The Azeris: Alim Qasimov

“adores” a whole range of singers: “Chaka Khan, Beyoncé, Antony” – the latter being Antony Hegarty, a former collaborator who is here in the audience – though her “favourite singer alive today” is Azerbaijani devotional singer Alim Qasimov.”

Björk’s  yesterday’s interview to Guardian

I read this today and couldn’t be more proud.

I’ve heard him sing live only once but it was enough. It was my friend’s wedding, where Alim Qasimov was invited as a guest. During the wedding, people would surround him trying to chat or take pictures. He would response affably to each and one of them and never refused any of the requests. By the end of the wedding he was invited to the stage and asked to sing.

He did.

It wasn’t just singing, it was him making music and us feeling it. His performance took me to the deepest corners of my soul and I felt goose bumps all over my body. Most of the people stood up enchanted and listened in silence. When he finished, I felt tears in my eyes, while people burst into applause.

I’ve heard him sing only once, but it was enough to realize his value.


Alim Qasimov (1957) is a prominent mugham singer named a “Living National Treasure” of Azerbaijan. He has been passionate about mugham since his early childhood, but initially Qasimov sang mugham solely for his own enjoyment. Only at the age of nineteen, after having held various jobs as an agricultural worker and driver, did he decide to pursue a career in music. Qasimov studied at the Asaf Zeynalli Music College (1978-1982) and the Azerbaijan University of Arts (1982-1989). His teacher was well-known mugham singer Aghakhan Abdullayev.

Qasimov’s first remarkable international success occurred in 1988 when he won first prize at the International Festival and Symposium on Traditional Music in Samargand, Uzbekistan. Since then, he has been traveling worldwide to spread the art of Azerbaijani mugham.

Alim appears on 12 CDs released in Europe and the United States, on one of them, Love’s Deep Ocean (1999, Network Medien, Frankfurt, Germany) together with his daughter and student Fargana Qasimova. In addition to performing with the Silk Road Ensemble, Qasimov performs with the Kronos Quartet as part of his collaboration with the Aga Khan Initiative in Central Asia.

“Alim Qasimov is simply one of the greatest singers alive, with a searing spontaneity that conjures passion and devotion, contemplation and incantation.”

The New York Times

Here he is – one of the greatest Azerbaijanis, legendary mugam singer Alim Qasimov.

Alim Qasimov performing “What will you say” with Jeff Buckley in 1995 on Festival of Sacred Music in France.


Alim Qasimov with daughter Fargana

Alim Qasimov on Facebook

Alim Qasimov on Wikipedia

My Top 20 AwesomePeopleHangingOutTogether

One of my last year’s discoveries – AwesomePeopleHangingOutTogether , a website with pictures of famous people “hanging out”. There you can find a 40 year old picture of your idol cooking something on his kitchen, politicians meeting celebrities, Holliwood legends at the backstage of Academy Awards or casually hanging out at some parties.

And even though the interface is not very convenient it’s definitely worth checking out and RSS-ing.

Meanwhile, I’ll post my favorite pictures from the website.


Elvis Presley and Sophia Loren by Bob Willoughby, 1958

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Biutiful (2010)

I am what they call a “movie junkie”. I love watching movies, showing movies, discussing movies. Now I’ve decided to also write about them. I’m not a professional, I just want to share what I like and don’t like, while you can agree or disagree. So, let’s begin.


“If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.” A.P. Chekhov


Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Starring: Javier BardemMaricel Álvarez and others

Description: Uxbal (Javier Bardem) is a middle aged man trying his best to raise his two children, deal with a mentally unstable ex-wife (Maricel Álvarez) and earn money on all kinds of jobs to feed his family. Along with the usual problems appears a new struggle – he is diagnosed with cancer.

What I think: I don’t like detailed descriptions of movies, as well as teasers. In my opinion, they often spoil the whole impression, giving too much information about the movie. But Biutiful is one of the films that can not be spoiled. It is an unusual story of a seemingly usual man, which will not leave you indifferent, but will not load your brain with ugly pictures either – no, it is pretty merciful to the sensitive eye of the viewer. It will give you a whole variety of emotions: you will laugh and cry, get creeps and find yourself enjoying ugliness because it suddenly seems… beautiful. You might even start talking to the characters, asking them not to do certain things. Or it’s just me.

Beautiful camerawork is probably the first thing one notices – live and deep shots make the nicest picture. Dynamic editing is the one to keep you concentrated, because there are simply no irrelevant scenes or long useless shots. Trust me, you will not want to look at your watch to check what time it is, because all you will care about at the moment is how not to miss a detail. Dialogues are clever and humorous when needed. The last line of the movie should also leave its impression on you. And by the way, don’t expect to see Barcelona the way it’s usually depicted. In Biutiful we see its ugly side.

