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November 3, 2007 — From the Arts & Culture section
To see the printed version of the newspaper, complete with photographs
and additional content, visit and download the pdf
files. It’s free.
1. Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition winner sets keyboards ablaze (by
* Tigran Hamasyan garnering world attention
2. Rock: 12 songs, 12 videos, 12 apostles:Young artists marry Serj
Tankian’s new songs to visuals (by Adrineh Gregorian)
* System Of A Down front man has a novel approach to making music videos
2a. Feed Us — A dark fairy tale (by Nathan "Nshan" Wong)
2b. Feed Us – the short film by Sevag Vrej (by Ojig Yeretsian)
3. Books: The engaged and engaging world of David Barsamian (by Kay Mouradian)
4. Aravod Ensemble celebrates and entertains
5. Soul: Lord loves a working man (by Lory Tatoulian)
* Max Baloian’s coast-to-coast journey
6. Hip hop: Hay Tgheq and Armenian rap (by Hayk Ghazaryan)
* An interview with band member Mikayel Abrahamyan
7. Theater: Shanley Shuffle (reviewed by Aram Kouyoumdjian)
8. Diana Der-Hovanessian receives gold medal
1. Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition winner sets keyboards ablaze
* Tigran Hamasyan garnering world attention
by Lory Tatoulian
VENICE, Calif. – While most 3 year olds are sounding out their first
vowels or trying to make sense of their surroundings through toys,
Tigran Hamasyan gravitated towards the piano and its landscape of
black and white keys to understand his diminutive world.
Although Tigran grew up in Gyumri, Armenia, a place that lies
thousands of miles away from smoky jazz clubs or vintage music stores,
the strains of bebop informed his musical identity more than anything
Now, 17 years later, at the age of 20, Tigran has flexed his musical
might in the world of jazz, landing himself on some of the most
respected stages in the U.S. and in Europe, playing alongside some of
the great legends of jazz.
Tigran is jazz. When he plays Cole Porter or Thelonious Monk, his
body sinuously moves to the grooves and riffs of the music, slightly
bent over the keyboard, as if his gnarled posture takes on the form of
a mean B flat or an upright high C.
Even when Tigran was put in to the local music school at the age of
six, where children were schooled to learn the classical compositions
of Tchaikovsky and Beethoven, his tiny fingers always found a way
across the keys to transform the classical standards into a bebop
"When I was real young, I hated practicing classical music. My
mother would force me to go to that music school," Tigran said. "I
would start playing the first two bars of the etude and then it would
always eventually lead into jazz improvisations."
It all began when Tigran was three years old. His uncle Armen would
visit his home and take the young boy on short road trips across
Gyumri’s bucolic countryside listening to jazz standards. The trips
would always begin and end among Gyumri’s post-earthquake landscape,
strewn with rubble, makeshift housing, and steel containers.
Filling Tigran’s ears were the combustive sounds of Miles Davis’s
trumpet drifting through the heart of the speakers. These improvised
arrangements and dissonant chords resonated to the core of his mind
Tigran had learned to play the elements of jazz by just listening to
the tapes his uncle had given him. He didn’t know at the time that he
was channeling what he had heard.
"I would sit at the piano and improvise for hours. I wanted to put
down the music. It just came to me," he said.
In 1996, the Hamasyan family – his father Garo, his mother
Vartouhie, and his younger sister Melania – moved to Yerevan, where
Tigran started with another music school that eventually turned him on
to classical music.
He had an influential teacher, Karineh Tomassian, who encouraged
Tigran to extend his talents into all areas of music. Ms. Tomassian
prodded Tigran to play Bach and Beethoven. With her tenacity, she
helped Tigran develop a deep respect for classical music.
"I got really into it and started to understand the complexities of
this form of music," Tigran explained.
As his studies progressed, Tigran was not only studying the
movements of a symphony or the sonatas of Bach, he began to compose
his own music. By the time he was 13 years old, he composed a
classical piece based on the book, Phantom of the Opera.
