A former member of the Soviet Union, this predominately Muslim nation might be the birthplace of rap battles. Explore the ancient competitions called meykhana, the lush, labyrinthine folk of the Caspian and the forward-thinking crackle and pop of the mainstream. Here are some of our favorite Azerbaijani artists.
Making his name as a meykhana performer on the TV show De Gelsin, Ehmedli is considered among the best freestyle vocalists in the country. His recorded material, though sung in Azerbaijani, has such a palatable rhythm to it that you’ll want to hum along. The featured track above swoons with plucks of the saz, a lute from the Ottoman Empire, and a number of warm-tone hand drums.
As we’ve seen from so many of our national roundups, metal is universal. Al Sirat take up that banner for Azerbaijan. Singer/screamer Cola is the Middle Eastern equivalent of AFI’s Davey Havoc, coaxing his voice from a nasal delivery to a lupine growl in a matter of seconds. The guitars and bass by sYn and EdgaR are fuzzy chainsaws, slicing through riffs like butter. And drummer Hoyniac infuses a jazziness into the otherwise scathing wavelengths.
The daughter of the mugham jazz hero Vaqif Mustafa Zadeh, Aziza established her own blend of classical, folkloric and present-day music. Veering from waltzes to fevered bop, this gifted pianist and bold, melismatic singer bends time signatures to her will. If Tori Amos listened to more John Coltrane, this might be what she would come up with.
From opera to rock to dramatic pop, Kazimova has wowed audiences worldwide. The Baku native earned her greatest acclaim at the 2014 Eurovision competition with her bravado-laced “Start a Fire.” Following that distinction, she competed on the Ukrainian Voice, Holos Krainy. You can also check out her older works with Milk & Kisses and Unformal.
Creating with spirituality on his mind, Yusuf has been dubbed one of the most prominent stars of Islamic pop music. He’s quick to play down the title, as so many of his songs are about charity, grace and overcoming oppression. A 2010 single, “Hear Your Call,” raised money for Save the Children, a philanthropic entity whose focus was on the victims of that year’s monsoons in Pakistan. The London resident sings in numerous languages, including English, Arabic and Urdu.
"Sami Yusuf" by Zeeshan Kazmi - originally uploaded to Flickr as Sami Yusuf. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sami_Yusuf.jpg#/media/File:Sami_Yusuf.jpg
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