Wednesday, 25 February 2004

DAYIRMAN: COMBINING RAP, TRADITION, AND FRUSTRATION IN AZERBAIJAN

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By Narmina Rustamova (2/25/2004 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Dayirman is the first rap-group in Azerbaijan. They have propelled this genre of music to popularity in the country, where rap is everything but a traditional music style. But thanks to “Dayirman”, now rap is associated with the old traditional poetry genre “Meykhana” in Azerbaijan, where several people recite rhythmic poetry.
Dayirman is the first rap-group in Azerbaijan. They have propelled this genre of music to popularity in the country, where rap is everything but a traditional music style. But thanks to “Dayirman”, now rap is associated with the old traditional poetry genre “Meykhana” in Azerbaijan, where several people recite rhythmic poetry.

Meyhkana was always about social-political problems and the poetry recited has always carried a special meaning. Unlike “Dayirman”, “Meykhana”s poetry is not accompanied with instruments. People listen to the words, because many find something that reflects their concerns and feelings. Maybe the most important similarity between “Dayirman” and “Meyhkana” is that – they both carry a mission and reflect the mood and problems of the people. Whether “Dayirman” has picked up this genre deliberately or not is hard to tell, but one thing is clear – they follow the tradition of “Meykhana” as well as the tradition of rap, which everywhere tells of the most immediate concerns of the rappers’ communities.

The group reached the peak of its popularity with their song “Karabakh or death”, an emotional appeal of nationalism and frustration. Few in Azerbaijan have stayed indifferent to this music piece. This was not only due to the context but also due to the style of singing. It is the first time that modern music took up the widespread feelings connected to the war. The song expressed the despair of the Azerbaijani public with the loss of territories and directly and aggressively accused the Armenian side of brutality. In this sense, it impressed on listeners’ memory. Yet the song is also in a sense self-critical. It is interspersed with sound clips from the war, including those of Azerbaijani soldiers fleeing the frontline, telling each other “it’s enough, let’s go”. In this sense, it touches both on the Azerbaijani –Armenian tension and also the feeling of humiliation in the war.

Some criticize Dayirman, calling them nothing but warmongers. Some view them a being populist and exploiting sensitive issues to gain popularity at a convenient moment. The fact that group members are young rappers too creates a dichotomy between their message and their image, as nationalism has not been associated traditionally with rap.

Dayirman may be warmongers indeed. In Azerbaijani society, where lack of progress in the peace process remains the most important factor in politics, Dayirman’s message of frustration and anger can be perceived as calling for war. But at the same time, this is precisely the message that made the group popular. Whether described as militant, nationalist or patriotic – they reflect the mood of the society.

Meykhana as a “people’s form of art” is by nature populist. Populism is, in fact, the basis of its appeal. Wide-spread sentiments being the core of its message, Dayirman follows the Meykhana tradition in this respect as well.

With Dayirman, a very new and – as it has shown – effective form of expression has emerged in Azerbaijan. The group, through pop-culture, addresses both the government and the people of the country, as well as the world at large, which it calls upon to “look at the injustice”. Few would have expected that the songs of a rap group would do things that politicians failed to attain in a decade. Old, traditional styles of address such as meetings and gatherings lost their importance and are no longer heard, bringing little but boredom to the population. People are tired of empty promises from both the government and the political opposition. Amazingly, the same words sounded with new strength in the context of a rap song.

In their latest song “Mister President”, which is clearly a political message, “Dayirman” added the words of the late Azerbaijani president Heydar Aliyev, about the possibility of military action against the Armenian army to recover lost lands. As if answering to this, the group sings: “Mister President, receive us, we have so much to say and we are determined to gain victory or to die.”

If some of the group’s most famous music could be termed war mongering, it is important to note that the group’s songs are not limited the conflict but deals with other social problems as well. Not everything is presented in dark shadows. Addressing the passive attitudes among the younger generation, “Dayirman” calls for enthusiasm and belief in the future, shared responsibility. The group’s calls to think about tomorrow are very current and useful. It also speaks about the need that this thought to be expressed. Lyrics such as “what is the use of progressive Azerbaijani youth if they stay abroad after gaining western education”, expresses very important and current problems of modern Azerbaijan, and may affect Azerbaijani students listening to this song. Had these words been said by the Ministry of Education or other officials, they would mean little to the youth. But unlike such official admonitions, music as a new style is capable of affecting people. Music is listened to, is memorable and impresses on minds.

Even more interesting is that both the opposition that constantly criticizes the government and the government that shifts blame to the opposition avoid criticizing this rap group and their songs. Is it possible that these two conflicting sides found something in common? Perhaps opposing forces see that the songs raise the concerns of Azerbaijani society. They sing about political problems, problems in the health system, education, Karabakh, the environment, economy, identity, corruption, etc. The same issues that the opposition tries to tell to its audience. The songs do not just blame the government for the problems; they bring something novel, that had not been accepted in Azerbaijani society before – a call for responsibility.

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The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.

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