Alim and Fargana Qasimov: Spiritual Music from the World of Islam


Contact: Elaine Merguerian, (212) 327-9271

Asia Society in association with the Aga Khan Music Initiative Presents

FRIDAY, MARCH 12, 2010
8:00 pm – Performance
7:00 pm – Pre-performance lecture
at Asia Society and Museum
725 Park Avenue (at 70th Street), NYC

Asia Society presents the Alim and Fargana Qasimov Ensemble, offering New York audiences a rare opportunity to experience Azerbaijani classical music, or mugham, a modal art music popular among the Caucasus and the Turkish-speaking people of central Asia.

The performance features Alim Qasimov and his daughter, Fargana Qasimov, both on vocal and daf. They are accompanied by Rafael Asgarov on balaban, a type of wind instrument, Rauf Islamov on kamancha, a spherical fiddle, Zaki Valiyev on tar or lute, and Javidan Nabiyev on naghara, a frame drum.

The joyful spirit of Alim and Fargana Qasimov’s homespun music-making has left its mark on the form of mugham which relies on the exquisitely disciplined balance between memorization and extemporization. Like other kindred traditions of urban court or classical music that span the core Muslim world from Casablanca, Morocco, to Kashgar in western China, mugham is rooted in a system of melodic modes and motifs that provide a framework for both improvised performances and fixed compositions. Following a conventional order, skilled performers sequence pieces in different melodic modes into a suite that may last anywhere from twenty minutes to two hours. Throughout a mugham suite, extended pieces that blend memorized and extemporized elements are alternated with short, dance-like instrumental compositions, or reng.

Alim Qasimov and his daughter Fargana exemplify the explosive artistic energy that results when a powerful musical model ignites the spark of young talent. “To be a musician, there has to be a fire burning in you,” says the elder Qasimov. “It’s either there or it isn’t. I’m convinced that if young people have this spark – call it inspiration, call it spiritual fire – they can perform any kind of music. It could be pop, folk, or classical, but whatever it is, they’ll stand out.”

Qasimov has been called:
"one of the 20th century's greatest singers" by Folk Roots, which praised his
"pure vocal excitement."

Al-Ahram weekly online has written:
“he [Alim] combines the elegance of classical rendition of music with intense passion, maintaining a tension between respect for the rules of a given mugham and absolute freedom…her [Fargana’s] voice is disarmingly powerful, yet warm all at once….they draw listeners to increasingly hidden corners of the soul…[through] a single voice, with two faces.”

A Creative Voices of Islam in Asia Project. Made possible by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, by the New York State Council on the Arts and with major support provided by the Malaysian Government, Sapura, and Sime Darby.

About the Artists

Alim Qasimov, (born in 1957), is an Azerbaijani musician and is one of the foremost mugham singers in Azerbaijan. In 1989, he formed a band with the Mansurov brothers – “Malik” on tar (lute) and “Eshan” on kamanche (violin). In recognition of his contribution to culture, he was recipient in 1999 of the UNESCO Music Prize, one of the highest international accolades for music. Mr. Qasimov has recorded nine albums, three of which are mugham, with his daughter, Fergana Qasimov. In 2006, he performed in an exceptional concert in Baku with world renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble. He has travelled extensively, bringing mugham to thousands of listeners in South America, Iran, Europe and the United States

Fergana Qasimov, had been informally practicing with her father since the age of sixteen and was an avid student of mugham. By the age of twenty she had become a full-fledged singer in her own right and Alim Qasimov brought her into his ensemble. Fergana first appeared on the 1997 album The Legendary Art of Mugham in which she and Alim shared the vocal tasks on Kronos Quartet’s song “Getme Getme”. Their next album included the track “Bagishlamani” dedicated to his forebear; Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. The release marked a high point for the Qasimovs as it was their first widely available release to western audiences and it proved to be a critical success.

About the Instruments

Balaban: A cylindrical oboe made from apricot, mulberry, or nut wood played with a large double reed that produces a soft, breathy, and, often, mournful sound.

Daf: A frame drum, also called qaval, widely used in Azerbaijani folk music as well as in the classical mugham. Fish, goat skin, or today, plastic provides the playing surface. Jingling metal rings are sometimes attached to the inside of the frame.

Kamancha: A spherical spike fiddle with a cylindrical neck fitted with four steel strings. The resonating chamber is traditionally covered with catfish skin. To play different strings, performers turn the instrument left or right on its spike rather than change the angle of the bow. A similar spike fiddle, sometimes fitted with three strings instead of four, is played in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, where it is called ghijak.

Naghara: A cylindrical double-sided frame drum held under the arm and played with hands rather than sticks. Naghara is typically played at festive celebrations, especially weddings.

Tar: A double-chested plucked lute used in urban music from the Caucasus and Iran. In Azerbaijan, the tar is widely considered the national instrument. Iranian and Azeri tars are distinguished by number of strings, quantity and position of frets, playing position, and type of plectrum.

About the Aga Khan Music Initiative

The Aga Khan Music Initiative was launched in 2000 by His Highness the Aga Khan to respond to a critical social need in post-Soviet Central Asia: the lack of resources and knowledge to develop indigenous artistic traditions that validate local identities and cultural heritage while at the same time forging an internationally recognized Central Asian artistic modernity. The Music Initiative identifies and supports outstanding musical talent, cultivates new approaches to musical performance and pedagogy, documents and disseminates the work of leading musical tradition-bearers, and nurtures collaborations among musicians from different parts of Central Eurasia and beyond. In recent years, the Music Initiative’s mandate has expanded to embrace South Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. The Music Initiative is a program of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, an agency of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). The AKDN is a group of development agencies with mandates that include the environment, health, education, architecture, culture, microfinance, rural development, disaster reduction, the promotion of private-sector enterprise, and the revitalization of historic cities. AKDN agencies are active in over 25 countries around the world and conduct their programs without regard to faith, origin, or gender. For more information, see

About the Asia Society

Founded in 1956 by John D. Rockefeller 3rd, Asia Society is a nonprofit nonpartisan educational institution. Through exhibitions and public programs, Asia Society provides a forum for the issues and viewpoints reflected in both traditional and contemporary Asian art, and in Asia today. Asia Society is located at 725 Park Avenue (at 70th Street), New York City.