Blues Guitar of the Crimea: The Art of Enver İzmailov

© dontworry with CCLicense
© dontworry with CCLicense

Enver İzmailov majored in bassoon, but found his true voice with the electric guitar, evolving his own technique by tapping on the strings with his fingertips rather than strumming or picking. Was the sound of bassoon articulation, made by putting the tongue against the reed, influential in developing this style? Stanley Jordan developed a similar technique, but İzmailov was unaware of him as a student in Uzbekistan. The skill is called tapping and is put to great use in the video below from the 2006 Mamakabo festival in Tomsk. Note how both hands are on the neck of the guitar most of the time.


Video via lubagt on YouTube.

İzmailov’s music blends together jazz, blues, and rock with Tatar, Turkish, Uzbeki, Balkan and even Indian folk music. The mixture creates something that defies classification and ranges widely in mood. Many of his pieces are written in very wild time signatures prevalent in Balkan and central Asian music, such as 11/8, 11/16 and 13/16, a far cry from the 3/4, 4/4 and 6/8 which western audiences are so used to. His music also includes rhythmic vocalization of a kind which is standard in Balkan and Roma music, as you heard in the previous video. He uses loops to accompany his virtuosity, something he learned years ago when playing weddings for people who couldn’t afford a band.

Crimea (dark green), now part of Ukraine (light green) © Wikimedia Commons Atlas of the World
Crimea (dark green), now part of Ukraine (light green)
© Wikimedia Commons Atlas of the World

What makes the blues resonate with İzmailov? His parents were Crimean Tatars, deported from their homes in the Ukraine by decree in 1944. The Sürgünlik, or exile, loaded all Tatars on to cattle trains for destinations in the Uzbek SSR, Kazakh SSR, Siberia and other parts of the Soviet Union on the pretext that all Tatars were Nazi collaborators, despite the fact that many had served valiantly in the Russian army. Soldiers were discharged and placed in labor camps. Almost half of those “resettled” died from malnutrition and disease. Stalin feared that the former state of Crimea, once a major power aligned with the Ottoman Empire and a center of Islamic culture presided over by descendants of Genghis Khan, might rise up against him. He decided to break them before that happened. It did not help the Tatars that the Crimea is incredibly beautiful, a place where Russian nobility had once taken luxurious vacations. Crimean Tatars would not begin to return to their home until the Perestroika movement took hold. İzmailov himself, born in exile in 1955, came home in 1989.

İzmailov won first prize in the First European International Guitarist Competition and was voted Musician Of The Year 1995 in the Ukraine. Albums include: At A Fergana BazaarThe Eastern Legend, Kara Deniz/Black Sea with Burhan Öçal, Dancing Over The Moon with Geoff Warren,Yarimada/Peninsula, Minaret with the Crimea Art Trio, With My Best Wishes!, and Around the Black Sea.

In the video below you can see his humor and ear for the world around him as he mimics car horns, airplanes, motorcycles and various animals with his guitar. The cow kills me every time.

Video via VVildDrive on YouTube.

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