Natig Rhythm Group
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Natig Rhythm Group

Baku, Baki, Azerbaijan | Established. Jan 01, 2001 | SELF

Baku, Baki, Azerbaijan | SELF
Established on Jan, 2001
Band World Jazz




"Azerbaijan's incomparable and unique Natig Rhythm Group"

Friday, March 25, 2011

Last night, Washington's refurbished (with historical correctness made possible and inspired by the cultural re-invention of the nation's capital beginning in the 1980s) Lincoln Theatre, was the venue for an extraordinary double-barreled concert of Azerbaijani music. The theatre, opened first in 1922, and thereafter Washington's equivalent of New York's iconic Apollo Theater as the premier public home for the city's African-American cultural events during the following decades of American racial segregation, was closed in 1968 following the devastating riots which followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Lincoln Theatre was reopened, fully restored, in 1994, and I find it quite moving that the multi-culturalization of Washington made the theatre a worthy venue for a major concert of the contemporary music of Azerbaijan--one of the many newly independent nations to emerge after the fall of the Soviet Union.

I also find it wonderfully exciting that the first half (more on the second part of the evening to come in a later post) of last night's performance by the astonishing "Rhythm Group" of Natig Shirinov (see picture above by Zanyasan Tanantpapat, used with permission, courtesy of the Karabakh Foundation)--which stunned me with its bone-shaking energy and brain-teasing precision--was available (potentially) in video and sound to the entire world only six hours later on YouTube (see my initial posting this year on the wonders of the Internet. . . .) There were several fixed video cameras in the auditorium last night, as well as a single balletic videographer (doing a pas-de-deux with the stubbornly independent SteadiCam as a mechanical dance partner, the two weaving among the performers on stage with feline grace) felt a special frisson this morning when, on a hunch, I began a search on YouTube for some trace of last night's musical miracle, and found that I was able to be the first to view, not one, but two video clips (see them here, and, yet again, here) put up by a YouTube entity known as "Ambrosian Beads" (more to come of my related identity search later).

If you see the video clips, you'll be able to capture some of the galvanizing effect of Shirinov and his troupe of amazing drummer/musicians. And speaking of the wonders of the digital age, you can see them not only in a 480p setting, but in an even higher resolution setting on DivX HiQ.

Shirinov's primary instrument, the nagara, is said to be the national drum of Azerbaijan. (I had previously encountered a cognate Indian drum, the naqqara, and discover that the instrument occurs widely in the Middle East and Central Asia as well. ) As you can see in the videos, it is a percussion instrument of rather simple cylindrical structure. The first notes played by Shirinov, after the house lights had dimmed, were highlighted (literally) by a bright electrical bulb inside the drum, whose heat is used in many Middle Eastern drums to maintain the tension--and hence the pitch--of the instrument's animal-skin head, and whose brilliance in this case inaugurated with a magical luminosity the ensemble's subsequent performance. As for the technical brilliance, the virtuosity of Shirinov and his colleagues, I can only continue the metaphor by saying that it was nothing short of electrifying.

I have heard many (and have had the good fortune to perform with a few) of the best Indian and Pakistani masters of the tabla and pakhawaj--the two drums used in classical Hindustani (northern South Asian) music, and have not often enough listened to masters of the mrdangam--an essential part of any Carnatic (south Indian) classical ensemble--and have no doubt that they may be counted among the world's best percussion artists. And I've savored (and experienced as a player) the mystical ambiance created by the Persian daff (large frame drum, often with a haunting chorus of metallic jingles), the subtle cross-rhythms of the Persian tonbak (hourglass drum), and the electrifying crispness of the Egyptian riqq (tambourine with tiny brass cymblets). But I must say that hearing Shirinov and his colleagues last night blessed me with experiencing one of those nights of musical epiphany that stay forever in the memory.

I'll await access to some video clips to hold forth in greater detail on the beauties of the group's performance. Suffice it to say for the moment that the rich rhythmic textures of the music were embroidered with additional melodic dimensions by the oboe-like zurna (which along with its Armenian cousin, the duduk, has been increasingly used of late to capture a haunting and uniquely Middle-Eastern ambiance in film and television soundtracks), and what I gather to be the Azerbaijani "accordion"--but so much more than the conventional "Lady of Spain" accordion, with a razor-sharp tone, and a breathing, primal sensuous resonance similar to that of the Argentinian bandoneón),