Even though he was ensconced in classical music, Tigran still could
never pull himself away from blue notes. He began dividing his time
between both genres, composing classical pieces while transcribing the
music of Charlie Parker and Bud Powell.
A defining moment occurred in the musician’s life when he had the
opportunity to study for one year with accomplished Armenian jazz
pianist, Vahak Hayrabedian. Hayrabedian fostered Tigran’s intrinsic
talents, and helped the young boy morph his raw instincts into jazz
"Vahak is a genius," Tigran said with admiration. "The amount I
learned that year eclipsed all the previous training I had done."
The child prodigy then continued on with his studies at the
Tchaikovsky Music School in Yerevan where he came across a slew of
influential teachers who kept honing and expanding his musical
"When I would stay home from school because I was ‘sick,’ I would
spend countless hours transcribing the tunes I heard in my head, and
writing them on music paper."
A radical shift occurred in Tigran’s life when his father announced
to the family that they were moving to America. As Armenia was
experiencing the volatile transition from communism to independence,
the Hamasyans, like so many other families, left the homeland to find
opportunities on the other side of the world.
Upon his arrival to the United States, Tigran felt displaced and
longed to go back to Armenia. Having some difficulty adjusting to his
new cultural environment, he found refuge in his piano.
He attended Hoover High School in Glendale, but soon realized he
needed more creative sustenance. Tigran found solace again by
immersing himself in the music of the legends who had inspired him –
John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and Cole Porter. It was at this time
that Tigran began composing the music for his first album, World
The piano became an extension of Tigran, giving him appendages of
strings and pedals, and it hushed his silent breaths and bellowed his
loud thoughts. Not being able to extricate himself from the
instrument, Tigran would compose for hours, often skipping school so
that he would be able to express the musical madness that burned in
After attending Hoover for only two months, Tigran applied straight
After playing just two bars of Charlie Parker’s Scrapple from the
Apple for the administrative panel during his audition, he was
immediately accepted to the USC School of Music. At USC, Tigran had
the opportunity to exercise his virtuosity and play with renowned
musicians such as Alphonso Johnson and Alan Pasqua.
A year after being in college, Tigran took a break from the academic
milieu and participated in jazz competitions across the globe. He won
first place in many competitions including prestigious ones in Monaco,
France and Moscow.
But in October of 2006, Tigran stunned the world of jazz when he won
first place in the prestigious Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition in
Washington, DC, hosted by legendary music producer Quincy Jones,
actress Phylicia Rashad and actor Billy Dee Williams. He was chosen
from ten of the world’s most gifted young jazz pianists gathered at
the Kennedy Center to compete for scholarships and the prestige of
winning the internationally acclaimed award.
Judges on the panel included a pantheon of jazz luminaries such as
Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Clark Terry. Tigran says that he
wasn’t nervous before he got up on stage, he was just excited to "get
up on the piano and jam."
"It was crazy because the people on the jury that day were the
people I admire and whose music I transcribed," Tigran said. "Herbie
Hancock is my hero. I would listen to his jazz funk-fusion band, The
Headhunters, and play it on the piano when I was five years old. And
then there he was, right in front of me, while I was playing."
Not only was Herbie Hancock reviewing the performances, but upon
Tigran’s first-place announcement, the winner had the chance to play
on the Kennedy stage with Herbie Hancock and a coterie of other
venerated musicians such as Stevie Wonder, John Pettuci, and Joshua
"Being up there and jamming with those guys was unreal," he said. "I
felt like I was in a dream."
