Alim Qasimov

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Alim Qasimov
Alim Gasimov.jpg
Background information
Born (1957-08-14) August 14, 1957 (age 65)
Nabur, Shamakhi District, Azerbaijani SSR, USSR
OriginShamakhi, Azerbaijan
Instrument(s)Singing, Daf
Years active1977–present
WebsiteAlim Qasimov on Facebook

Alim Hamza oghlu Qasimov (Azerbaijani: Alim Həmzə oğlu Qasımov; born August 14, 1957) is an Azerbaijani musician and one of the foremost mugham singers in Azerbaijan. He was awarded the International Music Council-UNESCO Music Prize in 1999, one of the highest international accolades for music. His music is characterized by his vocal improvisation and represents a move away from the traditional style of mugham.[1] Qasimov has recorded nine albums, three of which are mugham albums with his daughter, Farghana Qasimova.

According to The New York Times, "Qasimov is simply one of the greatest singers alive, with a searing spontaneity that conjures passion and devotion, contemplation and incantation."[2]

He joined fellow Azerbaijani Sabina Babayeva on stage at the Grand Finale of the Eurovision Song Contest 2012 in Baku to sing back vocals for her entry, "When the Music Dies."[3] Additionally, Qasimov was featured as part of the opening act of the Grand Final.[4]

Early life[edit]

Born in 1957, Qasimov grew up in Nabur of Shamakhi, Azerbaijan, a village 100 km north of the capital Baku.[5][6] His family worked on a Soviet commune and Qasimov worked alongside his parents from a young age.[7] He later reflected that growing up in poverty helped him to live modestly later in life and he never attempted to extricate himself from his peasant background.[8] Qasimov's father was an occasional singer with a good voice but he was a humble man; he never pursued a professional career in singing.[5] Qasimov on the other hand was a keen singer from a young age and his parents noticed his musical desire.[7] Lacking the money to buy him an instrument, his father used a frame and a goat's stomach lining to make a crude drum for his son.[5]

"I didn't have any other choice besides music, I didn't have any other talent, and I couldn't see myself doing anything else. I was faced with the harsh reality - either singing or nothing."[5]

Qasimov on the beginning of his career Interview with Azerbaijan International

He began singing at religious events and his parents suggested that he study music at school.[7] The form proved difficult for him at times: once, while performing in a local music contest at the age of fourteen, the audience—thinking he did not grasp the correct traditional style—laughed him off the stage.[5] Despite various setbacks, his parents urged him to persist and he did, enrolling in the state music school in Baku at the age of 21 years.[7][8] The course consisted of four years of study, specialising in vocal technique and mugham—the repertoire of classical Azerbaijani song. It was here that Qasimov honed his voice and his teachers were so impressed that they encouraged him to take the final exams two years early. He refused, stating that he still needed time to perfect his abilities.[8] He had realised that music was no longer a pastime for him, but rather a necessity, saying his sole talent and desire was for music.[5] Over the final years of his study he refined his vocal technique, easily passing the final exam, but he later reflected that he had placed too much emphasis on vocal perfection; he believed it was not until later that he fully understood the deeper content and emotion of mugham.[8]

Musical career[edit]

Alim Gasimov on the semi-final allocation draw ceremony of Eurovision Song Contest 2012

Qasimov began singing professionally while Azerbaijan was still under Soviet rule and the mugham form had not received support from the state. Performances were restricted and, whilst a few singers aimed to preserve the history of the traditional style, the ruling communist party largely regarded it as a local curiosity.[8] However, Qasimov's growing popularity was accompanied by declining Soviet influence and in 1983 he won the national Jabbar Garyaghdioghlu Singing Competition.[5][8]

"I believe that the person who grows up in a village is inspired by the sounds of nature. Those who have grown up in cities are exposed to a uniformity of electronic sounds, from television and the streets".[6]

Qasimov on inspiration and influence Interview with Al-Ahram Weekly

As his career progressed he was recognised internationally, winning awards at the 1983 and 1987 UNESCO Symposia on Traditional and Modern Art of Central Asian and Asian Countries. His tours were very well received in his both home country and abroad; as travel outside the Soviet Union was rare for citizens at the time, his tours and concerts garnered much press and many television announcements.[8] As his career was blossoming, so was his personal life—Qasimov and his wife, Tamilla Aslanova, had their first child in 1980, Ferghana Qasimova, and later had two more children: a son, Gadir, and second daughter, Dilruba. Despite such changes, Qasimov's background continued to shape his personality and music, dismissing the foreign influences found in cities and television.[6]

