Azerbaijan International

Spring 1995 (3.1)
Pages 50-51

Tofig Guliyev
Musical Golden Oldies

Music lyrics available at

Tofig Guliyev, born 1917, is famous for his classic melodies and song. There's hardly a single famous Azerbaijani singer who has not sung one of his compositions. He now directs the Composer's Union of Azerbaijan of which he has been a member and Secretary for the past 25 years. He's wants music lovers internationally to know that Azerbaijan's Composer's Union desperately needs 3,000 sheets each of 14 and 30 staff music paper so Azerbaijan's composers can continue to write and orchestrate during this difficult transition.

Tofig Guliyev is one of the most celebrated contemporary composers of Azerbaijan whose works have become classics and been performed by Azerbaijan's foremost vocalists such as Bulbul, Rashid Behbudov and Shovkat Alakbarova. He was one of the founders of the Jazz movement in Azerbaijan during the sixties. He is currently the director of the Composer's Union of Azerbaijan in Baku.

As a child, I really wasn't interested in becoming a composer. I wanted to be a pianist or conductor. But my life was changed by one simple incident. One of my teachers, Asef Zeynalli, Azerbaijan's first professional composer, one day after our lesson, asked, "Do you know the poem, 'Child and Ice' by Sabir?" Of course, I did. "Take that poem and try to compose a song with it," he told me.

Well, I went home, and to be honest, I wasn't very interested. But I loved him and so the next day I gave him a song. He was so surprised that I had finished so fast. "Play it," he said, and I did. He made corrections with pen in a few places and asked me to play it again. He liked it and praised me a lot and with those simple words, my future was determined.

Many of my childhood friends were involved with music, too. Gara Garayev went on to become one of our most famous composers. Jovdat Hajiyev and Zakir Bagirov also became fine composers. Amina Dilbazi became a very famous classical folk dancer. I think we had so many talented people during that era because we had such good teachers. Baku had a flourishing cultural life in those days. We used to meet regularly with Uzeyir Hajibeyov and Muslim Magamayev who created classical Azerbaijani opera and professional music schools.

Jazz Movement in Azerbaijan
I got involved with jazz in the late 30s, again, quite by accident. I was studying in Moscow back then and needed to earn a few kopecks so I joined one of these groups, playing piano at the "National Hotel". Alexandre Sfasman led our band. Later when the Soviet radio organized their first variety band, and made him conductor. He took me with him.

In 1939 I returned to Baku. By that time, jazz had already been known throughout the Soviet Union for 10-15 years. Niyazi, who went on to become "Azerbaijan's beloved Maestro" as world-class composer and conductor-he and I organized Baku's first jazz orchestra in 1941. There were many young people here those days who loved jazz and played it well. Those years musicians in Baku keenly followed all the major musical events in the world through our only window-officially banned foreign radios like the "Voice of America". Charlie Parker was one of our favorites. It shouldn't be a surprise that most of the well-known Soviet jazzmen were Azerbaijanis.

I was involved in composing film music, too. Actually, the first music for film was composed by Muslim Magamayev in 1931-32. Again Niazi brought me into this profession and together, in 1939, we wrote the music for the film "Villagers". Later I did many films. Many of the songs that I wrote for Azerbaijan's most popular singers are now considered as "Golden Songs of Azerbaijan." I'm really proud of them.

But about our situation today. Fortunately, music and poetry are such genres that cannot be interrupted no matter what political or economic difficulties a country faces. Naturally, we're affected by them. But despite all our problems, there is considerable creative activity these days. We have numerous composers that are exceptionally active.

But the economic situation is seriously affecting all of us musicians. Look, I sit in this grand office (about 30' x 30') of the Composer's Union, and I have only a single lamp and tiny electric heater beside me here on my desk. It's tragic. But our most pressing problem is that we can't even get paper. Our people are creating pieces but they can't write them down because there is no paper.
Musical staff paper used to come from Finland via Kiev. But it's no longer accessible. That's my main problem now as Director of Azerbaijan's Composer Union-simply, trying to reduce the expenses of musicians and help them organize their work. It's critical for us to save the enthusiasm of composers and it keeps me so busy administratively that I'm no longer able to create myself.

From Azerbaijan International (3.1) Spring 1995.
© Azerbaijan International 1995. All rights reserved.

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