The city of Baku, the capitol of Azerbaijan, located below the Caucasus Mountains on the edge of the Caspian Sea, is a fascinating blend of east and west, old and new. In the late 1800s, numerous “oil barons’ mansions” were built alongside the existing ancient Islamic walled city in a strange mixture of architectural styles that mixed European classical, Art Nouveau with Persian eclecticism. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union 20 years ago, Baku has experienced another oil-fueled building boom of modern skyscrapers. But nothing seems to capture the essence of the Azerbaijan psyche the way that traditional Mugham music does.
Late last year, there was an article on the front page of The NY Times about the planned demolition of large sections of the ancient silk road city, Kashgar, in western China. I decided I should go before it was gone. An Uzbek friend had invited me to his arranged wedding in Samarkand, and I figured that was all the excuse I needed to go to Central Asia.