Over time, Qasimov's style had developed to include not only traditional Azerbaijani music and mugham, but also ashiq, a rural bardic tradition with roots in Turkey, Azerbaijan and the Azeri region of Iran.[9] In addition, he was influenced by artists from other disciplines, placing particular importance on Qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: "When I heard him in concert many doors were opened for me and many questions answered".[8] His success was all the more impressive for he had broken from the traditional style of mugham and brought his own interpretation to the genre. He saw this as a way of showing mugham to a wider audience and making it relevant to contemporary society, saying: "The world in which we live changes daily. Music has to lend emotional expression to this vitality. I accommodate that by seeking out new paths and interpretations".[8] Similarly he revolutionised the strict mugham instrumentation, introducing his own improvisation and including new sounds such as the double-reeded balaban (also known as a duduk), the clarinet and the nagara, a metal-bodied drum.[5] Additionally, he remained conscious of the need to modernise when choosing his ensemble; mixing older, experienced players with younger, more dynamic musicians.[8]

The 1990s saw Qasimov tour widely with concerts in Iran, Brazil, the United States and throughout Europe.[5] His music gained more exposure in Europe and North America when a chance meeting with American musician Jeff Buckley at a classical music festival in France resulted in a collaboration. Buckley was a fan of Qasimov's music and they performed a duet of "What Will You Say" which featured on Buckley's Live à l'Olympia release.[7] Buckley, an avid listener of Qawwali, was highly impressed with Qasimov's performance, noting: "he just came with his drum, and he sang, and it was so pure and effortless... That's what the voice is for".[10] Qasimov was equally pleased with the collaboration, stating that his American counterpart "was very gifted and had a real feeling for Eastern people." The performance resulted in the introduction of Qasimov's music to a broader Western audience.[7]

Revitalised by Azerbaijan's declaration of independence from the Soviet Union, the artistic importance of Azeri culture, including both Qasimov and mugham, began to be recognised internationally. Qasimov was named the "People's Artist of Azerbaijan" in 1993 and earned the highest honour in his field in 1999 when he won the International IMC-UNESCO Music Prize—an award given to high calibre musicians such as Dmitri Shostakovich, Leonard Bernstein, Ravi Shankar and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.[8][11] Partly helped by Qasimov's extensive touring and promotion of mugham, UNESCO proclaimed the mugham of Azerbaijan a "Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity" in 2003, reassuring the preservation of a centuries-old classical tradition.[12][13] Similarly, the preservation of Qasimov's own music was assured as he recorded and internationally released his music for the first time, beginning with Classical Mugham, a 1996 collaboration with the Mansurov brothers, and following with Azerbaijan: Art of the Mugham and Legendary Art of Mugham in 1998.[14]

In 1999, Qasimov with his daughter participated in “The Spirit of the East” concert directed and composed by Israeli Mizrahi musician Peretz Eliyahu and Mark Eliyahu.[15]

2000 to present: Introducing Ferghana[edit]

Qasimov's daughter, Ferghana Qasimova, had been informally practising with her father since the age of sixteen and was an avid student of mugham.[5] By the age of twenty she had become a fully-fledged singer in her own right and Qasimov chose to introduce his daughter into his ensemble. Ferghana first appeared on 1997's The Legendary Art of Mugham on which the two shared the vocal tasks on the song Getme Getme. Their next album included a track, Bagishlamani, dedicated to his forebear; Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.[8] The release marked a high point for Qasimov as it was his first widely available release to western audiences and it proved a critical success.[16] His aim to reconnect younger generations with mugham began to pay dividends; not only was he appealing to traditional Islamic sections of the Azerbaijani population, but also to more Americanised and modern audiences.[7] The break through amongst the younger generations spurred him on: "Sometimes young people come up after a concert to thank me. That's like giving me wings. I feel so elated when I can awaken such feelings in people while they are still young; mugham is not an easy genre for young people to understand".[5]

"Although I am her father, we have taken the journey in mugham together. Though I had begun earlier, it was with her birth that my own work became serious, or professional. Before then, I was just a playful young man in love with mugham.""[6]

