1 : grammatically incorrect verb ending in Western Armenian
2 : innovative musician–charismatic–rising World Music star
by Paul Chaderjian
His name is blunt. Gor. Say it. It’s okay.
Gor. Say it again. You can–you know.
True. Many frustrated Armenian schoolmarms and parents have scolded students to stop tacking a ‘gor’ at the end of verbs. It may be grammatically incorrect–but it’s also the name of the hottest music act since [fill in the name of the last artist whose CD you downloaded].
Gor. Say it. Shout his name from rooftops–at church halls and kebob stands. Text message your friends. IM them with smiley faces–swap the files–sync up your iPod–for now "Gor" is a more than an error in Armenian history–it’s the future–the present–and it’s making a mark in the diaspora.
"There are a lot of Armenia’s who are ready to listen to a new kinds of Armenian music," says Gor–"and I am offering them something new."
Meet Gor Mkhitarian–former lead guitarist and vocalist for the hit Yerevan-based rock band "Lav Ehlee." He taught himself how to play the guitar–sang in the church choir in Vanadzor–writes his own songs about life–love–about his struggles–about people living and struggling. Among his influences–he lists William Saroyan–Moby Dick–the Beatles–and the Armenian culture. "When I was growing up in the 1980s–bands like Pink Floyd–Led Zeppelin–the Beatles were censored," says Gor in perfect English. "People couldn’t find these records–because they were called ‘bourgeois’ or capitalist music. You simply couldn’t find the music in the stores."
Gor’s brothers scoured the black market and brought home bootleg copies of Western music. He loved the sound so much that he formed a rock band with his friends. "We were just playing and hanging out," he says. "We loved the music–so we decided to play and record some covers–and that’s how we started."
Behind the Iron Curtain–influenced by the history of the era–inspired by Western rock–and seeded with the sounds of Rouben Mateossian–Flora Mardirossian–Rouben Hakhverdian–and then-underground star Arthur Meschian were the sprouts of Gor’s music today.
What evolved from passion and love of music in 1995 was the biggest rock band in Yerevan Lav Ehlee. "We recorded a bunch of albums," says Gor. "The rock music we played was more like acoustic rock–more like the Rolling Stones–the Dave Matthews band–that kind of music. Not too heavy and not too soft."
Gor. Not to heavy. Not too soft. But blunt. 30. Handsome and charismatic. Now a solo act. Check the web. Google his name. You’ll be surprised by the buzz–the praise from a dozen publications and the honors from Armenian and non-Armenian award shows. Now click on his album cover on CDRama.com and buy his latest and third CD–Episodes.
"I mix a lot of genres in Episodes–but it’s all in Armenian," says Gor. "My work is all about Armenia–being Armenian–being a human being in Armenia. With a lot of influence coming from Western music–I’m trying to make a bridge between cultures–especially between Armenia’s in Armenia and Armenia’s in the diaspora."
Exhausted are the half-dozen remakes every Armenian musician has sung once and then again. This is Armenian music reinventing itself. This is the music drafting into the culture young fans with sophisticated tastes. It’s bringing back the comatose canon of oh-so-passe–circle-dancing tunes from keyboard generated duduks–wa-wa organs–and drum machines.
That is old. This is raw–new and true.
Turn up your iPod. Listen to the accordion–the base–acoustic guitar. You’re in a new world. A new age. Can you hear the violin? Can you hear the flute? Those words in Armenian about a young man waking up and understand is poetic.
You are special once again–in your cocoon of an MP3 player–in your car–on the subway. Can you hear the Banjo? Turn it up. It’s all there–and it’s all Armenian–100 percent. Written–composed–and performed by a talented musician from Vanadzor–whose chance meeting with a Bostonian created the quantum leap in music.
"A friend of a friend–Raffi Meneshian from Boston–came to Armenia for a few weeks," says Gor. "We had a party–and I played the guitar. Raffi listened and told me that he wanted to release my first solo album–just acoustic guitar and vocals."