The evening's primary sponsors--the Washington-based Karabakh Foundation, and Azercell Telecom (see also here), the leading cellphone company in Azerbaijan, and the second largest taxpayer outside the country's oil industry--are to be congratulated for making available to all interested listeners free access (with no ticket cost) to this extraordinary, luminous music, whose magic in the darkened auditorium was further enhanced by a subtle but gradual change of rich color washes in the lighting on the wall behind the stage--something we had last seen in the illumination of the organ pipes during the National Symphony Orchestra's performance of Oliver Messiaen's epic Turangalîla Symphonie exactly two weeks ago as part of the maximum INDIA celebrations (see my posting on the inaugural concert)--but which here functioned as a more integral and captivating enhancement of the tapestries of rhythmic and melodic colors we all shared from the extraordinary performance of the Nadig Shirinav Rhythmic Group.
Posted by Brian Q. Silver at 11:55 PM - Voice of America

"Azerbaijani drummers win Grand Prix in int'l contest"

Fri 21 October 2011 | 06:43 GMT

Natiq rhythm band led by Honored Artist of Azerbaijan Natiq Shirinov has participated in World Percussion Performance Art festival in Geumsan County of South Korea.

Azerbaijani drummers won Grand Prix of the festival showing the best performance among all 54 countries.

Natiq rhythm will give master classes on 20 to 22 October and perform a separate concert.

The band will also perform at the closing ceremony of the festival. - News.Az

"Natiq Shirinov – Rhythm Man"

September, October 2013
by Ian Peart and Saadat Ibrahimova

God gave me life. This is how I am.
And how he has been from the beginning… The young boy’s banging on saucepans and anything else that came to hand convinced his mother that he was a naughty child. The fact that he was the only one of seven children not to go on to higher education might have some marking him down in their estimation. However that ‘misspent’ childhood led to Natiq Shirinov becoming arguably one of the world’s leading drummers.

He was not a total anomaly in the family; there was music in the genes. His father’s line went back to Great-Great-Grandfather Ashiq Shirin in Goycha (now part of Armenia). Ashiq? A folk singer in these parts, usually self-accompanied on the long-necked lute called a saz and singing songs of love and heroics, often with a moral; something like a bard or minstrel. Grandfather Ashiq Idris, head of the Ashiqs’ Union, took his saz with him to World War II. Alas, neither returned; nor is there a recording of his reputedly wonderful voice.

Natiq also grew up to the sound of the qarmon (accordion) played purely for pleasure by his father, who might have progressed further had he not had an aversion to practising the scales demanded by his teacher. However, that is a talent that has been handed on and Namiq is now the qarmon player in his brother Natiq’s Rhythm Group.

The noise that annoyed Natiq’s mother was inspired by seeing naghara player Chingiz Mehdiyev on television and by the drummers who played in the tents at men’s wedding parties (a little more cultural than western-style stag parties).

These days it is different. My son Umid has learned from me, but I played the music in my head, it was natural, I knew what to play. And my first experience was at weddings.

Hopes axed

The cry to be given a naghara first went up at around the age of seven, he recalls. A naghara? It’s a double-headed drum popular in the Caucasus and Turkey; held under one arm or between the knees, it is beaten with hands and fingers.

Children don’t always get what they want straightaway, and who can gauge the importance of the improvisation that sprang from frustrated desire? From saucepans Natiq graduated to a chair held and tapped between his legs, and this is how he entertained until at a farewell party for a brother who was leaving to do military service they took a daf – a large frame drum like a tambourine without the little cymbals – and nailed it to an old naghara frame. So impressed was an uncle that he went out and invested a generous 17 roubles, about two week’s wages, on the real thing, sending the boy to seventh heaven. His father was not so pleased when the naghara took precedence over schoolwork and he literally axed both instruments.

Rhythmic rendezvous

Natiq, however, simply reverted to the chair and from nine years old he was a regular at the Gagarin Pioneers’ House, practising his passion. Aged ten he took up position opposite Dom Soviet (Government House) on Baku’s seafront promenade.

I remember this every time I pass Dom Soviet.

This was the usual rendezvous for musicians and those who needed entertainment for weddings and other festivities. A man sat next to him and laughed at his pretension – a ten-year-old thinking he could entertain adults! Still, he took Natiq to another military service farewell party. Then to weddings, then to play in the intervals at mugham concerts.

A year later he was in his ‘ancestral home’ – Goycha – at a cousin’s wedding. As the request had come from the senior uncle, Natiq’s father could not object and so, with his brother on garmon, the boy entertained through a party that lasted seven days and seven nights; in between the ashiqs spinning their tales the naghara drove the dancing.
Like in a fairy tale!

Fortune favours…

Enthusiasm and improvisation can take you so far, but without a solid grounding in the basics, you are likely to grind to a halt. Luckily, by now Natiq was in School No. 6 and in the class of a great teacher, Azer Aliyev. Enthusiasm, even with classes of 30-40 students, concerts in the Republic Palace involving 500 drummers, trips to Moscow and Tbilisi as part of the children’s music group Chuchelerim (My Little Chicks), but most of all that firm foundation in musical theory, constitute Natiq’s debt of gratitude to Azer muallim. In fact his teacher’s early death in 1991 left such a void that for a while the boy’s dedication to his art was shaken.

