Three Apples: Armenia’s Road to the European Union is Paved with… Apricot Stones?

BY PAUL CHADERJIAN

It’s 1980 in the Tower District of Fresno, and what kids do in this neighborhood is get into gang fights, smoke cigarettes, and skip school. What I used to do was listen to the radio and hand write my own newspapers. Like many of you, I developed a taste for pop music early in life, and songs became personal sign posts as I navigated through life. Where were you when you heard “Billie Jean is not my lover?”

When I hear Adiss Harmandian, I think of my dad taking me to Adiss’ record store in Bourj Hammoud to buy vinyl 45’s. Back then, lyrics didn’t get any better than: “Char lezooneri havadatz eem yareh, artzoonknerov letzvets sev sev achereh.”

Now when I hear “Summer lovin’ had me a blast, Summer lovin’, happened so fast,” I remember my friend, the late-Mary Sahatjian, who gave me a copy of the Grease motion picture soundtrack on a cassette tape in 1976. I spent months playing the album on my shoe-box-sized cassette-recorder that my aunt Sirvart bought me so I could interview people.

Mary’s younger sister Marjorie was usually my guest interviewee, as was my most special guest one summer, my dad’s aunt Elmas Chaderjian. Elmas had survived the Genocide, escaped to Chicago, and married my dad’s paternal uncle.

When I hear “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” I think of Fort Miller Middle School. Evita was the first and perhaps only musical I took a liking to, but it taught me how songs could tell great stories. When I heard Evita on the 1979 Tony Awards, I took the bus to Tower Records to buy the Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin recording.

Then I discovered Streisand in high school. Yentl was a masterpiece for me as were its lyrics and music. But I forgot Yentl when I discovered the Cure and Depeche Mode (Depress Mode) in college. “Oh I miss the kiss of treachery, the shameless kiss of vanity, the soft and the black and the velvety up tight against the side of me.”

Then came Nune Yesayan. Nune marked the return of my interest in Armenian music 20-year-ago when Horizon TV Executive Producer Garbis Titizian brought from Armenia a video of Nune singing “Kele Lao” acapella.

On the TV screen on the second floor of the old Asbarez building in Glendale was this woman standing in front of a microphone, beckoning me and my community of displaced Armenians to return to the Homeland.

The year was 1990, and Horizon TV producer Ara Madzounian coupled Nune’s performance with the haunting black-and-white images from Artavazd Peleshyan’s film “The Seasons,” and the music and images mesmerized me and still do.

Nune’s performance of “Kele Lao” paved the way for an eventual meeting and interview with her in 1998, and a life-long awe of her voice singing Armenian lyrics.

To this day, Nune’s voice is my only answer to anyone’s question about where home is for me. Home is not the Homeland, not Los Angeles or Fresno, and not my native Beirut. Home to me is Nune Yesayan’s voice. “Kele yertank mer yergir” in notes and with the duduk is far more mythical than was my actual return to the Homeland.

EUROPEAN-ARMENIAN MARKET

When I was in the Homeland in 2006, working as a news anchor and talk show host for Armenia TV, I curiously reported on the selection process for Armenia’s first entry into the Eurovision Song Contest. I loved our music and wanted us to share it with the world.

The artist chosen by H1 State Television to represent Armenia in some 160 million homes around Europe was Andre Hovnanyan, a singer who had grown up in front of the cameras as a solo with an Artstakh choir.

Andre’s music video “Mi Boud Choor” (Drop of Water) was very popular at the time as was his first album. The video on all the Armenian channels was made of images with Andre in the role of Komitas. Dressed in a white hospital gown, our legendary chronicler of Armenian music was losing his mind having just seen corpses in the burning orchards of Western Armenia.

Andre scored big during Armenia’s debut on Eurovision and garnered a top ten spot by having enough viewers vote for him in their respective countries. It was an exciting moment for Armenia, for Armenian artists, and for this Anteliastsi-Sepastatzi-Erzurumtzi-Fresnotsi news anchor from New York watching all this on live television in Yerevan.

The following years brought Haiko, Inga & Anush, and Sirusho Harutyunyan to world audiences. All three were popular, established talents in the Homeland and in our Diaspora. All were big winners, all in the top ten. Sirusho’s “Qele Qele” was my favorite Armenian entry to Eurovision. She was hot. The music was hot thanks to the Canadian repatriate producer Der Hova. The beat was fun. I was giddy.

