Hamazkayin’s Mosaic III: An Unforgettable Celebration of Sound & Culture

Matilda Tavanian performs poetry by Gevork Emin, Yeghishe Charentz, and Hamo Sahian. Photo by Nora Yacoubian.

Oppressive regimes may seize your home and deprive you from your loved ones and riches, but they can not take away your mind, heart and soul. They can not take away your memory, imagination and talents; your capability to survive, endure, adapt and create. Oppressive regimes may conquer your homeland, attempt to annihilate the nation you were born to, but they can not confiscate your culture: your history, religion, values and beliefs, language and literature, dances and songs;

On the evening of Sunday March 8, Armenian Americans of the greater Los Angeles community gathered at the Zipper Hall in down town L.A. to celebrate the adapting nature of Armenian music at the Hamazkayin Armenian Educational and Cultural Society’s third annual Mosaic concert. The evening featured performances by young, eclectic and gifted Armenian musicians from different parts of the world, who had found their own voices in the spectrum of art and unique venues in the world of sound.

The masters of ceremonies were actress and playwright, Lory Tatoulian, and a former performer of Cirque du Soleil, Voki Kalfayan. They carried the audience through more than 3 hours of a rich and crafted program with humor and laughter, and a surprise brief acrobatic show of their own.

The artists featured in the first part of the program were: professional flamenco guitarist Vahagn Turgutyan and his band, talented duduk player Djivan Gasparyan Junior, Armenian poet Matilda, and L.A. based recording artist, pianist, singer and songwriter Sebu Simonian and his band.

Performing in the second part of the program were: the LAVACH French multicultural music band with Armenian lead singer and accordionist Sevane Stepanian, and the French Armenian duet ARTAR, featuring young emerging guitarist Aren Emirze, and renowned singer, song-writer Vicken Tarpinian.

Vahagn Turgutyan has begun his journey at the age of nine. He has spent several years in Spain to study with the most prominent artists of the flamenco legacy. He has also studied Armenian folk music. Vahagn has produced his first album called “Short Stories” in collaboration with musicians like Carlitos Del Puerto, Jimmy Branley and Luis Conte. An accomplished guitarist, Vahagn has already embarked on numerous tours around the world and performed in a variety of international festivals.

Immersed in music at the young age of 6 with piano and violin lessons, Sebu Simonian has received a degree in music studying voice and piano then pursued an opera master’s scholarship in songwriting. For the last decade, Sebu has been collaborating with ground-breaking rock bands such as The Unknown Project and Aviatic, and released dozens of critically acclaimed albums with a variety of artists and bands. His music has been featured in several films. Earlier this year, he gave a debut concert in the famous House of Blues on the Sunset Strip, mesmerizing a packed audience with vivid new compositions and a fresh rendition of favorites. He is back to the studio now recording his first album as a solo artist.

Lavach was founded in 1999 in the popular La Goutte d’Or (Drop of Gold) neighborhood of Paris by four French musicians: the violinist, Adrien Rodrigue is originally from Congo; the trombone and guitar player, Francois Roche-Juarez, from Mexico; the battery, percussions and banjo player, Frederic Birau, from Poland; and, as mentioned earlier, the lead singer, accordionist, Sevane Stepanian, from Armenia. Lavach is the name of traditional Armenian bread. Their multifaceted warm and joyous music mainly takes its roots from the Armenian and Balkan cultures. The repertoire blends traditional and contemporary tunes and venues, creating unusual styles such as Macedonian reggae-dub, Romanian odd-time samba, Algerian waltz and klezmer. Lavach has toured in Armenia and France and recently performed at the Mekong Festival in Laos. They are about to release their third album.

ARTAR is the new version of HARTAR, the hybrid of the founding originally Lebanese Armenian artists’ names HARout Bezjian and Vicken TARpinian who met in Lebanon, and pursued their musical career in France. It means ornament in Armenian. HARTAR’s much acclaimed first album was released in 1978. The repertoire is one of the gems in Armenian music which continues to reverberate in the hearts and souls of so many Armenia’s in the Diaspora. It consisted of a peculiarly harmonious rearrangement of traditional Armenian melodies which adapted to the change in time of the Armenian generations, while embracing their authenticity.

