Aşıq Nargile

PRESERVING HER IDENTITY AND TAKING IT ABROAD. The compilation Mountains Of Tongues: Musical Dialects Of The Caucasus brings together songs and instrumentals that were recorded by the Sayat Nova project across 2012 and 2013 during trips across Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. All tracks are drawn from many different musical traditions and several were never recorded before. Stefan Williamson-Fa, one of the founding fathers of the project, provided translation for the following conversation with Asiq Nargile. An Ashiq is a singer who traditionally, accompanied his song with a long necked lute (saz) in Azerbaijani culture and related Turkic cultures.
15 November 2017 | AG 10

“I first met Stefan and Ben who run the project when they were studying music in Tbilisi. After they recorded me playing a festival organiser in England heard the recording and invited me to perform. The Tusk festival hosted my first time playing to an audience who were not familiar with ashiq music so I was very nervous. However, the response was magnificent and I have been travelling to the UK and Europe for concerts and festivals over the last four years.”

In 2016 Cafe Oto released the live recording Yurt Yeri as part of their Otoroku label.

“I had recorded some songs but never a full album. In Georgia, Turkey and Azerbaijan I am usually invited to festivals or television appearances, it is not so common for ashiqs to release full length albums here.”


“Georgia is full of music, there are many festivals and concerts all the time with all sorts of music. Georgians can’t live without music: they are always singing and dancing. It is a big part of their culture, especially polyphonic singing at church, at feasts and even when they die. For Azeri-Turks in Georgia our music is also very important to us. Especially the ashiq tradition.

I believe that it is through the saz and ashiqs that we have preserved our language, heritage, religion and identity in this country. Perhaps if it wasn’t for the music we would have lost our Turkish identity and become assimilated into the rest of the country as Georgians. Thankfully Georgia respects cultural diversity and there are many opportunities for musicians from different communities to perform. Last year at the state folklore festival I was the only saz player to enter the instrumental category and I was given the first prize award even above Georgian musicians, which really shows that they appreciate my music and the ashiq music as well as their own.”


“At home everybody knows the ashiq tradition, they know the melodies and understand the words: they might love the music or hate it but they are still familiar with it. Young people today tend to listen more to pop music but there is a growing interest in the ashiq music amongst some of them.

When I first came to London to perform I was very nervous and anxious about how people would react to my music but I soon saw that people were listening so attentively and silently and with so much respect. At home people don’t listen so carefully as they know they will be able to hear ashiqs play again and again but abroad people listen carefully as if it is a special occasion, a chance they should not miss.

When I perform abroad I feel freer to perform as I like, as at home people will always make requests for this or that song or poem. On stage abroad I am free from these restrictions. Of course a musician must always be aware of time and space, each minute and each second. They must understand what music is appropriate for the occasion. If one goes to perform at a wedding they cannot play a lament or a serious epic, they need to play something that will make people feel happy and dance. Often at a concert I will go on stage with a set list but then play something different. I look at the audience and can feel what they want to listen to. 

Performing in different countries has really strengthened me and my music. It is an honour and pleasure to play for new audiences and every time I come and go I feel that I grow as an artist and want to get better and stronger. I have experienced new places and made many friends in Europe. I have learnt a lot from the musicians I have watched and shared the stage with and I think they have also learnt from me.

I have been amazed by how free musicians are there on stage. There are no limitations or constraints. Each person can perform what they want in a very relaxed way. This is something I admire a lot as I enjoy having that freedom to perform and create. This is what all true artists desire. Having audiences who listen and pay attention to so many different types of music and art is very inspiring. I have never had a single problem during my tours in Europe. Everyone has been so polite, respectful and kind to me.”

Woman's art

“My grandparents and family were always listening to ashiq music and this was something that was around me from a young age on. My grandmother insisted that I learn the saz at a young age after she saw some other female ashiqs on TV. I started studying the instrument in Baku but then learnt from many elders from my native region in Georgia. My first performance was when I was fifteen and I have been playing ever since.

Ashiq was traditionally a men’s art. As they would travel from town to town it was not seen as appropriate for a woman as it was not safe and they were required to stay at home and look after the family. It has become more common recently but it is still rare. I am the only female ashiq in Georgia at the moment. Women are able to do whatever men can do or better so there is no reason why they shouldn't be ashiks.”

Without diluting the tradition

“From the moment I decided to be an ashiq I took on the role with the seriousness and dedication that it requires and I want to continue on this path. I never changed the art, as some women have done, and am dedicated to playing saz and singing without diluting the tradition. At the same time artists will always create new things and in the ashiq tradition each artist would learn the tradition but also add something of their own, new poetry or new melodies. I also want to create new things and try out new stuff. This happens naturally. Sometimes I recite a poem and a melody comes to me. Collaborating with other musicians also leads to new creations and I have been involved in several projects where I have composed new music and performed with artists from different traditions. I still seek to continue on the path of the ashiq, to continue rediscovering and learning old poetry and melodies and it is important to maintain this path.”

Future ambitions

“I recently composed, performed and recorded a pop song with some producers in Turkey. It is my first time branching out into that sphere but it was great as we recorded a music video in the countryside in Georgia, with our traditional costumes and horses. It will be played on music television channels in Turkey and hopefully it will be successful. I want to continue working on new songs and poetry but also to learn old pieces that people are not playing anymore. Many of the old ashiq melodies and poems are very hard to perform so people are forgetting them. I want to continue playing these songs, some of which women haven’t sung before. Other than that I want to continue on the path I am on and keep on developing my art, meeting more artists, releasing more material in Europe and traveling to new countries.”