Arts, Culture & Media

This 18-year-old singer found her mentor in Azerbaijan and ended up on stage in London

Player utilities

Listen to the story.

Fidan Hajiyeva

Fidan Hajiyeva



When 18-year-old singer Fidan Hajiyeva took the stage at the Royal Albert Hall, it marked the finale of her participation in the fourth annual World Routes Academy.

It’s a project that was spearheaded by ethnomusicologist and broadcaster Lucy Duran. She spent years on BBC Radio 3 showcasing the riches of traditional music from around the world.

Along the way, Duran realized she could sustain some of those traditions by bringing young British musicians with immigrant backgrounds back to their families' countries of origin.

Previous participants have studied with master teachers in Syria, Sri Lanka, and Colombia. In Fidan Hajiyeva’s case, it was Azerbaijan.

The young singer was born there, but moved with her family to London when she was four. Duran says that made her a perfect candidate for this year's Academy.

"Fidan is definitely a Londoner," Duran says. "But, you know, she’s also very … very attracted by her own … by the culture of her parents, and she loves Azeri music. So we took her to Azerbaijan twice."

Hajiyeva worked with Gochaq Askarov, a renowned singer of mugham, a highly poetic style of vocal music in Azerbaijan. Hajiyeva was familiar with the sounds of mugham, but learning how to sing the complex music posed a challenge.

Yet she didn’t have enough time to study with Askarov in Azerbaijan. So the two turned to technology to make up for when she was back in London.

"We practiced over Skype like maybe three times a week, which was quite hard ‘cause of technical difficulties, because the Internet was really bad and there’s a four-hour time difference. But we got it done," Hajiyeva says.

Hajiyeva says Askarov asked her to sing Azeri songs that felt more overtly romantic than the pop music she was used to.

"My mentor kept on saying 'put yourself in that place, like you’re in love, you’re lovestruck and you’re talking to her or him.'  And I was like, 'okay.' He always said you have to feel the music you’re singing, so that’s what I tried to do," she says.

Before long, Hajiyeva and her Azeri mentor were poised to take the stage at the Royal Albert Hall. Despite the demands of the musical journey, Hajiyeva found the performance both emotional and transformative.

And whether or not Hajiyeva makes it back to the Royal Albert, for one magic night, she filled London's great hall with the songs of her homeland.

Related Stories