Baku, Sunday 29th January 2006
I miss my music. A couple of weeks ago I wrote that the only thing I forgot to pack was my currency; that was not strictly true. Like a proper idiot I did such a good job of hurriedly putting much of my music equipment and discs into storage before leaving England that I stored my travelling CD wallet as well. The result is that I’m sitting in the middle of Baku with no music of my own save for the two CD’s that I received for Christmas. Most of you will know me well enough to appreciate that while this situation is not quite as dire as that of the fish out of water, it is probably comparable to that of the poor whale that swam up the river Thames last week. What was he thinking? Thankfully unlike the hapless whale I am neither at death’s door nor surrounded by anxious would-be saviours trying to rescue me (though Ayaz the driver did force “Chris Rea’s Greatest Hits” upon me a couple of nights ago: ‘On The Beach’ is aging surprisingly well…). Instead Deep Dish’s “George Is On” and “Diary of a digital soundboy” by Shy FX and T Power are doing sterling tag team shift-work on my eardrums; Kris, Rich, Monica: thank you again!
The situation is further aided by the rather swish home cinema sound system that at time of writing is putting some healthy amounts of sub-bass into one of T Power’s squelchier d&b tunes. Yes, I have finally moved into the apartment. No more for me the running skirmishes with hotel housekeeping on a Sunday as I try to relax while they try to kick me out and give the room a thorough seeing-to. This space is my space and my oh my isn’t there a lot of it. Just the combined floor space of the living room and the hallway of this place is probably bigger than that of the whole flat I was living in three years ago in Brighton Road, Surbiton. Add two decent-sized bedrooms, one and a half bathrooms and a very generous kitchen and you will understand how I sometimes feel like a marble rattling around in a tin dustbin. It doesn’t help that all the floors are wood laminate and the place is virtually empty so my footsteps really echo. My employment contract offers to freight “500 volumetric kilograms” (offers as to the definition of a “volumetric kilogram” gratefully received) to my doorstep so I am seriously considering getting my bass, my DJ rig and as many boxes of records as possible shipped out here pronto. Should make for a memorable house-warming party if nothing else…
Of course size isn’t everything (allegedly) and there’s more to this apartment than its dimensions alone. The décor for example is the most balanced of the ten offerings I saw in the process of seeking lodgings yet nonetheless gives the impression that the designer fantasised about an explosion in an ice-cream factory during its creation. The wood floor is a warm toffee tone, the walls are half vanilla, half caramel, the doors are chocolate and the three piece suite is part hazelnut crunch, part strawberry. That may sound like a hideous combination and I agree that even Willy Wonka might think twice before specifying such a scheme on paper but as you’ll see in the attached photo, in this space it actually works quite well. It is augmented by what I can only assume must be a very carefully selected range of ornaments in that there are very few of them. What I haven’t worked out yet is what complex criteria of taste and insight were applied when choosing said ornaments as they barely relate to each other let alone the apartment. They’re so awful they’re great. I don’t yet know which is my favourite; maybe the guinea-pig-sized velour lion with the fake fur mane and the bright red tongue; perhaps the similar size faux-bronze elephant balancing the clock on his back (with cheapo battery-powered movement therein of course).
Paintwork, soft furnishings and ornaments aside it is quite obvious that pride of place in this apartment goes to the television, as indeed it did in all the others. Obviously the consensus amongst the landlords of Baku is that expats watch lots of television and don’t do much else. I didn’t see a single decent stereo system on display in any of the places I visited but each of them exhibited a television the size of a shed door, a DVD player and usually a multi-speaker cinema sound package as well. I’ve got the full monty here as I mentioned earlier but I don’t watch a lot of television and buying a DVD is one of life’s little pleasures I have yet to experience. Should the mood ever take me I could pop downtown and pick up a copy of any of the latest films for a couple of quid but the fact that many of them are literally camcorder-in-cinema recordings is just one of the reasons I didn’t feel tempted to buy “King Kong” today.
No sir, for those occasions where I feel the urge to vegetate in front of the screen there is more than enough amusement to be had flicking between the thirty or so television channels that come as standard here thank you. Baku may somehow fail to register on both of the Euronews weather maps (that’s European AND World) but I seem to be sitting under an international television hub. While the only English-speaking channel appears to be BBC Prime (shame) I’ve discovered music channels in Azeri, Turkish, Russian and even Polish – none of which is MTV I might add – and they’re all great fun. Alongside some popular favourites from the ‘Western’ world (although I really think the Americans should have kept The Pussycat Dolls to themselves) there’s a healthy dose of local content to enjoy, especially from Turkey.
It would appear that traditional styles remain very strong in Turkish pop. I particularly remember a chart video featuring a striking female singer backed by fifteen to twenty musicians playing mostly traditional instruments, all dressed in evening wear. If you watched with the sound off you could imagine it was an opera recital but listening to the song it had a definite modern sound to the production. Unfortunately Turkish rock bands seem to have got it the other way around. The ones I’ve seen so far look like they know what they’re doing but play simply awful music that sounds like it’s been lifted from a cheap rock compilation album that was originally released circa 1982. Where did it all go wrong?
While the combination of musical old and new may be producing mixed results in Turkey it’s being taken in totally new directions here on the streets of Baku. I strolled to the end of my street to find a taxi last night and agreed the journey with a young man on the corner. His car turned out to be an older example of the ubiquitous Lada and it sounded suitably tired as he cranked the engine a couple of times to get it started. I was expecting the usual racing start into the traffic as soon as the engine fired but this was not just any old taxi. Before pulling away my driver took a moment to fire up an LCD video screen he’d fixed to the middle of the dashboard and start his compilation DVD of current American pop videos. My jalopy ride downtown was accompanied by the latest from the likes of Ludacris, Eminem and Britney Spears in full digital sound and vision. Once we’d reached journey’s end my driver offered me his card and invited me to call any time: I appear to have this MTV wagon at my disposal. Just imagine, I could spend all my spare time and even all my travelling time watching music videos – my cup overfloweth. It’s not me though. Small doses here and there are entertaining but each time it’s some-one else who’s calling the tune. I still miss my music.