Ru Az

Music of the Heart

The name of this bright performer of Azerbaijani mugham has long become a common name, and his talent is a calling card of our country far beyond its borders. Alim Qasimov is a well-known Azerbaijani khanende, a member of the international assembly of rare voices, whose name is on the posters of the best concert salons of the world - from Washington to Cape Town, from Samarkand to London. For his original talent he is called "the greatest musician", the genius of our time", and the popular Icelandic singer, composer and film actress Björk admits that Alim Qasimov is "the best singer alive today". Alim Qasimov was included in the list of the most influential Muslims of the world, he was awarded with numerous titles and awards, including the UNESCO International Music Prize. Everyone, big and small, bows to his talent... The artist himself treats his gift calmly, pride is strange to him. With any of his interlocutors, he is as open and sincere as in the mugham, which in his performance cleanses, heals and awakens deep feelings of the listeners. From Arabic, the name "Alim" is translated as "wise", "sage". The performing skill of Alim Qasimov has a truly spiritual nature and is able to lead the listener away from the storm of the events of earthly life into other spaces, into an exciting journey deep into the soul. In an interview with NARGIS magazine, mugham master, People's Artist of Azerbaijan Alim Qasimov reflected on the nature and power of the gift, as well as on the most important, eternal and secret.

I know that you've been fasting for many years. If you have noticed, the number of people fasting has recently increased, and not only among practicing Muslims. What would you advise those who embarked on this path for the first time?
Fasting brings a special pleasure, it is a manifestation of faith. During fasting, a person does not drink or eat during daylight hours, that is, he leaves attachment to everything worldly. I think it's worth taking this chance to experience your spirit. I feel that during fasting people are spiritually enriched. Iftar is especially good to be spent with family, friends, and relatives. My grandchildren - one is 12, the other 15 years old - both fast. The joy of talking to the loved ones is a special joy.

Since you started talking about the family, how do you feel when you share the scene with your daughter, the beautiful performer of mugham Fargana khanim?
Although on stage I perform with Fargana, in fact, our whole family participates at the concert. We are all closely related to art and are very critical of it. Even strangers don't tell me as much about my flaws as my family does! Yes, yes, my family is, so to speak, a grand jury, and it is very hard to pass the "competition"!

And what do your grandchildren think about your artwork?
They already distinguish what is good and what is bad. I like that they have such freedom to express their opinion. Of course, they are young, they have their own vision of art, their own perception of mugham. I often talk to them, ask what they think about some matters. My eldest grandson once said: "Grandpa, I'm sorry, I didn't listen to you much before, but now I understand what you are doing and how". The main thing is that they should not only listen, but also hear.

The topic of this issue of Nargis magazine is gift. Do you think the gift is given from above or it can be developed?
A person constantly works on himself, it is in his nature, and God, of course, helps him in achieving the goal. Some do not realize their talent or their strength. I did not realize it. Everyone in our family sang. My father had a beautiful voice, and even now, although he does not hear well, his voice does not betray him. Relatives and friends advised me to improve in art. I tried many professions: I worked as a driver, laborer, watchman, earned as much as I could, but life itself led me to mugham. Yes, in my youth, which took place on the Soviet years, there were no such conditions like today. It happened that bribes were taken even for admission to a music school. As the today's children perform in competitions in front of the jury, I went to auditions to all our great artists. Strange, but none of them took my hand and said, that I was a talented child that needed to be helped with school admission and opportunity to study. After all, I was accepted for free into the Music College after Asaf Zeynalli by the recommendation of the late Siyavush Aslan. I want to say that life never flows in a straight line, there are eternal ups and downs, rain and sun, night and day. Neither I nor my family could have thought that I would become a mugham master. Honestly, in high school, I did not really cope with my studies. And suddenly, not knowing how, I took it seriously. My teacher was also the famous singer Agakhan Abdullayev. He saw me study a lot. I didn't stop doing it, even when guests came to our house... I've never felt like that before. I worked hard on myself. Of course, there are gifted, talented people. It happens that ten people read poetry, but only one makes an impression. Ten people sing mugham, but only one makes the hearts tremble. This means, the ability to influence the feelings of other people was given to him by the Almighty himself...

Do you think giftedness is given to a person to complete a certain mission?
Religious people say that I should have received a spiritual education. I worked a lot in this direction, but I do not have such an education, plus my memory is not that good. There are very beautiful voices, very talented readers of the Qur’an. But the Creator led me along the path of mugham and taught me to increase love for God, for humans, spiritual love in people's hearts. This is my mission. Otherwise, I would be destined, for example, to read the Qur'an. I have a different ability - to gather people through mugham and give them the opportunity to come closer to God, to cleanse spiritually. Allah says: "I am everywhere, you can see me in everything". Therefore, it seems to me that the Almighty fills voids in all spheres, professions, so that in the end everyone can step on the path of spiritual purification.

Many people want to find their mission, their purpose. What can you advise them?
Mission is the path to purity, beauty, and eventually to knowledge of God. From the height of my age, I can say that if young people can find this path and follow it, they will find answers to many questions: why they came to this world, what their task is... You can discover a gift in yourself and find the meaning of life precisely in the way of moral purification.