Qasimov on his daughter, Ferghana Qasimova Interview with Al-Ahram Weekly

Qasimov recorded and released further works with The Art of Mugham in 1997 and Central Asian Series, Vol. 6: Spiritual Music of Azerbaijan in 2007.[14] He took the opportunity to perform in New York City in 2005 as part of Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project. The concert aimed to promote multi-cultural artistic exchange between eastern and western cultures and The New York Times regarded Qasimov's performance, alongside Malik Mansurov and Rauf Islamov, as the highlight of the event.[17] He toured throughout Europe, now bringing Ferghana along with him, and was in demand to appear at spiritual music festivals in countries such as France and Egypt.[6][18] Their performances were often critically acclaimed, regardless of the location. Remarking upon a performance in London as part of "Voices of Central Asia", Michael Church stated in The Independent that "initial shock turned to delight as we were drawn into his intimate, multicoloured world".[19] The father and daughter duo paid dividends and, following their performance in Cairo in May 2008, Al-Ahram Weekly stressed the qualities of their powerful vocal unity and stage presence, describing Qasimov as "a master of mugham".[6]

Their brand of mugham proved equally popular the following September, performing a collaboration with experimental classical group the Kronos Quartet. Band leader David Harrington was keen to work with the Azerbaijani for the Ramadan Nights Festival, saying: "I realised his voice was as unique as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's, or the tenor John McCormack's in Irish ballads, or Bessie Smith's in St Louis Blues. There's a special quality to that voice, a connection between it and his inner life...he is up there in the top five of all time [singers]".[7][20] Despite initial problems involving the Kronos Quartet's arrangements and Qasimov's improvisation, the event received positive reviews. Robin Denselow of The Guardian opined that Qasimov "is certainly one of the most thrilling, unashamedly emotional performers on the planet, and the finest exponent of mugham".[21]

In 1995, Qasimov performed "What Will You Say" as a duet with Jeff Buckley at the Festival de la Musique Sacrée (Festival of Sacred Music) in France.[22]

In 2014, Qasimov performed at the Festival Internacional Cervantino, the largest international festival in Latin America.[23]

In 2015, Qasimov performed the opening act during the Opening Ceremony of the First European Games in Baku, as well as a further performance midway singing from a flying carpet.

Influence and legacy[edit]

In 2009, he was included in a 500 most influential Muslims of world book.[24][25][26] The Icelandic singer Björk complimented Qasimov, by naming him as her "favourite singer alive today".[27][28] In 2009, Turkish newspaper Zaman named him as "Central Asia's Greatest Voice".[29]

In 2010, Qasimov was nominated for the United States National Public Radio's "50 great voices in recorded history" award.[30]

Personal life[edit]

He teaches mugham at Asaf Zeynally Music School in Baku.[29] In 2012, he campaigned to stop male violence against women.[31]



  • Classical Mugham (1996)
  • The Legendary Art of Mugham (1997) with Alim Qasimov Ensemble
  • The Art of Mugham: Azerbaidjan (Live) (1997)
  • The Mugham of Azerbaidjan (1999)
  • Love's Deep Ocean (1999) with Farghana Qasimova
  • Oyanish (2003) with Coldünya
  • Central Asian Series, Vol. 6: Spiritual Music of Azerbaijan (2007) with Farghana Qasimova
  • Intimate dialogue – live at Morgenland Festival Osnabrück 2009 with Farghana Qasimova
  • Seven Beauties Music Project with Shoayb Shahabi (2018)
  • Awakening (Buda Musique, 2019) with Michel Godard[32]

As featured artist[edit]

Year Title Chart positions Album
2010 "I’m your Goddess" (David Vendetta feat. Tara McDonald and Alim Qasimov)[33] Vendetta
2018 "Yol" (Vugarixx feat. Alim Qasimov[34][35][36]