But one thing that all our entries lacked were sophisticated lyric-writing. Even simple pedestrian poetry was missing. Their lyrics were, in some cases, worse than the poetry my fellow seventh graders wrote in Mrs. Dias’ poetry workshops.

“Instead of watching me, you should be reaching me,” were the words to “Qele Qele.” All the lines in the Sirusho song seemed to end with the word “me.”

Sirusho reminded me of Tina Karol, and she belted out the song like the best of them. She could’ve taken first place if she was given better words than what sounded like an AT&T long distance commercial.

Meanwhile Inga & Anush’s “Jan Jan” got my personal medal for worst lyrics to date with, “How can I stay, when you are away? What can I say, if you gonna tell me nothing? How can I be without me? Without me, we cannot be.”

So, we in Armenia obviously understand the English language but don’t understand song-writing in English. Here’s a thought, why don’t we reach out to the likes of Charles Aznavour. Why not invite Armenian Michel Legrand and Michel’s writing buddies Allan and Marilynn Bergman (remember Yentl?).

But alas, we have arrived. Eurovison, my Homeland’s showcase of talent and culture on millions of European television screens. It’s a huge opportunity for us as a fairly unknown small nation of artists. We’ve done good for a people who were once known as embattled Christians then starving Armenians then terrorists and now oligarchs of corruption, criminals and thugs.

Now the the world can see us at our best and not ignore us like our people who ignore their ethnicity. When I was growing up in Fresno, the so-called Armenian Town, hardly anyone of the kids I went to school with knew what Armenians were or where they came from.

Sure, my teachers knew Saroyan, but nothing else. A fellow Armenian student who was in my English class said, “So What,” when I exclaimed with joy that she was Armenian.

RED RIDING HOOD

Imagine my near heart attack at that response from this random Armenian-surnamed classmate in Fresno. My chest hurt as much when I read an entry on Groong a few week ago that a newspaper in Finland reported a non-Armenian married to an Armenian in California had won the bid to represent Armenia in Eurovision with a song about Red Riding Hood.

The idea was so gross and absurd in so many ways that I quickly wrote to my friends at H1, the Armenian Public Television, to verify the report.

My anger subsided when my friends in Yerevan reported they had never heard of this nobody Finnish-Californian who had the audacity to claim she was representing my culture. I’m sure she’s a talented and lovely lady, but she had never lived in Armenia, the song had nothing to do with Armenia or Armenianness, and it was a
straight forward rock song with not even the requisite Armenian instruments.

Conspiracy theorists, fill in your reasoning as to why this announcement could have been merely made to test the waters to see how Armenians worldwide would react to news that a non-Armenian, who is not a resident of Armenia, with a non-Armenian song was going to represent Armenia.

Maybe the news item from Finland was a test. Maybe those behind the scenes, in the dark shadows, wanted to see how angry Armenians would be if the ruling elite sent a non-Armenian with a non-Armenian song to Eurovision.

There needs to be some strict rules about who should be allowed to sing on behalf of my Homeland and whose music should be the soundtrack of important events like the somber commemoration of the 90th and any anniversary of the Genocide.

Let’s not try to change our national anthem again, please?

DECK THE HALLS WITH DISNEY

Were you there on April 24, 2005, when the music broadcasting from the speakers at Tzitzernagapert for dozens of hours was this god-awful, humiliating, Lifetime Movies or Disney musical score with its wah-wah organ pedals and fake keyboard instruments and the most sophomoric lyrics and melody heard in history.

The non-Armenian performer was presented to Armenian media as a great American star and somehow managed to finagle and hijack away from Komitas, Khatchadourian, Lucine Zakarian, and Armenian symphonies and philharmonics their cultural birthrights to externalize our internal heartbreak as millions of us made a pilgrimage to the Genocide Memorial.

Local news stations in Yerevan told us, very subjectively, that we were supposed to be in awe of this man, who supposedly had no connections to our people and had come all the way to Yerevan to sing about our losses. But it turned out it was all a big PR scam, and he was married to an Armenian. She had been his in.

