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Mahmud Salah started his professional activity at the age of sixteen performing with the ensemble of national musical instruments of the Azerbaijan State TV and Radio Company. Since 1990 he has been a soloist Qhaval (daf) performer in the orchestra of Azerbaijani national musical instruments, and in the same time since 1991 he has been working at the Azerbaijan State Opera and Ballet Theatre and National symphonic orchestra.
Between 1989 and 2005 he initiated and founded a few mugham ensembles – trio “Buta” with Qhaval, kamancha, and tar (1989), trio “Ghadim Sharq” (2000), instrumental quartet, Shajara (2001–2005) and an instrumental quartet “Ghadim Sharq Roubaii” (2003) with qhaval, tar, qanun, and kamancha.
Tar and Qhaval are the permanent member of all mugham ensembles founded by Mahmud Salah. These instruments now constitute the core of the group “Ghadim Sharq”. In this ensembles Mahmud Salah performs Qhaval, Elman Sadiqov played Tar (1998–2007) and Ilqar Azizov is performing Tar now. They attract different khanendes (traditional singers) for their public performance. This flexibility reflects common practice of mugham performance, rooted in old tradition.
Mahmud Salah works also at the Azerbaijan National Conservatoire and at the Azerbaijan State Institute of Arts where he teaches qhaval performing to traditional singers (khanendes). The names of his former students (Melek-khanim Ayyubova, Simara Imanova (winner of the first festival of oriental songs in Samarqand), Nazaket Teymurova, Aygun Bayramova, Mansoum Ibrahimov) are widely known now to both Azerbaijani and foreign audience and new generation, Tayyar Bayramov(winner of the International mugham symposium), Qochaq Askerov(the best of the oriental songs festival in Samarqand) and Babak Neftaliev (star of mugham).
As a performer, Mahmud Salah is considered as the best ghaval player in Azerbaijan. His name is mentioned in many books on Azerbaijan national musical instruments written by local and foreign authors. Professor of the Northwestern University (Illinois, United States) Inna Naroditskaya in her book “Songs from the Land of Fire” (2003) dedicated to Azerbaijani traditional musical culture expresses her gratitude to Mahmud Salah “for his patience and enthusiasm in teaching me to play the ghaval in 2002”. His qhaval (daf) performance is placed on the compact disk (sound track 2) appendixes to her book.
Sanobar Baghirova (member of American Etnomusicalists Association and International music council as the Azerbaijani member ) was written in her book, Azerbaijani Mugham, pearls of humans folklore heritage, about compositions of Mahmud Salah in chahargah and unusual performance in rengs, tasnifs and daramds even performing qhaval in mugham as a soloist.
Mahmud Salah performed with such renowned Azerbaijani traditional musicians, as a famous khanende (traditional singer), khanendes Arif Babayev, UNESCO prize winner Alim Qasimov, Janali Akberov, Aghakhan Abdullayev and Sakine Ismailova, professors and assistant professor of Azerbaijan National Conservatoire, tar performers Ramiz Quliyev, Agha Salim Addullayev, Mohlat Muslimov, Malik Mansurov, kamancha performers Shafiga Eyvazova, Adalat Vazirov, Fahraddin Dadashev, Elshan Mansourov. a garmon player, a laureate of the 36th annual Smithsonian “Folklife” festival of 2002, Aydin Aliyev, and with many others. In 1987 he performed with Alim Qasimov at the International Festival in Samarqand where their group was awarded the first prize.
In ensemble with Azerbaijani instrumentalists Ramiz Quliyev (tar) Mohlat Muslimov (tar), Fahraddin Dadashev, Shafiga Eyvazova (kamancha) and khanendes, such as Aghakhan Abdullayev, Janali Akberov, Melek khanim Ayyubova, Qandab Quliyeva, his performance was recorded on the series of compact disks “Anthology of Azerbaijani Traditional Music” released in France in the 1990s.
In 1997 in France Buda Musique released a CD with Malik Mansurov and Mahmud Salah’s performance “Azerbaidjan: Le Tar de Malik Mansurov”, Musique du Monde, 1997, CD 92696-2, BUDA Musique, Paris, France] and a CD with Aydin Aliyev and Mahmud Salah’s recordings. “Azerbaidjan: Le Garmon de Aydin Aliev”, Musique du Monde, 1997, CD 92701-2, BUDA Musique, Paris, France. Four of his latest CDs were released by two Turkish companies – two by RAKS (2003) with khanende Sakine Ismailova and two more by the studio “Boyuk Shahinler” (2005), one with his solo performance. Numerous of his CDs were released by local Azerbaijani studios.
Mahmud Salah is widely known also as a tar reformer and a connoisseur of old mugham repertoire. The tar he reformed in the 90s since 1998 has sounded publicly; it has already got its own place in history of Azerbaijani tar construction and performing practice. A few documentaries of this new tar were taken by different local and foreign TV channels, for instance, by Turkish TRT2 in 2002, by the “Leader” Azerbaijani private channel in 2004, and by the Azerbaijan State TV & Radio company in 2005. This tar also named Sharqi tar(oriental tar) is mentioned in “Explanatory Dictionary of Azerbaijan musical instruments” compiled by A. Najafzade (Baku, 2003). This tar (accompanied by M. Salah’s daf performance) sounded at the stage of the international music festival “Sharq taranalari” held under the auspice of UNESCO in Samarqand in 2005 and 2009.
Famous US Professor of Montana University, Thomas Goltz produced a film about Mahmud Salah and his ensemble Qhadim Sharq when they were in Montana. Mugham in Montana (Directed Thomas Goltz) or The Mystical Music of Mugham comes to Montana won an Award of Merit in the short film, documentary category at the La Jolla California’s 2009 Accolade Film Festival Competition in August 2009. Qhadim Sharq as one of the best known Azeri ensembles has performing many programs at local and international TV and radio. BBC Radio 3 2007 (the First Azeri music performance), SWR2 in 2008, Channal Europe in 2008, Turkish and Azerbaijani channels. Also was performed many of concerts in United States (April 2007), Germany (October 2007).
As a composer, Mahmud Salah is less known among the general public because he composes music in the traditional and folk musical genres (tasnifs, rangs, daramads, dances), and, according to mugham tradition, this creativity usually stays anonymous among traditional musicians and public. However, all the mugham compositions arranged by Mahmud Salah usually include his own pieces or rhythmical melodic episodes within canonized mugham improvisations.