Javier Bardem is climbing my rating of favorite actors as fast as no one else before. Of course, this role did not allow him to blow our minds again as in The Sea Inside or Love in the Time of Cholera but he is still natural and, you can tell, knows what he’s doing. Maricel Álvarez, for whom Biutiful became the second movie she starred at, did a good job playing the weirdly unattractive and completely “coocoo” towards her kids and the world around Marambra, Uxbal’s ex-wife.

About the creators: One of the reasons I love Iñárritu for, is the special yet every time different style he holds on to. Whether it’s Amores Perros21 Gramsor Babel you can tell his hand, but it’s still new, fresh and impressive. He finds no need to subtitle dialogues in foreign languages, because you don’t get subtitles in real life, he puts important details throughout the movie, so you have to watch it closely and more importantly – absolutely every “pistol” he hangs on the wall eventually fires.

Another detail one notices about him is his loyalty to the talented crew he once discovered. When you watch Iñárritu‘s movies you can be sure to see a beautiful camera work with long, sophisticated shots by Rodrigo Prieto, notice dynamic editing by Stephen Mirrione and enjoy tender music by Gustavo SantaolallaBiutiful is the first movie he made without his usual writer Guillermo Arriaga. Among producers you will also recognize some names like Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro.

My rating: 8.5 (out of 10). Definitely worth watching.

When to watch:either alone at home or with intellectual friends (preferably cinema junkies) who you can later discuss every detail with and stay under impression for the whole following week.

Gandhi Knew What He Was Talking About

I was checking Macbook’s page on yesterday and it reminded me how I was doing the same thing last summer – checking the page and dreaming about having a Mac. Financially dreaming.

I got it two months later.

But it’s not important.

The other day I heard a song, which I was listening to in January, when taking GRE classes. I would take short breaks between the classes, stand in a tiny yard of Baku Education and Information Center, smoking. It was the only time of day when I would allow myself to dream. For 10 minutes only. I dreamt about getting the scholarship I was preparing for; about being accepted to a university in the USA; about my farewell party with all my friends attending; about the day I will be leaving; about having to say goodbye to the things I’m used to and the new challenges that would expect me on the other side of the planet; about the new direction my life will take.

Then, I would throw away the cigarette, tell myself not to count on getting the scholarship too much, because I might not get it and go back to the class.

I got the scholarship.

And I got accepted to the University of Arizona, Tucson.

And I’m leaving in August.

Dream. That’s how you plan things.

Iranian Dream

As any developing country Azerbaijan is a land of contrasts. There is Baku, with its street lights, numerous luxurious hotels and posh boutiques and there are regions.

The video I saw today on Radio Liberty is a no-comment one. It shows Azerbaijani city on the border with Iran. And hundreds of people trying to get out of the country. Yes, you are seeing people who are looking for a better life… in Iran.

Watch the video here:

10 Opening Credits You Have To Recognize…

…if you were growing up in 80-90s in a post-Soviet country.

Special thanks to my brother for having an awesome memory!

I’ll go chronologically backwards, from the ones you remember for sure, to the ones that’ll awaken your earliest memories.

1. Sunset Beach 1997-1999

Yes, we were young, stupid and were watching this blah

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Terrorists in Azerbaijan. Again?

Last month a friend of mine contacted me from France, asking “what the hell is going on in Azerbaijan?!”. Apparently, she saw the notification that the Embassy of the United States has posted on its webpage, which warned about a terroristic threat and advised its citizens to “remain vigilant, particularly in public places associated with the Western community.” A reminder was posted again on February 11th. Some media sources reported the same alerts being posted on the UK embassy’s webpage, but I couldn’t find it anywhere.

On February 14th news about the temporary closure of the Israeli embassy for “technical reasons” broke. The next day it was reported the embassy was back at work, but again, some media sources denied this information.

Today, around 18.00 one of the central streets (BulBul Avenue) was shut down because of an information about a bomb planted. The pedestrians were asked not to cross the street, the traffic was forbidden. According to RFE/RL Baku, the situation was provoked by an anonymous call about an unknown box left on the street (which is more than a common thing to see in Azerbaijan, but still). The police closed the subway and kept the box surrounded for 45 minutes. The paramedics were also waiting at the scene. It turned out the suspicious object was just an empty shoe box.

The last terrorist attack took place in Azerbaijan in April 30, 2009 in the State Oil Academy. The officials report about 13 people killed and 10 injured. The terrorist, a Georgian citizen of Azerbaijani descent, reportedly committed suicide at the scene.

Being An Activist

If the last three years of my life taught me something, it would be the toughness of being firm in what I believe in and standing up for this as long as it’s needed.

