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Rapping for freedom and democracy in Azerbaijan (updated)

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ShirBand ft Slang. Qorxaga ver cesaret: The title means 'show courage to coward(s). The chorus is saying that this imprisonment, enslavement won't go on for much longer; 'your protesting tongue, your words are golden; your arms that rise fearlessly in the Square are golden.' Then it talks about how they're selling bullshit to everyone, manipulating their thoughts, etc. Says 'I could be the dead student that you don't give a damn about, or i could be partying with you while the city is mourning' (ref. to Gul Bayrami/ Flower Holiday) 'but i'm just a poet telling the truth.' Then Shirband asks those fooled by economic 'progress' if the child is born into an economically strong country, then why is he hungry? Not everything is skin deep; i'm a hooligan and you have no honor. Join me, believe in me, etc. Summary by Leyla.

Alternative music in the former Soviet Union has always been synonymous with change and freedom, but in recent years in the South Caucasus -- particularly in Armenia and Azerbaijan -- few musicians have spoken out against the regimes in place. In fact, music has more often than not taken on a nationalist agenda as Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia all illustrated quite clearly this year during the nearly always controversial Eurovision Song Contest.  

However, if some musicians in Georgia have used their public profiles to ridicule both government and opposition politicians alike while there is at least one musician in Armenia who has taken a stand following last year's disputed presidential election, nothing could have prepared anyone for the emergence of at least two rap bands in Azerbaijan who are using their music to openly campaign for democracy and human rights in the country. For the third anniversary of the OL! Azerbaijani Youth Movement founded by detained video blogger Adnan Hajizade. for example, Shirband wrote a rap anthem. H., an Azeri friend, recently translated the lyrics for me.

Be Free
Be Democratic
Stand up and light a candle
OL is a moment where there exists
Hopes, wishes and freedom

Here comes a voice
Here comes Shirband
Here a new trick comes to your ear
Here comes a border separating your freedom
From its end
Even though wolves are howling at you
And those who are howling are joining the nation
Even though you are hungry for freedom
Here comes a pain for those who want to suffocate the youth
But be free and be optimistic
Our fight is getting harsher every day
Our voices will get to you and will be a crown in your hearts (i.e. be very dear to me)
There are many unseen forces
Many young people dedicated to the idea
Many freedom mujahedeen
And many who join their voices to ours

Be Free
Be Democratic... (etc)

The future is not in time, but is in us
Our voice has suffered for a long time in our hearts
Many people have seen us and heard us
And listened to our lament for freedom
This road is our own present to ourselves
Our future won't come with time
We will bring the future ourselves
Here is our manifesto for you to know..
Even if there are mountains and stones on our road
We will break through them all
With the ones dedicated to the idea
and their breaths hungry for freedom
Every affair of ours is a new step
We are reaching the goal step by step
Come join us, the road is expecting You too, Be Free, Be Democratic and Be Tolerant..

Be Free --------------------- (OL AZAD:)
Be Democratic..(etc) download



Since then, other songs include Fuck (download), a song against corruption and authoritarianism in Azerbaijan, while their latest, Davam edir 37 (download), is dedicated to Hajizade and Emin Milli currently held in detention and due to be tried for "hooliganism" next week

An online acquaintance, P., summarized the song's lyrics in English as: "1937 [the year of Stalin's purges] is still going on, even more strictly, more seriously, now with oil and gas, the youth are being arrested, we always feel these black jeeps following us..."  

In comparison, the last rap band in Armenia which many hoped might speak out for disenfranchised and disenchanted youth not only supported a pro-government party run by the country's main oligarch in the 2007 parliamentary election, but also wrote a song for its campaign. And rock groups in Azerbaijan have not been silent either with Ozan writing an anthem for Dalga, another youth movement in the country. Again, thanks to H. for the translation.

There is fire burning in our souls
There is protest on our tongues
Let the tired faces smile
Tomorrow is in our hands
Let our students and youth
Be a beacon for ancient East
Let us arm ourselves with love
So that victory is ours

So let's today and even now
Go through the darknesses
kill all fears
bring light in waves ("dalgha" means wave in Azeri)
Let's say hello 
to a beautiful and bright future
to a healthy and free society
To justice and humanity..

We say no to the old ways
To cliches and taboos
Let us bring the morning filled with love
To close and far places
Let's tear down all walls 
so that sun is in our houses
let's sail through the seas
so that everyone calls us "waves."

(So let's today or even now..) (repeat) download

Of course, the authorities are also well aware of the potential for change that alternative music brings with it. Last month, one Azeri newspaper reported that rap fans were even being intimidated by national security service agents.

The special services of the Naxcivan Autonomous Republic have been hunting for fans of the H.O.S.T ALLIANCE rap group. On Monday evening, two men, who introduced themselves as agents of the NSM [the National Security Ministry], approached a place where the group's fans come together.

They took all the 15 young men there at that time to the NSM where they were kept for eight hours. The young men were demanded that they not listen to the group's songs and not wear shirts with their symbols. The special services substantiated this with the "instigating nature" of the group's music, the vagueness of their symbols and to whom and what their songs serve.

At the same time, the hunt for young people who download the group's songs to their mobile phones is under way. They are stopped and demanded that they delete their songs. An attempt by a Turan news agency correspondent to contact the Naxcivan National Security Ministry failed as no-one answered telephone calls.

