The Only Tanbur-Maker In Azerbaijan

Source: Chai-Khana & BBC Azeri

Ismayil Megjiyev: “If the tanbur (a string instrument) will become world-famous, it will forget me.”

Zagatala region in Azerbaijan is famous for its ethnic minorities, diversity and dense settlement. Along with Azerbaijanis, here live Tsakhurs, Avars, Lezgins and Ingiloys villagers. Danachi is the largest village in Zaqatala. The village is dense with Avars and is popular not only in Azerbaijan, but also in Dagestan. The reason for this is the master who is living here.

Ismayil Megjiyev, is an ethnic Avar born in 1959 in the village of Danachi. His interest in playing the tanbur dates back to his childhood.

He reflects on how his father and grandfather were both tanbur performers. For this reason, his interest turned into production.

In 1973 he made his first tanbur. However, after some time, his right side became paralyzed. He stopped making tanburs.

After a while, he began to have dreams. These dreams worried him. A dream interpreter told him that he must make tanburs, specifically telling him that “tanburs are calling you.” Megjiyev says that once his friend’s father wanted a tanbur. He barely made a body for the tanbur, and his friend’s father finished the body and attached the strings. “After while I wanted to take the tanbur back from him but I was ashamed. Because I did not make it fully. So for this reason I started to make a new one for myself. Then I continued to do it and soon I had done several tanburs.”

Megjiyev says that due to the fact that he could not work with both hands, with a special tool he was finally able to make his job easier. “Although it makes my work easier, it also makes it longer. If I could work with both hands, I would be able to finish making one tanbur in 10-12 days. However, currently it takes me 1 month in order to finish it. Firstly I saw the wood in a square to a certain size and then I draw the lines on it and saw again and make the tanbur. A tanbur can be done from several trees: a mulberry tree, poplar, oak, pine and so on. However, when it is done from a walnut tree, the sound of the tanbur is like the saz (a national string instrument) sound.

“I am the only tanbur-maker in this area. The Avars in Azerbaijan and in the whole Caucasus buy their tanburs from me. People from Baku, Balaken, Zaqatala, Dagestan and Makhachkala come to buy tanburs from me. There are some new craftsmen who appeared in the village of Jar who make tanburs. They are new they don’t put soul into this workmanship. The tanburs that I’ve made are used in Avar weddings. For making it more convenient and easy, I plugged a microphone into the tanbur. I have 4 sons and each of them is involved in different things. They never have an interest to make tanburs. I do not have an apprentice but I would like one. This work requires patience. The apprentice will come to learn for 3 – 5 days, and then will leave. I would like to protect the heritage.”

Ismail Megjiyev

Ismayil Megjiyev

Tanbur

Tanbur

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