How may times did my stomach turn on that April 24 when I heard these lyrics: “Keepers of the sword, marched in one accord, Striking down the weak, without a single word.” And even the melody was so simplistic like something my 5th grade class at Ridgeway Elementary played on our recorders (internal duct flutes). The melody of “Three Blind Mice” was more sophisticated than our newly-discovered national treasure called “Adana.”  

There should be public hearings to determine what gets played for the masses in future commemorations, so that grand faux pas don’t happen to us again while we come together as one global people to observe the Genocide.

Makes you think, does anyone in the Armenian government or Cultural Ministry have a sense of art or pop culture, any taste? How does a nobody from the US and now Finland and Rostov-on-Don hijack a significant moment in our history, so that they can go back to their careers elsewhere with more notches on their bedposts.

We are “odar-a-mol’ my dad used to say; we are addicted to non-Armenian things and cherish foreigners more that what we do what’s ours.

And what happened to the three million artists living in the Homeland? We can’t find a song from our own people to play during Genocide commemorations or to represent us at Eurovision? And if we couldn’t and wanted to invite the Diaspora, why weren’t Armenia-natives Mihran and Emmy chosen to represent us at Eurovision? It was their time, and it was their birthright.

But even before considering Diasporans, we should’ve and still should send Nune Yesayan and Shushan Petrosyan to Eurovision. They’re still young, and they’re talented.

From our Diasporan pool, we have the likes of Parik Nazarian, Eve Beglarian, or the Armenian Navy Band. We have people like Serj Tankian for God’s sake.

At least we’ll know these sons and daughters of our culture live and breathe the Armenian experience, keep their Armenian names, speak their language, and deserve the opportunity to represent us more than a Finnish-American with an Armenia surname-through-marriage and a non-Armenian rock song about Little Red Riding Hood.

That was then, and this is now when suddenly out of nowhere, an unknown but tall and beautiful half-Armenian named Eva Rivas from Russia gets to represent you and our culture throughout some 155 million homes, singing another sophomoric set of lyrics.

VIVA EVA

When I first heard this year’s entry to Eurovision, the song was one of a handful of nominees. I was rooting for Mihran and Emmy, but I did notice that Eva looks like Angelina Jolie.

At first I thought she was singing ‘apricots don’t’ and was confused until I Googled the lyrics and found that she was saying “Apricot Stones.” Par for the course, our Eurovision entrants really need to address their pronunciation and diction. We should be able to understand someone saying ‘stone’ and not hear ‘don’t.’

Apricot Stone – which apparently is about the apricot pit – is a catchy song, but you can’t call it an Armenian song. It’s Flamenco, it’s Gypsy, it’s Arabic and Turkish and maybe even can be claimed as Greek.

The use of a zurna, dhol, and duduks in a song doesn’t automatically mean the song is Armenian. Didn’t Komitas and Sayat Nova teach us anything about our unique musical styles, tones, and chords? Didn’t our Cultural Ministry or the gate-keepers at H1 take music classes in school or at the university?

On the plus side, the song has an interesting Armenian – or should we say universal – intellectual theme about returning to one’s roots. I guess that’s not specifically Armenian, though it fits our mindset.

But with lyrics like “when I was going to lose my fun and I began to cry a lot,” who in the world can take our art and culture seriously – not when the likes of Celine Dion (1988), Tina Karol and Mihai Traistario (2006), and ABBA (1974) have been the previous contestants. Google Traistario’s “Tornero” or Karol’s “Show Me Your Love” to see Romania’s and Ukraine’s mesmerizing entries during Armenia’s debut year.

Yes, Eva’s very easy on the eyes. Her long, flowing hair reminds me of our ancient princesses and queens. She reminds me of that legendary Armenian heroine who used her long hair as a sling to throw stones while fighting off the enemy. She’ll play the part well, but whose part is she playing?

Whether our Eurovision 2010 song is an Armenian song or not, it’s our national entry; and if you listen to Apricot Stone twice, it grows on you. You want to hear it again. You want to hit the repeat key.

Perhaps H1 has found a first-place winner this year. But someone please explain to me the meaning of: “But I was too scared to lose my fun, I began to cry a lot, And she gave me apricots. And I’ve got an avatar, Of my love to keep me warm, Now I’m not afraid of violent winds.”

Now all we can do is wait until May and see how active our Euro-Armenian activists can be with their cell phones and how many votes our “Armenian” entry wins.

