Voices of Peace Raise the Roof in Chelsea

Voices of Peace Raise the Roof in Chelsea

By Neil Watson

Located in the heart of London, the neoclassical surroundings of Chelsea Old Town Hall have hosted a vast array of events since the opening of the building in Queen Victoria’s Golden Anniversary Year of 1887. However, there can have been none more vibrant than the Voices of Peace Gala Concert on 5 November 2021, commemorating the victims of the Second Karabakh War, celebrating the victory and the regaining of Nagorno-Karabakh and the seven surrounding regions and looking towards the future of regional peace and reconciliation.

The event, which attracted a capacity audience of 400 Azerbaijanis and supporters of the country, was organised by the British Azerbaijani Community (BAC) and the State Committee on Work with Diaspora of the Republic of Azerbaijan. The catalyst for this was Farida Panahova, Founder, BAC, who compered the evening. Appropriately, the event began with a one-minute silence for the civilian and military victims of the Second Karabakh Conflict. The UK and Azerbaijani National Anthems, sung enthusiastically by Azerbaijani mezzo-soprano Fidan Haciyeva, followed this. The formalities concluded with optimistic speeches on the significance of the event by H.E. Elin Suleymanov, Azerbaijani Ambassador to the UK and by esteemed Irish academic and political pundit Dr Patrick Walsh.

Thereafter, British-based Azerbaijani violinist Nazrin Rashidova, a graduate from and teacher at the Royal Academy of Music performed the elegiac Ballet Waltz from the Seven Beauties Ballet by Qara Qarayev, accompanied by British pianist Daniel Grimwood. This was followed by an inspired new piece by Azerbaijani pianist and composer Gunel Mirzayeva, seamlessly combining themes from J.S. Bach with mugham figures. In honour of the support of fraternal Turkey in the conflict, she followed this with the Rondo à la Turc by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Then Fidan Haciyeva, suitably clad in Hispanic dress, returned to the stage to perform the joyous Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen, demonstrating the full range of her vocal abilities. She followed this with Sevgili Canan from Nizami Ganjavi by Uzeyir Hajibeyli, a son of Shusha who is regarded as the father of Azerbaijani and Eastern classical music, having synthesised western idioms and mugham.

Cellist Jamal Aliyev has graced many of the world’s concert stages over the past few years, playing the great western works for the instrument, including many performances at Wigmore Hall in London. His performances of Yigidim Aslanim by Zulfi Livanelli and Ayriliq by Ali Salimi were impassioned and eloquent and an ideal epitaph for the Fallen. This was followed by a well-edited and directed music video combining Qarabaq Shikestesi with Queen’s We Will Rock You to capture the spirit for rebuilding and resettling that exists amongst young people with regard to the liberated territories.

Karabakh is the home of mugham in Azerbaijan, and it was thus appropriate that this should take centre-stage with the performance by the Odlar Yurdu band, led by kamancha virtuoso Rasim Farziyev, who combined several mughams in collaboration with his tar and keyboard players to handclaps and unabated enthusiasm from the audience. Rasim then collaborated with his kamancha student – Ulker Mostallino – a young girl of Azerbaijani–Italian heritage, to perform a fantastic version of Bayati Kurd.

Sari Gelin and Lachin are the two folk songs most associated with the liberated territories and these were given a spirited and emotional rendition by soprano Gulshan Ibadova, who then demonstrated her coloratura abilities in the Brindisi from La Traviata by Verdi.

Although our countries have always been close, the Second Karabakh War saw Turkey play an integral role in the victory and this alliance is destined to play an important part in reconstructing the liberated territories. It was thus ideal that Turkish mezzo Oya Ergun should perform Akhsham (Evening) and Senede Qalmaz in Azerbaijan to widespread acclaim from the audience. LSE student Arzu Abbasova followed this with a piece of piano music.

Then the stage was set for a change of musical genres. Since winning The Voice: Azerbaijan, pop singer Emilia Yagubova has become a mainstay on AzTV and, having relocated to London, she seems tipped for international stardom. She confidently performed in Azerbaijani and English and impressed all with her personality, dance moves and vocal strength.

The penultimate piece saw Fidan Haciyeva return to the stage against the backdrop of a video of her singing Yasha Azerbaijan atop the Khodaafin Bridge, which runs from the Republic of Azerbaijan to South Azerbaijan. Farida Panahova urged all attendees not to forget the estimated 35 million ethnic Azerbaijanis living in Iran, whose rights are subjugated, and looked forward to the time when all Azerbaijanis could live in united freedom.

The evening concluded with a spirited and vibrant rendition of Can, Can, Can, Azerbaycan, in which all performers and audience participated.

This fantastic evening was a worthy tribute and commemoration of the victory, and all homage should be paid to the organisers for this amazing achievement in London.