And how to make sure that after gaining and realizing your gift, your head does not spin because of success?
I think I was more educated by art than by myself. But I always had honesty, faith, and compassion. Looking back on my childhood, I remember that I was always merciful. And mercy is half the faith. If there is mercy, a person can find his own path, find himself. The main thing is to not wish others what you do not wish yourself. Loving your work and faith can bring a man to the righteous way. Then he is loved both by the Almighty and by people.

How do you choose ghazals for performance?
At first, we chose the ghazals that our masters read. But after numerous concerts, I began to study ghazals myself and perform mughams based on them. It is gratifying that today young people are doing the same, so ghazals are passed on from generation to generation.

What do you think the power of mugham is?
I explain this to myself by the fact that Allah created food for all living beings so that they could survive. Mugham is food for our souls. After all, it needs to be nourished too. People often ask me after the concerts: "Are you a Sufi or a Darvesh?" I usually answer that I know nothing about their ways, but maybe there are some similarities with them in my music or actions... Some cry, listening to mugham, others fall in love with it... Often people tell us: "You brought us closer to Allah, as if we saw him!". Even people who are not related to Islam, listening to us, say: "You lifted us to the stars".

...As if an invisible door opens in a person's soul.
Exactly. Music distances people away from the material, visible world and moves to the spiritual world, a world of love. This feature is inherent in mugham as well. Immersed in this music, you can look strange in the eyes of other people. But in the world of mugham, words, music and improvisation are so organically intertwined that you feel the flight! You are very comfortable in this world of music, this is a completely beautiful feeling - a sense of harmony. When the inner fire burns in the musicians, when the music and voice are fused together, everything around it gains harmony. In this state, you don't even think about whether the listener accepted you or not - you are just sure that if the musician feels the flight, then his listener feels the same. We witness it at every concert.

What is the usual reaction of listeners who heard mugham for the first time?
At that moment, a person feels extremely happy. It's very interesting to watch. As if people were hungry, and you helped them satisfy the hunger, they languished in thirst - and you let them quench their thirst.

We often listen in the office to your song "Rababi" to the words of Jalaleddin Rumi, released last December. I know that Rumi's gazelles are an important part of your work. Who else among the classics inspire you?
The late Fateh Ali Khan from Pakistan, who performed Sufi music and sang the Word of God. He sang about our Prophet Ali, about the divine, peace be upon him and the blessing of Allah... Pakistanis are close to Sufi music. Fateh Ali Khan has become very popular around the world. I once attended a concert dedicated to him in France, it was very interesting. I listen to artists whose music, poems, voice come from the world I just talked about. There are also musicians who do not belong to that world, but perform Sufi music. It has its own charm.

You probably also noticed that often gifted people are united by one geography, country, region or even a city. In Azerbaijan, for example, such place of force before the occupation was Shusha...
Shusha is a land generous of talent. And the fact that many famous Azerbaijani musicians come from Shusha is a vivid testimony to this. From time immemorial, intelligentsia flocked to Shusha from everywhere, and therefore everything developed there - music, art... The creative atmosphere in Shusha has developed over time by itself. As you can see, today everyone has gathered in Baku, and now talents more often appear here. Previously, for example, when the center of culture was Shamakha, the capital of the Shirvanshah state, all artists and writers gathered there. And this, by the way, was also a fertile place where intellectuals, capable people in all spheres, developed. They also made a significant contribution to the culture of their country.

You were in Shusha last December. Can you share your impressions?
It wasn't my first trip to Shusha. For the first time we were there with the late Suleyman Aleskerov in the 80's. I remember the tops of the trees were snow-white, as if decorated by Santa Claus...Later, Shusha with her mountain peaks and clean air seemed orphaned - but now her former atmosphere will gradually be restored and people will return to their native lands.

You said that it was necessary to organize a festival on Jidir Plain. How do you imagine it?
Hope to God this will happen. If this festival becomes annual and traditional, famous people will begin to come to Shusha and the whole world will know about its beauty. I think this musical holiday will take a worthy place among international folklore festivals, which have many fans in different countries.

The question of declaring Shusha the cultural center of the Turkic world is also being discussed currently. What do you think the transformation of as you noted "orphaned" city should start with?
To revive Shusha, real masters, those who value and serve art, must start building exemplary schools and workshops there. The schools that can give an answer to some of our significant questions. It must be a beautiful land, a real shrine, so that people from abroad come there in search of spiritual food. This will happen when the city's own unique aura is restored. We prayed in the Shusha mosque that our people, our youth and our land would never know wars again.

I know you didn't stop working even in times of pandemic. What can you say about the forthcoming plans?
Soon a large theater festival will take place in Moscow. Despite the fact that it is theatrical, we decided to take part in it, to support children and musicians. Along with this, we also received a couple of interesting offers from Turkey.

Unfortunately, the pandemic hurt creative people badly...
With the pandemic, the artists stopped everything, however, like everyone else. What times we have witnessed! It happened that someone close got ill, and he couldn't be visited... Your own child is isolated in the next room, and you can't come in because you can get infected... I think the Creator tells us this way: "Who are you? In fact, nobody!" Sometimes we make so much fuss around us, but in reality, we are no one!

What would you like to wish Nargis readers?
I wish the readers of Nargis magazine to explore the world not with their eyes, but with their hearts. Our eyes have already spoiled us. You need to listen to music that develops the inner world - this is what I wish everyone.