BY ANNA ISKANDARIAN
Special to Asbarez
SAN FRANCISCO—Our visit of the “Le Bateau Ivre” French restaurant in Berkeley, Calif. wasn’t planned but as soon as my husband and I learned about an upcoming performance by the “Sayat Nvag Ensemble” we decided to travel to Berkeley from San Francisco. When we arrived, there were no tables available but we were fortunate enough to have our friends there, who made space for us.
Everything starting from the repertoire, which was wonderfully delivered, to their voices was outstanding. The band performed Eastern Armenian music – classical, troubadour poet traditions of the Ashougs and Gousans such as Sayat Nova, Ashot, Djivani, & Sheram; as well as the popular, regional village music.
One of the band’s soloists, Khatchadour Khatchadourian, had our full attention as soon as he started singing. We were blown away by his delicate, uplifting, soulful, and poignant voice. I wanted to learn more about this singer, so I interviewed Khatchadour to find out what he’s currently working on, what are his challenges, goals, and future plans.
ANNA ISAKANDARIAN: I’m interested in learning about your musical roots. How did you get started with singing Armenian songs and playing Armenian instruments?
KHATCHADOUR KHATCHADOURIAN: Singing and music have been in my family for a couple of generations. My grandfather sang in church for over two decades, my aunt and mom grew up singing cultural songs, and my father played the accordion from a young age. Growing up in Lebanon and Syria, singing in church and in the children’s Karoun choir gave me a broad spectrum of Hymns and cultural songs. I started the Armenian Duduk when I met my Duduk teacher, Shea Comfort, during my Junior year at UC Berkeley, and have been playing it ever since.
A.I.: When did you first begin your journey as a singer?
K.K.: In 2009, I met my first music partner with whom I did a collaborative project, and he encouraged me to sing on the album. One thing led to another, and on my subsequent albums I pushed myself to open up my voice and trust it.
A.I.: You have been performing with the Sayat Nvaq Ensemble. Can you share when and how the group was created, how often and where the band performs?
K.K.: Yes, about 3 years ago over Thanksgiving dinner my bandmates and I came to the conclusion that we want to create an Armenian band and share inspiring tunes with the Bay Area community. The band developed organically, and we now have regular shows in restaurants, cultural centers and church halls. We perform a medley of songs celebrating the music of classical troubadour poets such as Sayat Nova (the band’s namesake), Djivani, Ashot and Sheram, along with popular village and countryside songs from Eastern Armenia. We perform 7-8 shows a year in the Bay Area, but are also exploring venues throughout California. (Readers can follow our work on Facebook, @SayatNvaqEnsemble).
A.I.: When I listened online to one of your songs called, “Flight” I couldn’t stop replaying it over and over. What do you find most inspires you to write a song like that?
K.K.: The feeling runs deep within me, and I infuse my music with all the nuances of life that I went through growing up, coupled with my deep spiritual connection in and with a world that is alive. I can talk about this for hours, but in short, without the intensity of feelings I go through on a daily basis I wouldn’t be able to reach outside of myself and write songs that move me to and through my core.
A.I.: What is your favorite part of the writing process for a song or any instrumental piece?
K.K.: In terms of lyrics, I am blessed to have individuals in my life who write words that evoke such depth of feeling. I can’t help but match the intensity of their words through sound. Only recently have I started to write some of my own lyrics as well.
As far as the process of creating a piece, I rely heavily on improvisation as my first step. Only then do I introduce some structure. I have started all my albums not knowing where they will go, and trust the process of unfolding the creative expression.
A.I.: Which musicians and songwriters have been the greatest influence on you?
K.K.: I listen broadly from South East Asian to Persian, from Armenian, Arabic, and Irish to New Age, World and ambient and meditation music. Some of my inspirations include Gregorian chants, Enya, Enigma, Arvo Part, Moby, Vangelis, Armand Amar, Keyhan Kalhor, Levon Minassian, Harout Pamboukjian, and Gomidas Vartabed to name a few.
A.I.: What instruments do you compose songs with?
K.K.: I compose with Duduks, Frame Drum and electronic synthesizers. I previously composed with computer-based digital sounds, but I now gravitate towards using only live instrumentation and voice in compositions.
A.I.: Out of all songs and instrumental pieces that you created which of them is your personal favorite?
K.K.: I have a favorite track or two per album that I’ve released, so it’s hard to pick just one ☺
A.I.: What are your plans and hopes for the future with regards to your music?
K.K.: I have plans for working on my 5th album in 2018. This one will be of special interest to the Armenian community. I can’t release details yet, but it’s a project that’s dear to my heart and hasn’t been done before in this way. Stay tuned for more info in the next couple of months.
Another very exciting project is a trio I’m a part of. We’re focusing on the contemplative music of the Middle East, Caucasus, Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Also in the works is a unique collaboration with a cimbalom player and accordionist. And recently, I’ve begun working with Abide, a Bay Area project specializing in sound experiments via immersive installations.
I hope to build a solo show that blends Armenian music (singing and Duduk) with electronic ambient/meditation sounds. I’d love to perform at yoga and meditation gatherings and festivals. Finally, I’m exploring artist residencies so that I can focus on my music with the intensity that it deserves.
A.I.: What do you think about the internet as a tool for promoting your music? Is there a website or social media page we can look for?
K.K.: I think marketing and promotion of one’s craft takes a certain skill-set, and I’m learning to expose my work and become more visible through social media channels. I see a tremendous benefit, but realistically speaking, when coming home from a 9-5 job, I usually focus on the creation of music instead of promotion. I hope to strike the right balance soon with a regular social media and video presence.
My previous albums can be found through khatchmusic.com, and I intend to release my website soon. I can also be found through Facebook (@Khatchmusic).
A.I.: What’s your favorite thing to do when you aren’t writing, producing, and performing?
K.K.: Being in nature, particularly in ancient forests. They are profoundly calming, cleansing and help me reorient my inner compass.