Tigran’s uncle, who introduced him to these jazz greats when he was
a little boy, was there when he played with some of these very same
"My uncle was passing glasses of oghi around to all the superstars
of jazz. I think he was more happy than I was," Tigran said.Shortly
after the competition, the young musician signed on with a French
recording label, Nocturne Records, and released his first CD, World
Passions, in 2006. His second CD, New Era, is due for release in
Tigran’s busy schedule includes traveling the world and performing
across Europe and the United States. In the past year alone, he has
been dividing his time between his current residence in Venice Beach,
California and making the rounds in jazz clubs across Spain and
France. Last weekend (Oct. 26) Tigran performed at the Kennedy Center
in Washington DC as part of the KC Jazz Club Series.
Even though Tigran has established himself in the United States, he
still aches to go back to Armenia and continue composing great jazz
ballads on his native soil.
For the past five years, Tigran has developed an affinity for the
lore and history of Armenia’s rich past, and is composing music
reflecting the folk traditions of the Caucuses.
He is currently composing a four-part musical suite based on the
David of Sassoun epic.
"I really got into traditional Armenian music and came to deeply
respect Komitas and Sayat Nova," Tigran said. "The energy that comes
from that land is electrifying. Inspiration in Armenia is endless.
******* ************************************************** ******************
2. Rock: 12 songs, 12 videos, 12 apostles:Young artists marry Serj
Tankian’s new songs to visuals
* System Of A Down front man has a novel approach to making music videos
by Adrineh Gregorian
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – On the day millions of System Of A Down fans
around the world had their first chance to pick up or download Serj
Tankian’s debut solo album, Elect the Dead, hundreds of fans waited
for hours for the Los Angeles premier of the Elect the Dead short
films – 12 music videos visualizing the 12 songs on what is bound to
be a global hit.
On Tuesday, October 23, the Vista Theater, where Sunset and
Hollywood Boulevards intersect in the artsy Los Feliz neighborhood of
Hollywood, was where Serj Tankian intersected once again with hundreds
The Vista was ground zero not only for Tankian fans but for the
community of artists, filmmakers, photographers, creative souls, and
supporters that have rallied around, supported, and watched the
transformation of Tankian, the consummate multi-instrumentalist
musician, composer, lyricist, poet, and justice-seeking activist.
"There was great energy there, a lot of fun," said Sevag Vrej, who
was chosen by Tankian to direct the short film for the song Feed Us.
(The making of the video was featured in the Arts & Culture section of
the Armenian Reporter on July 21, 2007.)
"I guess being in a room with people you know and people you don’t
know," said Sevag, "you feel a bit more vulnerable, more anxious about
how the video will be received, whether people will enjoy it, whether
the song and video will soar together as the way you had intended."
The young director, who had previously traveled around the U.S. and
Europe documenting Tankian, the visionary lead of the multi-platinum
rock band System Of A Down, said that the screening at the Vista was
exciting not only for the fans but also the artists involved in the
creation of the music videos.
"The kids were screaming, yelling, cheering, gasping, clapping and
laughing, right on cue," said Sevag. "They were just relishing the
videos and the music, because they were very hungry to hear something
new from Serj. They had been anticipating this solo album, and it was
great that he was there for them and signed 300 copies of his album.
That was wonderful."
* The idea of 12 short films
Earlier this year, Serj invited an eclectic group of colleagues and
friends to create a video for one of the twelve tracks on what was at
the time his forthcoming solo debut, now available in stores or
through iTunes from Serjical Strike/Reprise Records (serjtankian.com).
"I asked each of the directors for their visual interpretation of my
work," Serj explained. "They were asked not to write treatments and
that they could make whatever they liked. The results have been
The directors involved in the video project include a prestigious
array of artists whom Serj has befriended over the last decade.
Only one director, Tony Petrossian, who has a long track record of
directing mainstream music videos, was allocated a large mainstream
budget for his video.
The other 11 directors were provided a $5,000 budget from Serj
himself with one stipulation – Tankian would not appear in their
independent short films.
Petrossian (Taking Back Sunday, Slipknot, Avenged Sevenfold), shot
the video for Empty Walls, the first single from Elect The Dead.
