding parties. To earn extra money or feed their families, both creative and untalented musicians would play at these parties. The problem is that strong and weak performers are mixed. That’s why we don’t always have good music, while the quality of musical comprehension has downgraded to "listenable". And supply is a product of demand, as you know. We can see healthy competition and good musical taste of the audience when the musicians start earning money from professional concerts. Musician will try to do their best to be better than their counterparts, and this will become a standard of performance. Also, it’s imperative that concert fees exceed the money musicians earn in weddings to ensure healthy competition in the musical industry. Everyone has the right to earn for bread as much as one considers appropriate. I can see healthy competition in the musical industry here in Turkey."
"By the way, why did you choose Turkey to grow professionally?"
"There is a great interest and demand in balaban. I can do what I like to do here and earn money from this activity. I can realise some of my dreams and creative goals in this country. One of them, as I have already noted, is the release of a professional album and making money by performing at concerts and on stage. Turkey is a platform, which attracts many famous musicians from all over the world and where you can communicate with them. There are many other reasons (smiles). There were, of course, personal reasons for choosing this country. Taking into account all these factors, it was not difficult to decide."
"How productive was your participation in the 5th Turkic Zurnazen Festival?"
"Any festival brightens up the life of a musician. For me, there is no better feeling than meeting with my audience face to face to exchange emotions and winning new friends. Just imagine that over time the whole world becomes your family. Now we have a pandemic and no concerts. And most of all I miss the backstage, the jokes and the atmosphere behind the scenes. I miss even the food in plastic dishes distributed at festivals, which cannot replace the food in the most expensive restaurant for me. When you go on stage, you play music normally, and over time, your performance and the sound of your instrument improve. We miss the stage a lot..."
"’Be a good musician or a good manager’ is a slogan popular in the modern music industry. Advertising and propaganda play an instrumental role in publicity. Do you use these means as well?"
"I would say be whoever you want, but be the best. In many countries of the world, every professional needs the services of a manager. Because it helps to promote one. In Azerbaijan, I did everything on my own, but in Turkey everything is different. It is considered wrong here for the musician or any other creative person to discuss financial issues or deal with other organizational aspects. All this work is done by Hilal Beyazit, and I am satisfied. She perfectly knows all the subtleties of her business. My professional activity is supported by two people: my mother and Hilal-khanym. I am very grateful to both of them."
“’Every time I listen to Alafsar, I cannot stop myself from dancing. Walking along with my people, which has treaded the same path for millennia, I come into contact with our history and the spirit of our ancestors." These are the words of the famous Azerbaijani poet Bakhtiyar Vahabzade addressed to your grandfather, the famous zurna player Alafsar Rahimov. Unfortunately, you could not see him during his lifetime. What did he leave you morally and materially?”
"I am proud to be the grandson of Alafsar Shekili. Yes, I could not see my grandfather during his lifetime. I think that everything could have turned out differently if I had the luck to know him. The invaluable contribution of my grandfather to the art of zurna and its development in terms of expanding the range of possibilities. Everyone who knew my grandfather shares interesting memories of him and, most importantly, his human qualities. But what can I say when the great Bakhtiyar Vahabzade himself described the performance of my grandfather? I bow my head to each of these great persons."
"Your main dream is to be happy. What does make you happy? Is happiness anyhow related to the events taking place in our life, or is it an internal state of each person?"
"I am not looking for happiness bought for money. We all know that happiness is relative and temporary. Famous comedian Jim Carrey said a beautiful phrase: "I would like all people to become rich and famous, get everything they dream of, so that they understand that this is not the point." I have many dreams and goals, but if I talk about them, they will cease to be a dream, so I will leave it all to myself (smiles). I have been living in Istanbul for a year now and am in the epicentre of the city's bustling life. I wish myself and my loved one a quiet life in the countryside. I wish I could visit the city only for work and then return to the quiet life in the countryside."
"We wish your dream came true! Thank you for your answers!"
"And I thank you for your good questions. Love, Alafsar."