Destiny was not to be easily pushed aside, however, and the involvement in musical groups bolstered his determination to succeed and led to a tough decision:

To decide to be a good naghara player meant that I would not do so well at school… A lifetime is not enough time to study and to play really well. I’m not keen on musicians who play five instruments half well!

The die was cast and the choice has turned out well, professionally speaking. Click on Natig Rhythm Group on YouTube to see their success at the World Percussion Performing Arts Festival in Geumsan, Korea – taking the Grand Prix award. Or for the Natiq-devised act during Azerbaijan’s staging of the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012. Of course there is local pride in his achievements; he was made an Honoured Artiste in 2007.

And even without the qualifications for a ‘proper job’, the group leader relates that his happy personal life can also be traced back to the naghara; while playing at a wedding, aged 15, he met Sevinj, the girl he was to marry after a six year courtship – he’s a determined fellow! They now have three children, one of whom, Umid, has followed his father’s fingertips, joining the Rhythm Group aged 11 and already a four-year veteran.

Revival and research

With the tough career decision behind him, there was still an uphill struggle to justify the choice. In the difficult early 1990s, the first years of the country’s renewed independence, music suffered and what limelight there was shone on the tar and other solo instruments. The death of Chingiz Mehdiyev, until then the leading naghara player, cast the instrument further into shadow. Natiq set out to revive its fortunes. He stopped playing at weddings, where music serves mainly to provide volume and beat, and insisted that the instrument be taken seriously. By the end of the 1990s he was playing with leading mugham singer Alim Qasimov:

By 1999, in Alim’s trio, we were beginning to revive the naghara.

Azerbaijan’s geographical location and history hardly encourage isolationism and Natiq’s musical approach is similarly open; he recognised the fit between his instrument and other genres and was even presented with a diploma by music patron Nuri Ahmedov for the dimension he added to the jazz festivals of the noughties. However, there was still no rhythm group centred on the naghara and further study was necessary to achieve that dream. Not content with the 17 rhythms that he says provide the heartbeat for local traditional music, by 2001 he was studying Indian rhythms – in Moscow, flamenco – in Montpellier, African rhythms – in Adana, as well playing on tours with Alim Qasimov. He listened to America’s Billy Cobham, India’s Zakir Hussain, Turkey’s Ahmed Misirli and Uzbekistan’s Abbos Kosimov
Advancing tradition

At a concert of Natiq’s Rhythm Group now you are in no doubt that you are immersed in Azerbaijani music, but all his research is driven by a desire to advance and new rhythms have duly appeared in the repertoire:

I have to play Azerbaijani music a different way – I have to develop it and not stay in the old way.

He has experimented on the instrument too: a bass naghara holed on one side and held between the legs (rather than under the arm). He read about ceramic nagharas being recovered from archaeological digs; he ordered 15 of them in 2010. Only one of those survived uncracked, but a ceramic model now features in performances, usually lit from inside. He compares its sound to the prehistoric Qaval Dash – more of that in a while. Not yet changed by Natiq’s experimentation are the ropes; others have done away with them, but you will notice how often they are tweaked in a performance to adjust the tuning and timbre of the drum.

You will have gathered by now that while a Shirinov concert is a thing of great joy, and despite his foreshortened formal education, he is for all practical purposes a professor of percussion; only the slightest encouragement launches him into a paean to the professional’s pleasure in the techniques of rhythm and the mathematical combinations possible. And the numbers extend to infinity:

Mugham and jazz go on a journey and return, but rhythm can go to any number of places and does not have to return to the same place.

Naturally enough for players of surely the earliest form of musical expression, history and tradition feature strongly in their performances. Azerbaijan is home to the prehistoric petroglyphs at Qobustan and alongside them rests the Qaval Dash. This is a huge rock supported at three points which produces amazingly resonant sounds when struck by smaller hand-held stones. A replica of the original now plays its part in Natiq’s modern interpretation of the rhythms of the ages.

Looking to the future

Now 38 years old, Natiq is very much in his prime and as the years advance his thoughts turn to the future of his instrument and like many other Azerbaijani musicians he is keen to nurture the next generation. Apart from son Umid, who he believes is truly gifted, he has a number of students, including those who have graduated to his group. And the ambition does not end there. Of course he wants to establish a rhythm school but he already works with a dance group and their choreographer and he sees himself in the future taking on more and more responsibility for the direction of larger performances – note: performance, not show.

Ours is a professional performance of an art. We have to help the audience to understand.