  1. ^ UNESCO and Azerbaijan Archived 2011-07-20 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Pareles, Jon (15 March 2010). "Classical Azeri Poetry in Song, From a Team of Father and Daughter". The New York Times. Retrieved 31 March 2011.
  3. ^ Storvik-Green, Simon (15 May 2012). "Björk's favourite singer Alim Qasimov to perform with Sabina". Retrieved 19 June 2012.
  4. ^ Brey, Marco (25 May 2012). "Live Report: The first dress rehearsal of the Grand Final". Retrieved 19 June 2012.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Betty Blair and Pirouz Khanlou (Spring 2001). "Master of Mugham". Azerbaijan International Magazine. pp. 42–45. Retrieved 2008-12-05.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Assir, Serene (2008-05-08). "Alim and Fergana Qasimov: The Master and his Pearl". Al-Ahram Weekly. Archived from the original on 11 December 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-05.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Hutcheon, David (2008-09-19). "Alim Qasimov: the living legend you've never heard of". The Times. London. Retrieved 2008-12-05.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Trouillet, Jean (2000). Alim Qasimov: Love's Deep Ocean - liner notes.
  9. ^ "Music of Central Asia at the Louvre: Alim and Fargana Qasimov, Tengir-Too and The Academy of Maqam to Perform". Aga Khan Development Network. 2008-03-31. Archived from the original on 2012-02-13. Retrieved 2008-12-05.
  10. ^ Farrar, Josh (28 February 1996). "Jeff Buckley Words: Interviews". DoubleTake Magazine (mirrored on Archived from the original on 11 December 2008. Retrieved 12 May 2008.
  11. ^ "IMC UNESCO International Music Prize: Laureates 1975–2004". International Music Council. Retrieved 2008-12-05.
  12. ^ Stehl, David (2007-01-18). "Proclamation 2003: "The Azerbaijani Mugham "". UNESCO. Retrieved 2008-12-06.
  13. ^ "Azerbaijan". UNESCO. Archived from the original on 24 October 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-06.
  14. ^ a b "Alim Qasimov: Discography". Allmusic. Retrieved 2008-12-06.
  15. ^ "About Mark Eliyahu". Archived from the original on 3 September 2014. Retrieved 11 August 2014.
  16. ^ McCarthy, Kieran. "Love's Deep Ocean review". Allmusic. Retrieved 2008-12-06.
  17. ^ Kozinn, Allan (2005-04-12). "Currency Is Music in East-West Exchange". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-12-10.
  18. ^ Bois, Pierre. "Festival de L'Imaginaire 2008" (in French). Festival de L'Imaginaire. Archived from the original on 23 November 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-05.
  19. ^ Church, Michael (2004-10-12). "Voices of Central Asia, Coliseum, London". The Independent. Archived from the original on October 24, 2012. Retrieved 2008-12-06.
  20. ^ Church, Michael (2008-08-29). "Agony and ecstasy". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 1 December 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-06.
  21. ^ Denselow, Robin (2008-09-29). "Alim Qasimov & Kronos Quartet/The Kamkars". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2008-12-06.
  22. ^ "ALİM QASIMOV'LU BİR DÜGÜN". (in Turkish). Retrieved 22 August 2014.
  23. ^ Gerardo Lopez. "¿Te gusta la música de lugares lejanos? No te pierdas la presentación a Alim Qasimov en el @Cervantino". Mexico City: Arte y Cultura magazine. Retrieved May 8, 2015.
  24. ^ Azerbaijan’s president was named one of the most influential Muslim politicians in the world Archived 2012-03-25 at the Wayback Machine
  25. ^ Опубликован список 500 самых авторитетных мусульман Archived 2017-02-03 at the Wayback Machine (in Russian)
  26. ^ "Alim Qasimov Ensemble". Retrieved 5 July 2011.
  27. ^ Needham, Alex (2011-07-04). "Björk: 'Manchester is the prototype'". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 23 July 2011. Retrieved 5 July 2011.
  28. ^ "Бьорк: "Алим Гасымов - мой самый любимый исполнитель"". Archived from the original on 21 October 2012. Retrieved 5 July 2011.
  29. ^ a b Tokay, Murat. "500 most influential Muslims of world". (in Turkish). Zaman. Archived from the original on 5 October 2014. Retrieved 11 August 2014.
  30. ^ Azerbaijani mugham singer Alim Qasimov among NPR’s nominees for 50 great voices in recorded history Archived 2009-11-28 at the Wayback Machine
  31. ^ Алим Гасымов, Гурбан Гурбанов и Ко снялись в социальной рекламе против насилия над женщинами - ВИДЕО. (in Russian). Archived from the original on 18 December 2014. Retrieved 11 August 2014.
  32. ^ "World Music Matters - Serpentist Michel Godard meets Alim Qasimov: spellbinding". Radio France Internationale. 6 June 2019. Retrieved 2022-12-28.
  33. ^ Alim Qasımov David Vendetta ilə mahnı yazdırıb Archived 2011-07-14 at the Wayback Machine (in Azerbaijani)
  34. ^ "Alim Qasımov və DJ Vugarixx birgə yeni kliplərini təqdim etdilər- VİDEO". www.BiG.Az (in Azerbaijani). Retrieved 2020-01-26.
  35. ^ "Мгновения ирреальности - Алим Гасымов и диджей Vugarixx представили клип "Дорога" (ВИДЕО)". Trend.Az (in Russian). 2018-03-06. Retrieved 2020-01-26.
  36. ^ (2018-03-06). "Алим Гасымов открывает дорогу молодым". (in Russian). Retrieved 2020-01-26.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]