The directors of the indie short films included digital artist Roger
Kupelian (The Lord of the Rings,Flags of Our Fathers), documentary
director Sevag Vrej (System Of A Down, Fair To Midland), and
Beirut-born filmmaker Gariné Torossian (Stone, Touch Time, and
Rounding out the eleven filmmaker were photographer/video director
Greg Watermann (Mudvayne, Lamb of God, Howie Day), Oscar-nominated
Puerto Rican playwright and screenwriter Jose Rivera (The Motorcycle
Diaries), and short film/music video director Adam Egypt Mortimer
(Against Me!, Idiot Pilot).
"People knew we were working with a very limited budget and time
constraints, and went above and beyond. That’s Serj’s legacy, I guess.
He inspires that in people," said director Roger Kupelian.
* Debut Tuesday in L.A.
To celebrate the artistic collaboration of the music and visual
interpretations of Tankian’s solo album, Reprise Records and Serjical
Strike, in conjunction with digital cinema/music marketing company D&E
Entertainment, screened the videos of Elect The Dead back-to-back at
movie theaters across the US.
The Monday screenings drew thousands to movie theaters across the
nation, where fans were also able to hear introductory comments by
"The videos were a wonderful platform for Serj to create for all
these filmmakers and artists," said Sevag Vrej. "The thing that is
true and comes across with the 11 independent music videos is that you
get a sense of honesty, with no distilling of what the songs meant to
the director who was asked to envision the song as a video."
Sevag says that the higher the budget of a short film, music video
or a feature film, the more opinions are offered by everyone involved,
from management, to the record label, to agents, to money crunchers.
"Serj’s approach to have independent film makers express
themselves," says Sevag, "the work is less distilled and more pure.
The videos capture a truth that the directors felt and envisioned when
they listened to the songs assigned to each of them."
* The prophet and his fans
The unique experience on the eve of album release offered hundreds
of fans across the US a preview of Elect The Dead in a premium
listening and visual environment.
In Los Angeles, fans lined up midday on October 23 rd for a chance
to watch the short films, which will eventually be screened on
millions of TV and computer screens around the world.
The first 300 fans in line in Los Angeles were also given a chance
to meet Tankian after the screenings.
"I’m a big fan of Tankian," said Gabriel Mardas enthusiastically.
The 18-year-old had waited for hours to attend the screening and meet
Tankian. "I can’t wait to hear his new solo album, see the videos,
and, of course, meet Serj!"
Proceeds from the screenings went to Axis of Justice
(axisofjustice.org), a non-profit organization he co-founded with
fellow musician Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine.
Videos at Arpa Film Festival and on-line
* Tankian’s label
Videos from Elect the Dead short films are also being posted
one-by-one over the next few months on Tankian’s website.
Last night, the 12 short films opened the Arpa International Film
Festival that is underway this weekend in Hollywood.
Actor Alex Kalognomos, who stars in Sevag Vrej’s video for Feed Us
came up with the idea.
"Sevag was shooting a close-up of my eye," said Kalognomos, who is
also the director of the film festival, " and I started thinking how
cool it would be to have all twelve videos at the film festival."
The Elect the Dead short films were featured on the opening night of
this weekend’s 10th annual festival, which continues through Sunday,
November 4, at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood (affma.org).
"This year is our first year having a music video category," said
Kalognomos. "It is one of my favorite film genres, and it was time
Arpa established an award for music videos."
Kalognomos goes on to say, "we want to honor filmmakers working in
arguably the most important film genre of today. More kids see music
videos than any other film format."
* In Tankian’s own words
"For me, the great pleasure of Elect the Dead has been not only to
make the record with the pure vision of what I feel artistically
through my music and poetry," said Tankian, "but also to multiply the
art factor by bringing in other great artists."
Tankian, a full-fledged rock story and a published poet, said that
asking filmmakers and directors to bring their interpretation of his
music and words serves two different artistic agendas.
