world music

You've never heard western rock and pop the way these Azerbaijani musicians play them

The traditional music of the country dates back a thousand years, but now includes tunes from Elvis Presley to Pink Floyd.

Cover of Queen's 'We Will Rock You'

You may (or may not) know of Azerbaijan as the land of fire, but the Transcaucasian nation has a long and strong tradition of music. In the run up to the 2012 Eurovision Awards, an enterprising project named Bizimkiler (meaning "ours"), in the spirit of internationalism adapted popular western tunes to their traditional style of music.

The project was the brainchild of Seyfulla Mustafayev, the Vice President for Media at the ANS television channel. Explaining the idea, he told a local news outlet, “It would not have been appropriate before. Everyone knows our ethnic music but Eurovision created a new resonance. I wanted to show our guests from different parts of Europe that our victory in Eurovision (in 2011) was no accident; music has deep roots here. I also wanted to give international music to Azerbaijanis in the language of their own instruments.”

He adds, “Of course there were tricky moments – not every serious musician is comfortable with being asked to play such relatively simple music and let go of the conventions associated with their genre.”

The project had initially started out to cover “ten globally-known western tunes, plus three melodies adding a little eastern flavour.” Since then it has expanded to include covers of songs by artistes ranging from Chuck Berry to Lady Gaga.

Cover of Chuck Berry's 'You Never Can Tell'

Music is serious business in Azerbaijan. It has been influenced by Western opera and jazz but this project was met with resistance by musicians and listeners. Visions of Azerbaijan reports, "Some musicians just could not do it and some of the local audience were disturbed to see serious musicians smiling, not to mention appearing in ‘civvies’ – casual clothes."

The views have steadily increased, however.

Cover of The Beatles' 'Come Together'

Traditional instruments lend themselves to a wide range of genres.

Cover of Sade's 'Smooth Operator'

There are now covers of Lady Gaga, Nelly Furtado, Selena Gomez and other pop stars, besides the old greats like Pink Floyd and The Doors.

Cover of Pink Floyd's 'Another Brick in the Wall'
Cover of The Doors' 'Roadhouse Blues'
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