What we don’t have in lyric-writing talent, we can make up for by our passion for all things Armenian.

That ought to land Eva in the top ten again, and why not at number one? It’s a popularity contest after all, and we have millions of Euro-Armenians who can call-in and vote.

Just remember what they say about eating too many apricots…

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14 Comments

    • Nayiri said:

      I agree with Arman. I’m not sure with what criteria can a country be accepted to participate in a European song contest, but Armenia is not part of Europe as we know it today, to begin with, so that part I don’t understand. Regarding Paul’s article, good job, I enjoyed it. It was informative and I loved the very last sentence :).

  1. Hayk said:

    Yes Paul, I agree some of the lyrics of the song are weak and don’t make sense. However, I would think that a majority of Europeans don’t speak english or even those that do won’t be too caught up on what “loosing one’s fun” means. Personally i love the song, except when it gets to that part (I just turn the volume down). Its a catchy song and will definitely be up there in the top five.

  2. Shant said:

    It is not about lyrics (look at last years winner) ….

    It is not about voice quality (Patricia Kass did not even finish in top ten last year)

    We have two choices. We can sing Komitas and finish in top 10 (yes, regardless of what Armenian entry sings, we will finish in top 10), or have a good looking sexy girl sing a catchy song and hope to finish in top 3 and maybe even first.

    I will take the second option…

  3. Mary said:

    Eva can not even hold an interview in Armenian, are you kidding me.All the international kids in my child’s class can sing in Armenian too come Christmas time. How is she qualified to represent Armenia? And somebody needs to write an article on all these so called Armenian shows on tv where all you hear is Russian. Paul took the words off my lips, great article.

  4. Gaia Azizyan said:

    Omg, how is she an Armenian symbol? She is half-Russian and she grew up in Russia. Plus, why the hell did she change her name from Valeriya Reshetnikova-Tsaturian to Eva Rivas? Rivas? Really?? Give me a break. Things just keep getting more and more sick.
    As to the song, it is simply awful. The fact that they include some duduk notes in the beginning makes it even more nauseating – is that supposed to somehow classify the song into a category of higher art? There is no TUNE in that song. I listened to it two minutes ago and I can’t even remember how it went. Though one thing I will never forget is the way the words “apricot stone” come out from her throat like pieces of broken glass. *shudder*
    I just wish that Armenians would just stop pretending to be so patriotic. They should especially stop pretending like traditional values mean anything to them. It’s no news, really. A tall, good-looking Russian bitch is more than enough to make Armenian men fall around her and kiss her feet. Armenians are slaves to Russians, and this is a very natural step. Armenians have sold the whole country to Russians anyway, so why not have a talentless Russian model represent the country? Logical! Go, people, continue on the same track. I have an especially strong admiration for all the Armenians who live in Russia in god-awful conditions, being spat on every single day by those chauvinistic pigs, and who still praise Russians like they all somehow have noble blood flowing in their veins.
    I applaud you people for how sick you are. I hope you enjoy your stolen money, your corrupt ways, and your hypocrisy. I’m just happy that I am finally free from all that, and despite all the things that I love about Armenia, I am incredibly happy to be living in Sweden, and I swear I will never go back to Armenia except for brief visits.

  5. Harmick Azarian said:

    Controversial!

    It all really depends on how one views Eurovision. Is it mandatory that every song is an expression of Armenian culture? If so, this needs to be decided and stuck to. Or is it just a song contest?

    What is Greek music? Arabic music? Turkish music? If we are to be completely honest, Armenian music has always been a hybrid of these “enemy” sounds… Even Sayat Nova was partial to the odd mugham sounding trill. Komitas is of course another story, but we can’t begin and end our musical story with Komitas.

    All I want is for a fair choice to be made. Armenian people should choose who represents us at Eurovision. When I say Armenian people, I mean Armenian people, wherever they may be. Some people might argue it is not right that the Diaspora gets to decide too, but this is precisely why we stand such a greater chance of winning if we do. Imagine, Armenians from all over the world, from all walks of life, educations, backgrounds, deciding on one single piece of music to represent every single one of us. That is momentous. Instead we get some half hearted attempt by H1 to organise a vote contest and distrust in H1 means that no one is ever satisfied with who goes. So every year the poor participant has to contend with a torrent of insults and slander from their own people.

