‘An elder in punk clothes’: purged frets and finding true mugham in post-Soviet Azerbaijan

Polina Dessiatnitchenko*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Today one encounters a striking diversity of approaches when it comes to the arrangement of scalar intervals on the tar, Azerbaijan’s primary national instrument. Frets are moved, added, omitted according to the idiosyncrasies of each musician. Each tonal scheme is fervently defended and justified by various factors such as aesthetic taste, a putative knowledge of pre-Soviet mugham, the desire to highlight an ‘Eastern’ nature of mugham, ‘mission from above’, and even suggested contact with the dead. What once was a rigid structure during Soviet times has now become flexible, unhinged from the past by the experimentation, innovation, restoration and reconstitution of musicians. Through an analysis of this extended creative moment, I theorise the many attempts to reintroduce extra frets as nativism. Instead of trying to find a pattern or argue for which version is historically valid, I stress the importance of all attempts as forms of decolonial activity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)136-156
Number of pages21
JournalEthnomusicology Forum
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2018 May 4
Externally publishedYes


  • Azerbaijani mugham
  • creativity
  • decolonialism
  • nativism
  • post-Soviet studies
  • tar
  • tuning systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Music


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