The accidental meeting in 2001 led to the release of "Yeraz" by Boston-based Pomegranate Records. That’s how the legend began–and it’s caught on. What was recorded in bits and bytes was trail-blazing Armenian music–fueled by the restless boredom and anxiety of a culture sick of its parents’ and grandparents’ music.
In hotrods in New Jersey–on the freeways in So Cal–and on the 1 and 9 lines on the Upper West Side are random men and women listening to revolutionary music–once underground–now energized by the rabid getaway from years of take-me-seriously classical–’estradayeen,’ bee-bopping–rabiz–and whatever renovations of staid genres.
"The new album–Episodes–is about episodes from peoples’ lives," says Gor. "There are a few acoustic songs–just guitar and vocals like my first album. There are also experimental songs with a lot different musicians like in my second album."
Gor’s second album–Godfather Tom–showed off the musician’s uncanny ability to take musical risks–mixing new instrumen’s with his ancient culture–using the cadence of the Armenian language with the backdrop of Hillbilly–Rock–and Country all in one.
"If listeners like it–great," says Gor about his music. "If they don’t–it’s just a matter of taste. We’re fine with that too. But I think they’re going to like it–because the new generation is looking for something new."
Gor is serving up original lyrics with pride. Candid lyrics. Personal thoughts. "I don’t want to remember what I did the night before–but it’s evident who I am."
Who he is and his music will be featured in the Thanksgiving Day Armenia Fund Telethon. Set your VCR’s and program the TiVo–because his music is inventive–fitting no genre–and creating something new. In Armenia they call him "Alternative Armenian Folk Music." In the real world–Gor has scored big with young Armenia’s everywhere.
"We started to sell my album Yeraz not only in the Armenian market," says Gor–"but also on the Internet–Amazon–and CD Baby–and we’ve had a good response from listeners. They says they don’t understand any words–but they loved it."
"Yeraz," his first solo CD released in 2002–fused the unique sounds and lyrics of ancient Armenian folk music with modern rock and sometimes experimental sounds. The innovative and original combination quickly garnered global attention–winning Gor acclaim from all over the world–as well as accolades such as "best alternative rock singer" and "best world music album."
Gor. You haven’t heard this kind of novelty before. Trust me and say Gor. Take a chance. Buy it on-line or sample the music on-line from the archives of "All Things Armenian" from Fresno State Radio (www.kfsr.org).
Thousands are now fans–chanting his name at small and large concert venues in New York–Boston–Philadelphia–even in Wisconsin. Gor’s music (gormusic.com) is unusual. It’s addicting. It’s Gor. And he’s got banjos and Komitas on one expressionist musical canvas.
"I met my banjo player in Armenia," explains Gor. "He was serving in the Peace Corp in Armenia. I met him in Vanadzor and Itchevan. He is a great musician–so we got together–and we recorded this album. Since then–we recorded my second and now third album."
It’s the old world meeting the new–the banjo-playing Peace Core volunteer meshing with the language of Mashtots. The bridge between East and West. A liaison world music publications are calling "Post-Soviet Alternative Folk Rock."
But Gor is beyond labels. He’s fresh. He’s new. He’s fun to listen to–and he has the ethereal IT. In other words–corporate music librarians in New York high rises like it–don’t know how to describe–and know it’s a sure hit for world audiences. And it’s Armenian.
Underground. No more. Gor is out there–and his music is selling at Armenian record stores–on Amazon and CDRama dot com. Armenian music–Welcome to the 21st Century–Baby and turn the alarm clock off already.
"I woke up–I saw–I understood everything," he sings. It’s cutting edge. It’s pioneering. And it’s unusually hip. Fans say Gor represents a new generation of Armenia’s who are redefining what the culture thinks of as Armenian culture.
So show the schoolmarms the birdie and start saying "Gor" as many times as you want. He’s now part of the new Armenian lexicon.