Community Gathers for an Evening of Poetic Reflection with AYF Zartonk

Ajmin Baghramian doing stand up comedy. photo by Vache Thomassian

La Crescenta, CA–About a hundred young Armenia’s gathered Friday night at the La Crescenta Armenian Center for a night of music and poetic reflection during the third annual Open Mic Night, hosted by the Crescenta Valley ‘Zartonk’ chapter of the Armenian Youth Federation.

The evening’s event, entitled “Speak Your Mind,” has become a tradition in the fast growing Armenian community of La Crescenta and featured performances by a dozen community members, and up and coming Armenian-American artists.

MCed by Zartonk’s very own comedic duo, Artem Aghourian and Shant Bairian and set to the energetic tunes of live DJ music by Zartonk’s Shahan Kazanchian, the grass-roots concert was held in a dimly lit hall decorated with artwork and photography chronicled the Armenian Cause.

The event showcased originally composed music, poetry recitals, stand-up comedy, and traditional, patriotic, and opera vocal performances in Armenian.

The Open Mic Night kicked off with an opera performance of Komitas’ Groong by Talin Nalbandian. Following the 15-year-old choir singer was Siana Kay and then Aubriana Labrae, each singing their own originally composed pop and R&B numbers. The Kambourian brothers, Avo and Armand, played an acoustic set of Britney Spears songs, which evoked laughter and participation from the audience, while Payla Kevorkian, who appeared on stage with her keyboard throughout the evening, sang an originally composed love song.

The poetry of Bedros Tourian and Barour Sevak was brought to life by a passionate Garen Kazanc following the showing of intermission video, which showcased AYF Youth Corps members rebuilding a community center in Karabakh last year.

Kazanc’s Armenian poetry set the tone for 14-year-old Alex Pilibos student Hoory Minoyan, who dedicated her performance to the martyrs of Lisbon 5, whose sacrifice for the Armenian Cause, she said, was very close to her heart.

The night’s second intermission featured two short films produced by Avo Kambourian. The first, titled “Gotta Catch Me was a light comedy centered around a game of tag between friends, while the second a more serious showing, titled, “Homeland,” followed an unexpected and supernatural conversation on the issue of repatriation between a Karabakh War veteran living in America and the disappointed ghost of his fallen comrade in arms.

The final showcase of the event included spot-on impersonations of Persian-Armenian parents by Ajmin Baghramian, star of My Big Fat Armenian Family, a new film parody on the lives of Armenian families in the Diaspora. Bedik Atmajian sang Armenian revolutionary music, while duet performances by Lara Panossian and Viki Tavitian, and Sanahin and Nair Balian showcased the surreal sounds of Armenian folk. Nare Garibian recited a poem she had written about her fateful encounter with an Armenian living in the Turkish occupied Western Armenian town of Arabkir, while acoustic guitarist Raffi Semerdjian performed a repertoire of original music he wrote during his stay in Armenia.

The night concluded with a surprise performance by Lara Panosian who, in complete costume, performed a riveting traditional Armenian dance number for an audience that shortly after, walked outside to see a vibrant supersized mural of the words “Speak Your Meetk” spray-painted by Osheen Rostami.

“Since we started the Zartonk Open Mic Night in 2006, it has grown to become an open forum for the community to gather and express themselves artistically, emotionally, and intellectually,” said Zartonk Chairperson Sanan Shirinian.

“It wasn’t easy organizing the event, but it was worth it, because today’s youth are in desperate need of a fun environment to experiment and share their interpretations of our heritage," added Zartonk Social Committee Chair Nayree Kodaverdian. “Events like this help us as Armenian youth hold onto our culture in American society."

"The Open Mic night is one of the most unique opportunities for young Armenia’s to express themselves artistically through whatever means they choose, commented AYF-WR Central Executive member Vache Thomassian. "Its amazing to see the talent of our membership in so many diverse forms."

Last year’s open mic night featured, among others, a riveting performance of Armenian folk music by “Las Vegabond Girls,” the passionate prose of a young Armenian faced with the threat of white genocide, and solo guitar performances of songs from the day’s of the Karabakh Movement, and a song commemorating the Genocide by Armenian Rapper Armin.

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