Now singing of war

Bülbüloğlu‘s self-chosen surname literally means “son of the nightingale”: his father, an accomplished and officially extolled Soviet Azeri singer, was nicknamed Bülbül, “nightingale”. Murtuza Mamedov-Bülbül, the son of an Azeri father and a Kurdish mother, started out as a folk singer (“khananda”) in the Azeri mugham tradition. Under Soviet rule, he graduated from the conservatory in Baku and studied classical singing in Italy.

Polad, his son, became famous not merely in Azerbaijan but in all the Soviet Union in the 1970s, while still in his late 20s and early 30s, as a pop song composer and singer. His singing style was easily recognizable and unique, at least outside of Azerbaijan. It was a curious West-East fusion somewhat reminiscent, I think, of Israeli pop singers. Polad crowned his popularity with a lead role in a musical “Eastern” film in 1981.

Seven years later, Bülbüloğlu was appointed minister of culture of the still-Soviet Azerbaijan. He survived the turmoil of the late 1980s and early 1993s and remained in office when Geydar Aliyev returned to power in Baku in 1993. In 2006, Ilham Aliyev appointed him ambassador to Moscow, which probably felt like a second home to Bülbüloğlu.

The musician’s anti-Armenian belligerence could be required behavior but there is also the fact that his father was born in Karabakh – in Shusha, once a center of traditional Azeri music-making. Azeri and Kurdish irregulars killed off Shusha’s Armenian inhabitants in 1920. The town was part of the Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous oblast, the majority-Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan, for 70 years. In 1992, Armenian fighters took the town, and its Azeri residents had to flee. Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan repopulated the abandoned town.

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