The morning was cool and clear, and our van pulled up to the gate of a campus in a section of Baku we’d not yet seen. We were greeted by a cheerful security guard, and led into a brick building where we were greeted by the head of this facility: The vocational rehabilitation center.
Over tea, she told us about their mission. The center houses and trains teens and young adults with different abilities. They study carpet-making, pottery, music, dance, painting, and more. The hope is that they’ll learn to be expert craftsmen, and be able to make a good, independent living through their art when their time at the center is through.
We toured the campus, met the friendly, smiling artists as they carved and weaved. The rooms smelled of wood and paint, and the quality and detail of the finished pieces was amazing.
One goal she mentioned really resonated with me. She said that the objective is to train the artists so well that people don’t one day purchase their art out of pity, but because the quality is undeniably good. I often say “In my practice, I strive to not be a good guitarist with one hand, but a great guitarist, period.”
After our tour, groups took turns singing songs, playing local drums, and dancing in traditional clothing.
After that, our group went out for lunch and enjoyed some fresh-made lentil soup with lemon, local fish, and jasmine tea.
The afternoon was a performance at the music conservatory in Baku. It was a pleasure to be introduced to the U.S. Ambassador who attended the event, and then we had our concert.
At first I’d wondered if the concert would be a formal event, but the students were eager to sing, shout, and dance with us, and we were joined by two amazing local musicians.
One classical, operatic-style singer who performed a piece called “Sene de Qalmaz” with us, and then a local tar player. Tar is like the guitar, but it is played with four strings and has a different, more eastern sounding tone quality.
He came to the stage and said, could we play “My Baby”? (An original song about my baby boy, Theo, that our band had performed earlier) He said, “if it’d be alright, he’d like to add tar to our sound.” Did he ever!!
After only hearing the song once, he wailed on the instrument, and it added a really fun, new element to our song. The audience went wild hearing the two styles, and the two regions of music blended together in a unique, cross-cultural harmony.
More to come…