But the punchline in this one was no joke for the two musicians.
Aphik Novruzov and Anas Askerov allege that the Azerbaijani Embassy’s first secretary verbally and physically attacked them in a musical mix-up during a boozy old New Year’s celebration at a restaurant in the Georgian capital on January 14.
The diplomat, Vugar Mustafayev, loudly berated a post-Soviet pop singer’s Russian song as “Armenian music” before the fisticuffs started, they said.
“I don’t know how an ambassador’s representative can fail to distinguish between Armenian and Russian songs,” Novruzov, a rapper who performs in Azeri in Georgia and abroad, said in a Facebook video after the incident. In it, he and Askerov show a phone image of Mustafayev and accuse him of instigating the fight.
Police and paramedics were called to the scene at the Qabala Basket Azeri restaurant, though no injuries were reported.
Azerbaijan and Armenia are still technically at war over Azerbaijan’s mostly ethnic Armenian breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, and mutual resentments frequently boil over into public expressions of anger.
Mustafayev, who has diplomatic immunity, admitted to RFE/RL’s Georgian Service that he was involved in a fracas on January 14 but said the musicians insulted him. He declined to offer a detailed account of the incident and referred specific questions to the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tbilisi, which did not respond to phone calls.
Novruzov and Askerov, ethnic Azeris from the town of Marneuli in southern Georgia, said they had complained to the Azerbaijani Embassy and demanded that Mustafayev be dismissed from his post.
They said a customer requested the Russian-language song that sparked the confrontation, “Devochka, Stop!” (Girl, Stop!) by Arsen Shahunts.
The song has reached No. 12 on Popnable Russia, and the video has more than 24 million YouTube views since it was posted in September.
Its lyrics seem anything but political:
“But the trouble is, the character is not simple,
Every day, another whim. Oops.
I just can’t understand her,
I just want to say:
Girl, stop! Do not”
Arsen Shahunts, the 41-year-old singer of “Devochka, Stop!” is a suave, Turkmen-born, ethnic Armenian who’s made a career with his brother of crooning sappy love songs you might expect to hear at a wedding filled with shiny suits and kitschy lighting.
Shahunts and older brother Sasha write and perform songs in Russian, Armenian, and Turkmen.
But they also made a point of including a song in Azeri on each of their first five albums as a testament to music’s ability to break down cultural barriers.
Sasha Shahunts once explained it as a “love for music…that should be inside any musician — otherwise he’ll be limited as a human, not just as a musician.”
The Georgian Interior Ministry has confirmed that an investigation is under way into the incident.
Azerbaijan and Armenia’s war over Nagorno-Karabakh claimed an estimated 30,000 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of people from 1988 until 1994. Skirmishes on their shared borders still routinely kill people on both sides.