Armen Movsisian in Concert

April 2 at 8:00 PM
Barnsdall Gallery Theatre
4800 Hollywood Blvd.–Hollywood
Tickets are $25–and available at Barnsdall box office before the concert–or by calling 818-265-0506.

It’s difficult to describe the music of Armen Movsisyan; his mellow–heartfelt style is compared to that of Ruben Hakhverdian’s–but Movsisyan explains the difference in the driving force behind their music: "Since Ruben is the one who put the first stone in the wall of this genre of music–then it’s natural for people to compare me to him. However–our understanding of the world–ways of thinking–and even our approach to music differ. As for his art? Ruben Hakhverdian–Artur Meschian–these are people that have begun the genre?and by the way–it’s not the "worst" genre in Armenian music."

By Ishkhan Jinbashian

Armen Movsisyan is a man of many surprises. For starters–he was trained as an art historian and–of all things–a physicist. His lifelong dream had everything to do with becoming an astronaut–nothing with making music. And then the coup de grace: before 1988–when he suddenly decided to become a musician–he couldn’t sing a note–let alone play the guitar. Furthermore–he had no benefit of formal training–whether vocal or instrumental–either before or after his first public appearance. Thus his new career was risky at best–with a considerable chance of attracting ridicule.

But what happened next was something of a happy anomaly. For his first-ever concert–Movsisyan decided to test the waters by performing for a tiny Yerevan audience of university students–as hard-to-please a crowd as any. He came to the fore with a repertoire he had just composed–a guitar he had only recently learned to play–and a voice barely for unleashing. He was an instant success. About his out of the blue eagerness to become a singer-songwriter–Movsisyan has this to say–lacing it with minimal drama and a conspiratorial grin: "I fell in love." The rest was history–literally. Because Movsisyan’s rise to prominence coincided with a large historical moment which would never cease to fuel his imagination and art.

Nothing would be the same after 1988. The epochal year saw not only the Spitak earthquake which ravaged nothern Armenia and especially the city of Gumri–Movsisyan’s birthplace–but also the beginning of Armenia’s freedom movement. Watching at close quarters–Movsisyan became one of the earliest artists to express the poetics of loss and regeneration in a country impatient to reinvent itself.

By 1992–Movsisyan was devoting himself solely to music. He was also becoming the poet of a theoretically purer–gentler Armenia–where faith and hope were never meant to be dirty words.

Movsisyan’s musical sensibilities came of age in a decade that took Armenia on a chaotic ride from the euphoria of independence to the hangover of the day after–and at last the long drawn reckoning with the realities of a socio-economic downward spiral. Despite the appalling living conditions–government corruption–and rampant cynicism–Movsisyan was among those who refused to join the mass exodus from the country. He stayed put and absorbed the often surreal phenomena borne of extreme circumstances–always on the lookout for the life-affirming aspect in a collective dream gone awry.

Starting with his initial concert in 1988–when he registered an instant rapport with an audience of disenchanted students–Movsisyan’s stance was as simple as it was challenging. Leaving is for losers–he seemed to say. He also had to work very hard to prove his point.

For both inspiration and a renewed sense of dignity–Movsisyan looked to the freedom fighters of Karabagh–the treasure-trove of Armenian folk music–the dialect of his ancestral Moush–and the immutable pleasures of living in Yerevan. He says he rediscovered swaths of meaning all around him–and was moved incessantly to celebrate the lot in his music. Neither he nor the growing base of his fans would be disappointed. As in his albums ‘Love–Hope–Remembrance’ and ‘We’re Armenia’s–Armen Movsisyan Unplugged’ can be heard as a string of intimate fireside chats–with the earnest voice of a modern-day minstrel constructing tales and pastiches on the soothing lines of acoustic guitar. The effect–as always–is quaintly uplifting.

With the massive influx of movies–music–and literature vying for Armenia’s new consumer culture these days–it may come as no surprise that the country’s musical tastes are shifting rapidly. "Too much Easternization and way too much Westernization," Movsisyan says–referring to the inherent identity crisis in most pop music coming from Armenia. "The trick is to remain true to your essence while absorbing whatever disparate influences. The world is still waiting for that modern Armenian sound that is irreducibly and unmistakably Armenian. The geuine article."

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