Six months ago, budding European Armenian, young guitarist Aren Emirze left a twenty minute message on Tarpinian’s answering machine in a mix of Armenian, English and German. Inspired by the love he shared as a child with his late father for the music of HARTAR, Aren decided to reincarnate the artistic phenomenon: a call from the heart, which united ARen Emirze and Vicken TARpinian to create ARTAR, hybrid of its new founders’ names, in tradition of its originators. It means fair in Armenian. The new album is expected to come out within a year.

Since Armenia adopted Christianity in 301 A.D., the Armenian liturgical chants, Sharakans, have preached the generations to come. The most notorious musicians in Armenian history have emanated from the church: St. Krigor Naregatsi (10th century), St. Nerses Shnorhali (12th century), and Gomidas Vartabed (1869-1935). Those melodic chants followed the people in their joy and pain, success and failure. In tumultuous times they sustained their dignity and integrity, and preserved their humanity and grace.

Armenian music has become an integral part of their being, hence reflecting the ways in which Armenia’s have dealt with the complexity of their lives. It has been the mirror of the Armenian consciousness through the different phases of their lives and history.

As flamenco guitarist Vahagn Turgutyan’s arrangemen’s unfurled, its cords echoed distant waves that belonged to Armenian history, the Armenian soil, sun and moon, the shared celebrations and mournings, hopes and dreams. Givan Gasbaryan Junior’s ancestral duduk accentuated those vibrations. Accompanied by Turgutyan and Gasbaryan, poet Matilda offered her own bouquet of insights in a profound genuine tone, based on her own experiences in the Diaspora.

94 years after the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Young Turk regime of the Ottoman Empire on historical lands of Armenia, Cilicia, Armenian American brilliant artist Sebu Simonian paid homage to the ravaged homeland in a powerful rock-alternative composition carrying its name, in which he deplored: “Cilicia is where I want to die.” He then performed his moving re-orchestration of the traditional Giligia (Cilicia).

The very gracious French Armenian accordionist Sevane Stepanian, accompanied with the equally proficient artists of Lavach, swelled our hearts with their vibrant repertoire which included songs in Greek, Arabic, Yiddish and Armenian. Lavach’s unique multidimensional style added new charm and vivaciousness to traditional Armenian folk songs such as Saren’s “Siro Yerkeh” (The song of love), Boyadjian’s “Havadkes Chmoratsa” (I didn’t forget my faith), and Na Mi Naz Ouni (She has a heartache). Vicken Tarpinian and Aren Emirze’s reenactment of HARTAR’s old time incantations of Armenian music by a touch of ingenuity, in addition to novel compositions of the newly founded ARTAR broke the barriers of flesh and time, and carried the moved body of the audience to an unabashed world of bliss. Among the traditional tunes, they delivered: “Sareri Hovin Mernem” (I would die for the winds of the mountains) “Zinvori Mor Yerkeh” (The song of the soldier’s mother); “Hoviv” (Sheppard);“Garod” (Nostalgia); “Hazar Nazov Yar” (1,000 graces loved one); “Gyankit Arevit Madagh” (Offering in honor of your life, your sun); “Hars em Knoum” ( I will be a bride).

As Vicken Tarpinian mentioned on the stage, the Mosaic III concert validated once again the twentieth century prize-winning novelist William Saroyan’s quote: “Go ahead, destroy Armenia! See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without food or water, burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing, and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a new Armenia.”

The Armenian culture feeds the Armenian soul. It gives new generations their sense of identity and purpose and provides them with the vitality they need to carry on. It inspires them and gives them hope. And when the Armenian artist expresses himself, creates and sings, fellow Armenia’s find themselves reflected in those songs, energized and united.

Our deepest feelings of appreciation and gratitude go to the wonderful artists of Mosaic III, as well as the Hamazkayin Armenian Educational & Cultural Society Western Regional Executive and the Mosaic III committee members for their ongoing selfless efforts, dedication and commitment to support and promote the Armenian heritage and culture.

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