With a combination of the kitsch of Eurovision and the lofty sentiments of pan-Turkic brotherhood, the Turkic-speaking world’s first international song contest, Turkvision, made its debut. Azerbaijan won the inaugural contest, besting 23 other competitors from across the Turkic world – from the powerhouse host Turkey to tiny Shoria, a region of 14,000 in western Siberia.
When it comes to Azerbaijan and music, Eurovision – and, now, Jennifer Lopez – have largely hogged the outside world’s attention. But practitioners of mugam, an ancient Azerbaijani form of musical poetry set to percussion and strings, feel no sense of threat. Western pop music and mugam – the one about glamour, the other about ghazals – can peacefully coexist, they say.
It’s Thursday night at the Soviet-era House of Culture in Agudzera, a village outside Sukhumi, the capital of the breakaway region of Abkhazia, and three Abkhaz rock bands are setting up for a concert. The lighting and sound system is professional and right out of the box, but guitarist Alexander Tsamruk of the band Ferumage must adjust the levels because there is no soundman.