During recent events in Egypt many people around would ask me and my friends why we cared about it so much to write posts and tweet and facebook about it. We couldn’t explain, that their victory will affect all of us. And, apparently, it did.

Now that Jabbar Savalan’s case is happening, I know exactly what those close to him feel. When Emin and Adnan got arrested in July 2009 it was also a start to a whole new page of my life – the one when I had to pick a side and stick to it. I did and have never regretted it. I was most certainly sure that my friends were not guilty and did not deserve what they got. It was also the time when I realized that most of the things I cared about before didn’t mean a thing.

Ever since, among my oldest friends I was perceived as a “dissident” and would often be asked: “Are you still not arrested?” by the most sarcastic of them. On Facebook, where most of our activity was concentrated, many unfriended or hid me. Losing some of them, was pretty painful, but the cause was worth it. Especially, given that it introduced me to the whole new dimension – the world of activism.


Admitting inconvenient truth is not easy by definition: first you need to learn to be objetive about yourself and your family. Then, you learn to do the same about your country, which, trust me, is the toughest one. You have to see both good sides and the ones people around you prefer to forget about. You have to admit that your country is NOT perfect. Then you start acting.

If life was a high school – activists would probably be these crazy kids who give away flyers and care about an old tree to be cut. They make it seem as if they don’t care what others think. They have secret crushes on cool kids, they want to go to parties, but usually don’t get invited.

But life is not a high school. And they’re not pathetic weirdos.

Activists, are the ones to start telling the truth, when others prefer to ignore it. They go against the flow, when many settle for what’s given. They go to prisons, for those who are not ready to stand for their rights. Activists are the ones to advocate for those who are not ready to speak up. They experience fear for themselves and their families. They lose some friends to prisons; they understand when others stop saying “Hello” because of fear. They patiently wait until these people come back, and in most of the cases, act as if nothing happened. But the main thing to understand about activists is that their goal is to make people think, while people are the ones to eventually go out to the streets and demand the justice.

Activists are activists not because they’re bored, not because it’s cool to be ones and certainly not because it’s easy. Most of them suffer personality disorders and periodically doubt themselves. But every morning they wake up to do what they do.

Simply because someone has to do it.


There are two women among many of my friends who I admire and adore in a very special way. Both happily married, both having pretty much everything a person needs to have a stable and careless life. Nevertheless, both among the most passionate activists of our country. Arzu and Mehriban, this post is for you, for all the other activists around the world and for those who don’t, and probably, will never get us.

Free Hugs

About being positive: a group of young Azeris held a “Free Hugs” flashmob on the streets of Baku – one step closer to my idea of a Kissing Flashmob. 😉

Yes, we are a Muslim majority country.

Corrupted No More

One of the good things about living in small communities is that rumors usually turn out to be true. No, not the gossiping-about-people-and-their-sex-lives kind of rumors, but the ones about important news.

Right after Tunisia held the revolution and in the middle of the Egyptian one, the air in Baku started to change. A wave has flown around Baku, whispering that, taking bribes is now forbidden – there is no corruption anymore. And, well, after living your whole life in a country, where you know you’ll have to bribe whatever you do and wherever you go – it sounds kind of shocking at first. And since you also know “where the news come from” you don’t believe the media sources either.

And that’s when you go to the people and ask them if it’s true. It turns out it is. A friend of a neighbor was supposed to pay 100 000 EUR annual bribe for his 4 supermarkets. When he came to the Tax guys, they silently sent him to the cashiers, where he paid his official 10 000 EUR and went back home absolutely happy.

Another guy brings cars for sell from Europe to Azerbaijan. He would usually pay around 80 000 EUR for several cars on the customs. This time, however, he was also sent to the cashiers and paid 5 000 EUR. He went back to “his guys” and offered to give them the rest, but the horrified used-to-be-bullies sent him home and told not to come back with these kind of offers. The guy celebrated all night and all day.

Then you read about dozens fired in ministries, reforms to be implemented in the most corrupted structures and special services created to address people’s problems and complaints. And for the first time in your life you feel the scent of the Change.

But the saddest part is, the first thing to come to your mind is: “I wonder how long it will last”. Because, let’s be honest, why does it take two revolutions thousand miles away to fix the biggest problem, that harmed and drove away two generations of your people and made the country #134 in the world corruption index?

However, since as any desperate activist I’m not only a cynical critic, but also a believer, I’ll lean back in my chair and wait. I’ll wait for the 19-year-old to be released from the prison; I’ll wait for my friends to be taken off the hook of a conditional release for the crime they did not commit; I’ll wait for the irrational projects and economical solutions to be abolished or fixed; I’ll wait for the day when I will not need rumors to believe the news.


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