Inspired by one of Azerbaijan’s most revered poets, Baku’s Nasimi Festival is a celebration of all things spiritual, musical and poetical. Laura Egerton speaks to Bahariyya Music Project director, Jahangir Selimkhanov on what makes the festival so special
Baku’s vibrant cultural scene is punctuated by frequent exhibitions, festivals and symposia. Yet, until now, they have all run independently and on quite an intimate scale. This is all set to change this autumn as the city welcomes the inaugural four-day Nasimi Festival that will bring together several artistic events with a shared itinerary, theme and audience. The eclectic programme seeks to inspire visitors through interactive experiences focusing on poetry, music and spirituality.
What makes the Nasimi Festival so unique?
This festival is extremely rich in terms of the number of diverse events intended for various different audiences. It is new in the way that it embraces such a wide range of activities and yet maintains a clear concept. We have tried to combine the core (Nasimi’s poetry) with peripheries, as it were – namely centuries-old ideas about spirituality right up to contemporary ones. The festival really is about getting this world view across. Moreover, it’s not confined to Baku and its suburbs: festival events are also scheduled for Shamakhi, Nasimi’s birthplace west of Baku, and the town of Pirkuli.
Why is it relevant to Baku now?
Baku has such a magical atmosphere due to the way in which various cultural layers and sources are juxtaposed and intertwined in quite an unpredictable way. The festival will showcase this.
What audiences do you hope to attract?
The programme includes events for academics, students, poetry lovers and those who enjoy listening to electronica and mugham (traditional Azerbaijani music). We also hope the Nasimi Festival will attract much wider audiences, such as passers-by promenading in the evening on Baku’s beautiful seafront Boulevard, where there will be light installations and projections. This will all be mapped out in a downloadable app to guide visitors.
What is the most inspirational festival you have attended?
New Crowned Hope in 2006 was a month-long celebration of Mozart’s 250th birthday in Vienna, curated by the radical, brilliant theatre director Peter Sellars. It had a similar ethos to what we are hoping to achieve with the Nasimi Festival, that is, to use the legacy of a great creative force as a motivation to produce new work, and in particular, embrace diversity and variety. There were no works by Mozart himself, rather it all revolved around the question ‘What would Mozart be doing now?’
Jahangir Selimkhanov is a music historian and has presented several important projects combining traditional music, ballet, theatre and performance both in his native Azerbaijan and internationally. His Bahariyya Music Project will be a highlight of the Nasimi Festival.
Illustrations by Will Barras
This interview appears as part of our Nasimi Festival special feature in the Autumn/Winter 2018 issue of Baku magazine. To see the full itinerary for the Nasimi Festival, and read more about what’s in store, pick up your copy now.