There is little sign of Natiq Shirinov easing back on the success he has earned at home and abroad. The very nature of his preoccupation forbids that, as he says:

If there is rhythm there is life. - Visions of Azerbaijan Magazine


Featured albums

My World I (2004)•

My World II (2006)

If there is RHYTHM, then there is LIFE

With Sevda Alekperzade:
A Flower in Bloom (2007)
World of Love (2009)


The Bridge (2003)

Fortesses of Azerbaijan. Dashkasan-Gadabay (2008)  

Nagara (2016)



Natig Shirinov was born with rhythm. His numerous contributions to Azerbaijani percussion music have set new musical standards, inspiring new directions in the art. He has revolutionized nagara percussion technique to become Azerbaijan's first rhythm composer.

Natig Shirinov was born in Baku on November 10, 1975, into a family of famous Ashiqs. At the age of 9, in 1984, Natig began the study of the nagara with teacher Azer Aliyev at Tofig Ismaylov Music School. Each year of study he continued improving his knowledge and technique.

At the age of 24 Natig received an invitation from Alim Qasimov, master of mugham and the honored artist of Azerbaijan, to step into his professional career. With this group he toured the world from 1999-2007: the United States, England, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, Iran, Morocco, Romania, China, Poland, Korea, Russia, Serbia and Turkey. On these tours Natig was inspired by the revolutionary performances of Mısırlı Ahmet, master of darbuka and Zakir Hussain, master of tabla. He began to compose new rhythms for the nagara.

In 2001 he founded “Natig Rhythm Group” with five performers. Besides the nagara, he included old Azeri instruments such as zurna, balaban, and tutek (whistle flute) to the group, created new rhythms, and enhanced the recognition and appreciation of the nagara as the traditional instrument of Azerbaijan. In 2002 in the search again for new rhythms he learned the tabla at the Council of India in Moscow, and began to synthesize Azerbaijani rhythms with world rhythms.

Natig recorded his albums “My World” in 2004 and “My World II” in 2006. He included compositions using different types of nagaras, such as bam, boyuk, dari, dovul, kut, qopuzlu, qosha, zang, and zil on these albums. Within traditional Azerbaijani folk music he introduced new directions and rhythms in his compositions. In November 2004 he was officially invited to the “World Music Festival of Drum and Dance” devoted to the 120th anniversary of Taipei. He was rewarded by the Department of Cultural Affairs of the Taipei City for his great and outstanding performance. He performed at the International Baku Jazz Festival in 2005, rewarded with “Diploma Laureate” by Festival Producer, Rain Sultanov and Head of Organizing Committee, Nuri Akhmedov.

He participated at the Drum Festival in Baku in 2005, 2006, 2008 & 2009. His group’s performances at the festival were increasingly brilliant, and they gain more notice and praise.

Natig Rhythm Group gained more recognition and awards in the next years, participating in intergovernmental exhibitions and conferences. In 2006 they were rewarded a National Award for instrumental group of the year. In 2006 he was invited to perform with pianist and composer Emil Ibrahim Quartet in Belgium and in 2007 he took part in the concert “Emil Ibrahim & Friends” at Baku Jazz Festival.

Natig and his group performed at the Culture Days of Azerbaijan in Moscow in 2006 and 2007, in France in 2007, in Morocco and Germany in 2008. In June 2007 he was invited to perform with the band led by Salman Gambarov, distinguished pianist and composer, to participate at “The 3rd International Art Festival of the Caucasus” in Warsaw. The band performed with blended eastern and western music inspirations.

In September 2007 Natig was rewarded with the title of Honored Artist of Azerbaijan by the President. He was invited by Azerbaijani singer Sevda Alekperzade to accompany her on her albums’ recording: “A Flower in Bloom” in 2007 and “World of Love” in 2009. Natig together with Sevda Alekperzade gave a number of concerts in Austria, Germany, and Romania in 2008 and in Germany in 2009. Natig Rhythm Group together with the State Dance Ensemble performed at the grand opening of the support concert for The Eurovision Song Contest in Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Serbia in 2008.

Natig with Natig Rhythm Group was awarded the Grand Prix Award at the Geumsan World Percussion Performance Art Festival in 2011. And two years in a row Natig Rhythm Group headlined the Royal Belum World Drums Festival (2011/2012) in Malaysia.

Natig Rhythm Group was a featured performer for the live televised opening and closing ceremony of the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012 in Azerbaijan.

Natig Rhythm Group was the opening act for world superstar Rihanna at her concert in Baku, Azerbaijan in 2012.

In 2012 and 2014 Natig performed and gave master classes at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.

In 2015 Natig Rhythm Group performed in the opening ceremonies of the first European Games.

Band Members