Azerbaijan International

Autumn 2005 (13.3)
Page 86

Women Ashugs Debut in US

San Francisco World Music Festival
by Anna Senarslan


1. "Ashug Pari Majlisi: Women Performers of Legend and Folk Poetry" by Anna Senarslan. AI 12.4 (Winter 2004).
2. "Music of the Bards: So You Want to Become an Ashug" by Anna Senarslan. AI 12.4 (Winter 2004).
3. "Discoveries: The Poet Minstrels of Azerbaijan" by Anna Senarslan. AI 12.4 (Winter 2004).


Anna Oldfield SenarslanA year ago, when I first started working with a group of women from the ancient "ashug" (epic singing) tradition of Azerbaijan, I never would have imagined that I would be bringing them to perform in the United States. At that time when I set out with a Fulbright Fellowship to study the art of women ashugs, their existence was virtually unknown, and epic arts worldwide were thought to have nearly disappeared.

Photo: Anna Senarslan.

Fortunately, the ashug tradition is alive and well in Azerbaijan, and some of its most vibrant practitioners are the women of the Ashug Pari Majlisi-a collective of performers under the leadership of master Gulara Azafli. In June 2005, when Michael Santoro and Kutay Derin Kugay of Door Dog Music came to Baku to meet traditional musicians, I introduced them to the Ashug Pari Majlisi. As a result, women ashugs Gulara Azafli and Zulfiyya Ibadova were invited to make their US debut at two concerts as part of the Sixth Annual San Francisco World Music Festival on October 8 and 9th. Audiences at these shows were the first in America to hear this soulful, courageous music performed by two virtuoso performers.

 azeri ashug, saz, ashug woman

 ashug, saz, azeri ashug woman

Above: Zulfiyya Ibadova and Gulara Asafli, both Ashug performers made their debut in the US at the Sixth Annual San Francisco World Music Festival in October 2005. The traditional stringed instrument shown here is the saz.

The San Francisco World Music Festival, which brings some of the most talented musicians in the world to the United States every October, has had a continuing tradition of showcasing musicians from Azerbaijan, and this year is no exception. The centerpiece of this year's festival was the Novruz Project, which combined music, poetry, dance, and film, in "an international music experiment and statement for global peace". This performance brought together traditional musicians of various nationalities, and featured Azerbaijani pianist Chingiz Sadikhov and kamancha soloist Imamyar Hasanov, who performed simultaneously with a video of his brother playing tar at Yanar Dagh (Burning Mountain) in Azerbaijan. Afghani, Persian, Kurdish and Assyrian Master Artists also participated in the Novruz Project.

The event took place at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco on October 2, 2005. Gulara Azafli and Zulfiyya Ibadova performed on October 8, 2005, at the Brava Theater in San Francisco, and on October 9 at the Ashkanaz Cultural Center at Berkeley on October 9, 2005. Visit the San Francisco World Music Festival Web site:

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