The prominent H.O.S.T ALLIANCE rap group released its first disc in 2007, however, it was not allowed for official sale. Therefore, discs were distributed for free and earned popularity among young people. H.O.S.T is an acronym standing for air, fire, water and soil [hava - air; od - fire; su - water; torpaq - soil]. The songs of the group are about civil attitudes and criticism of negative cases. Several months ago, the group members were detained in Baku on false accusations and were demanded that they stop "composing and singing anti-state songs".

Source: Azadliq, Baku in Azeri 29 Jul 09 p 3

Incidentally, to follow up on my last article on rock music in Armenia for EurasiaNet as well as numerous blog posts, a new one on alternative music in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia will soon see the light of day for Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso. Meanwhile, the songs mentioned in this entry can be downloaded at: Shirband's OL! Azad (download), Fuck (download), Davam edir 37 (download) and Ozan's Dalga (download)



Shirband | September 1, 2009 11:37 PM | Reply

Onnik, thank you for your article.

Onnik Krikorian | September 2, 2009 1:31 AM | Reply

Thanks for the music, Shirband.

Meanwhile, after updating this post with music from the H.O.S.T Alliance and also posting some video on Facebook, was pointed in the direction of their song, Azerbaijan thanks to Leyla who also provided a rough translation of the lyrics.

It's like a lullaby to Azerbaijan. "lay lay" is how lullabies start (like the rocking motion, i guess.) so every line starts with "lay lay," saying:

Lay lay, my Azerbaijan... Lay lay, my homeland, my motherland... Lay lay, my people, my poor folk, lay lay, close your eyes - sweet dreams to you.

Sleep, sleep your worried, dreamy head, my people - sleep as long as there is no one to turn the light on for you; as long as there is no power behind your words. Sleep as long as you like... [...] But my people - my people who beat their hands against their heart; my people who leave everything to tomorrow; my people who love Karabakh while love is still only expressed by words... While bribes are still given without thought. My people who only complain in their sleep, in their dreams. We are only a people in our sleep.

But hush now, the people are sleeping.



Anyway, impressive socially and politically conscious rap scene. To date I have not seen or heard anything like it in Armenia. Hopefully, as with an impressive youth movement in Azerbaijan, this could serve as an inspiration for their counterparts here.

It's certainly what I'd expect from a society trying to push itself forwards.

P.S. As an aside, but connected to music, Leyla's name is, yes, the same as Eric Clapton's Layla. It comes from a book, Layla and Majnun, which was the inspiration for the song. More on one of my old blogs.


Bart | September 4, 2009 4:11 PM | Reply

Onnik, a bit of a late comment, but this post is just of such high quality that I just want to say: thanks! :-)

Onnik Krikorian | September 7, 2009 6:48 AM | Reply

Seems like the Dalga youth movement has another rock anthem. Here's how one FB-er describes it:

Rock is spoken from Dalga (Wave) idea. Dalga-freedom wave... Dalga-free individual... Dalga-responsible citizen... Dalga-without fight victory...

The song can be downloaded at:

Onnik Krikorian | September 10, 2009 12:21 PM | Reply

Osservatorio have just published my article based on this entry:

Music in all three republics continues to be dominated by those singers and musicians who are subordinate to nationalist or predominant political interests. But rock and rap bands are starting to speak out, especially in Azerbaijan link

Anyway, since both pieces, I've spoken to Arsen Hakobyan, a local advocate and promoter of rock music in Armenia.

Are there any bands using their music to sing about social issues in Armenia? If not, have there been?

No, there aren't, and I don't think there have been any, except for this all-girl punk band called Incest. They had some songs on social matters, I suppose. Their leader, Tsomak is now involved in activities supporting lgbt and feminist rights and also plays in a band called Inad. Not sure what they sing about, though.

Despite the problems with closed borders, is it possible to think in terms of a Caucasus market for rock music?

I don't think so, it's too small and undeveloped and it doesn't get much interest and attention to be called a market. Another reason is that till recently there was not much awareness and interaction between the countries and the whole rock/metal scene in the region has been disjointed for years.

How do you view the state of rock music in the South Caucasus?

Deep underground, but getting better and more powerful by the day, which I tie to the social, economical and media improvements in the countries of the region. Now that many people's mind are not solely devoted to the ways of fetching food, they can start playing. Another good thing is that recently we have started to make cultural ties with surrounding countries, Georgia, Iran, Turkey, having their bands play here or the other way around. Being united and working together is the quickest and the most natural way of developing the scene in the region as a whole.

What are the obstacles to the development of rock music in the region?

It's all obstacles. Not enough people appreciating and respecting the genre, thus a little audience and scarcely filled concert halls, no sponsoring and support by those higher up, refusal of public TV companies to promote anything but armenian and mainstream music, public opinion that rock music is immoral and evil.

There's the problem with finding rehearsal rooms and paying for them. There's also the lack of equipment and instruments at decent prices for the musicians. There is no one to teach you what to do or even guide you in making music, playing music or recording it, whatever you do you do it by yourself, often reinventing the wheel over and over again.

There are no major bands touring to this region, and nobody wants to invite a band from here to play abroad. Not because they don't want to play here or our bands are worse then what they have, but only because we're too far from Europe and it makes no sense financially. And since there's no way of digging a tunnel to Europe we must start building the scene right here, so that it spreads until it reaches Europe.

And to build a scene and get rid of the most of the aforementioned obstacles we must make rock music more accessable, popular and in demand.

What do you think?