    We need to organise a fair, just, and all encompassing national final. Culture is one thing that all Armenians know a lot about. Armenians from all around the world should be allowed to vote ( if Shant TV can do this with Armenian Idol, H1 can do it with the Eurovision song contest!) and we can once and for all decide if we want to sing about losing fun and apricots, or if we want to say hey and dance like Michael Jackson. Whatever we do, we should know that the person who won , did so fairly.

    As for appalling lyrics, I always think it is crazy that there are so many Armenians living outside Armenia ( myself included!) who with a one minute check of any lyrics, could tell H1 that they are a bit silly and perhaps the words “lose my fun” need to be changed. This happens every single year, and every single year I just wish they would email me ( or anyone) for a quick read over!

    This again is down to H1 not properly publicising this event. If they wanted to , they could make this event a worldwide affair. It would not only be great PR for H1, but also a nice event to bring Armenians together. With resources around the world it is certainly possible. I tend to think H1 prefer to stick to their little group of friends and keep it all as inward as possible.

    Just watching one hour of H1 programming is enough to understand exactly why nothing changes. Badly managed, mistrusted and certainly not a representation of what the Armenian people could or want to be.

    There is a lot that needs doing

  6. sebouh said:

    Your a great writer Paul and you always say what has to be said……..the elephant in the Armenian room……..but try to be kinder to Adiss and his lyrics, from what I hear our parents and grandparents used to listen to Turkish music before he came along as they had no choice………as for decisions that come out of Amenia, what do you expect from a country run by unoti shoon oligarchs…..who are trying to sell out our cause, our people and our historic Western homeland……and this comes from a son of a person who nearly got arrested for refusing to state their place of birth as Turkey but insisted to call it “Historical Armenia”…..I wonder if their are any more Armenians like that left???????? Keep up the great work Hayrenagitz….Sebouh from Australia

  7. Edward said:

    To Nayiri: Te be European is a prerequisite to be Armenian. In addition, Armenia is entirely within Europe. That being said, the EU is an organization that is dooming Europe, so no, Armenia should not join the EU.

  8. Jan said:

    It is very important to understand Eurovision, its purpose, its potential, its implications if you win and its popularity in Europe and the rest of the world. This is not a lyrics contest nor is it a culture contest. Each country puts its song out there (voted by their own populations and not by grey haired intelectuals) with the wish to win the contest. The winner of the contest itself gets not only the fame but brings an “advertisement” of the country to millions of viewers worth multiple times more than “Noah’s route, Your route” advertisement on CNN.
    As much as I understand how good lyrics are important, in Eurovision what counts is the rythm, called in Sweden (a country which has been multiple winner of the contest) the “schlager sång”. Eva Rivas song has the rythmn and that will take her a long way. If she wins the contest, 300+ million people all over the world will be watching Armenia for a good 4 hours in May 2011. Tell me of any feat that can beat that. So Paul, I see absolutely no issues in sacrificing your call for better lyrics or whatever against the possibilty of a win. And whats even better, I really like the song. Its really good. Haghtanak to Eva!

    • Gaia Azizyan said:

      The schlager sång concept can still be there without the song being complete crap. 80% of all songs in Melodifestivalen this year are better than the abomination of “Apricot Stone.” True, the songs in Melodifestivalen are all dumb schlagers, except for a couple I actually liked – such as the Timoteij song (those girls have real talent). Still, those songs had rhythm, and I can remember all of them now, even if weeks have passed, and even if I only heard them once on TV. I can’t remember anything from “Apricot Stone,” except for the fact that she forced those words out as if she had diarrhea.
      So, don’t even compare this crap with the Swedish pop culture. And this comes from someone who doesn’t like pop music.

  9. Lusine said:

    Dear Paul, I 'discovered' you today. I really like your style of writing. About Eva's song – I agree that it is not perfect. But did you read Miran&Emmy's song's lyrics. With all 'sexy' expressions I don't think ANY Armenian would want them to represent a country. As for Nune & Shushan – they consider themselves 'classics' and high from all of these contests. In fact, Armenains from Armenia lost their respect to these 'pro-government' singers many years ago after their comments like 'don't go to meetings if you don't want to be killed'.

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