Talents of Azerbaijan Series: Ella Leya and more!

“Azerbai…what?”, we often hear, “Azerbaijan!” we answer with pride. Because it is our vision to build bridges between Azerbaijan and Texas, let us take you, one event at a time, in a journey from Houston, TX to Azerbaijan. No need to fly above the ocean and no jetlag – guaranteed, we find the people, our people to take you under their wings on a journey of art, music, food, stories, poems and more…

There was no better way than a evening like this one to introduce our new program and series showcasing the many Talents Of Azerbaijan


That evening, the spotlights were on four talented guests with that little something in common: their country of birth, their land, their Azerbaijan.

Mrs. Irada Akhoundova, CEO and Emmanuelle Hamilton, Marketing Director of the Azerbaijan Center greeted the participants and introduced all the Talents Of Azerbaijan of the night.


Ella Leya, the guest of honor, is a singer, composer and writer living in London. In a discussion with Inna Naroditskaya, professor in Musicology and specialist in Azerbaijanian and Eastern music cultures but also Ella’s sister, Ella presented us her first novel “The Orphan Sky” and made all the guests travel and (re)discover the streets of Baku, Azerbaijan.

book cover imageThe Orphan Sky

Set at the crossroads of Turkish, Persian and Russian cultures under the red flag of Communism in the late 1970s, The Orphan Sky reveals one woman’s struggle to reconcile her ideals with the corrupt world around her, and to decide whether to betray her country or her heart…

A journey to Baku, Azerbaijan…

During the discussion, while Ella’s words took us, through the story of Leila, on a travel to the Azerbaijan of her book, the guests could enjoy the art work of two of our local artists, Irene Sheytman and Narmin Backus: some pieces inspired by The Orphan Sky and some others by our beloved city of Baku, Azerbaijan.

This book inspired me to start working on illustrations as soon as I put it down, although I was not invited to illustrate it and have very little hope that this book will be published with my works. Book touched me deeply not only because the main characters are my coevals and contemporaries, but also I shared their thoughts and feelings. I was reading the antagonist’s conversation and imagined myself walking down familiar streets. 

Irene Sheytman – Concerto – Acrylic on canvas



122014_NarminBackus_Paintings (2)

All the paintings are part of a series called “Streets of Baku”. The idea for this series was born out of a simple nostalgia for the city where I was born, the city of Baku. As I couldn’t visit Azerbaijan for the first few years of my life in the United States, I began painting streets of my dear Baku; imagining that I was there walking on the streets. As my paintbrush touched the canvas, my heart and my mind were filled with wonderful memories of my life in Baku.


Narmin BackusStreets of Baku series – Oil on canvas

After a brief questions-answers session in this intimate setting with the audience, Ella Leya made us the honor and the delight of performing a few songs from her albums including a “Russian Romance”.

Ella’s performance was followed by a book signing session of The Orphan Sky.


The Azerbaijan Center, with the generous support of El Tiempo Cantina, offered a buffet for the guests to enjoy to finish the evening remembering memories of Baku for some or simply meeting new people for others.

To continue filling the minds of our guests with this country we love so much, The Azerbaijan Center was also proud to showcase the work of Feride Buyuran and her AZcookbook “Pomegranates and Saffron: A Culinary Journey to Azerbaijan”.


Imagine a country where East and West are beautifully intertwined in the cuisine and culture and where its treasured cooking secrets are waiting to be discovered. Welcome to Azerbaijan. Feride Buyuran takes you on a delightful culinary journey through this beautiful land in the Caucasus.



The Azerbaijan Center would like to extend its sincere thanks to its generous sponsors, amazing volunteers, talented artists and wonderful attendees for making this event successful and for “travelling” with us that evening.


Irene Sheytman and Narmin Backus’ art works are on exhibit until mid-April at the Azerbaijan Center.

To learn more about our Talents of Azerbaijan program and artists, please contact us at azerbaijancchouston@gmail.com.