"This serves two functions," said Tankian. "It creates more art from
the original source, the album, and offers more than just a CD to
people interacting with the music. [The videos] give us more points of
connection with each other."
The 12 short films also serve as an artistic collaboration for a new
generation of Armenian-Americans in the entertainment industry; the
films draw upon a unique pool of talent that has come up the ranks in
the entertainment industry together in the past ten years.
Those chosen to direct the short films tapped into their specified
visual mediums, actors were given a canvas to showcase their work,
producers juggled crews and schedules, journalists were able to write
about the process and the music, community activists benefited from
the charitable outreach, and fans had the opportunity to be extras.
In addition to the producers, editors, even the Armenian Reporter
and its readers were involved in reporting and reading about the
process. Readers in Southern California are also most likely to notice
friends and family featured as cast members of the 12 short films.
In all, this was Tankian’s way of allowing the community that
supported his career to be a part of his ongoing creative endeavors.
* The videos
The unifying theme throughout the album — love and the current state
of world affairs, failing relationships and governments — is
expressed in a variety of ways as different artists interpret
The stop motion animated video for The Unthinking Majority directed
by filmmaker/video director Tawd Dorenfeld, is a monumental feat
entirely created, produced, and filmed a detailed depiction of action
figure warfare in his living room.
Other handcrafted videos include, Lies Lies Lies by director Martha
Colburn. The clip is a true exhibition of talent as paper puppets of
Tankian and his romantic interest go on an intrepid voyage on screen.
This video could stand beside any nominee in an MTV music video
In Sky is Over, director José Rivera captures artist Vahe
Berberian’s methodology and process as he contemplates with the canvas
and interprets the song’s message using his paintbrush.
In Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition Tankian’s own brother,
Sevag Tankian, comically lip synchs his way through the lyrics while
preaching to adoring fans.
* The process
Tony Petrossian directed the first single off the album called, Empty
Walls. In his video Tankian is seen playing the piano in the center of
a children’s day care center.
The children then pick up toys and begin playing in a way that can
easily be misconstrued as warfare tactics. For example, shooting each
other (in this case with toy guns) and hiding behind toy fortresses.
Petrossian came up with the concept by starring at a blank piece of
paper for a while until he was inspired to write something.
"It’s usually that way with every job," he says. "I don’t ever try
to be literal to the lyrics but, rather, try to communicate a certain
energy from the track."
"In the case of Empty Walls, I was drawn to the notion of children
playing in a day care center as a portrait of innocence," said
Petrossian explaining his video.
Petrossian says that he liked building on the subtext of the kids
playing games of warfare in his piece.
"I felt it was an interesting commentary upon the old adage "war is
not a game," he said.
The director said that after thinking about the idea for a few days,
he decided to use specific instances from the Iraq War, the toppling
of Saddam’s statue, prisoner abuses at Abu Ghareib, and the terror
attacks on September 11 "as the tent poles of the story."
Tankian and the label loved Petrossian’s concept and green-lit the project.
* Spies and the Cold War
Director Gariné Torossian came up with the concept of her video, Elect
the Dead, while walking through the forest in Berlin.
The documentary film maker (Arts & Culture, March 17, 2007) said the
idea came to her when she saw a Cold War era U.S. spy station on a
hill called Devil’s Mountain.
"I was with a friend," said Torossian, "and we went up and entered
through the narrow gate to the vandalized and abandoned space which is
very surreal and magical."
Torossian said that when Tankian sent her Elect the Dead, she
immediately knew she wanted to shoot it at the spy station, because
she was excited by having discovered it and thought the location
offered the visuals that fit the emotion of the song.
"Then I thought I want to make it about two people going through the
destroyed interiors on their own," said Torossian, "searching for
something alive in a dead place. I wanted an ending which symbolized
hope by the two uniting at the end and deleting the [lyrics] "All I
want is me or you to us."
Torossian said that when she first heard the song, she thought of it
as a romantic love song. Now, she said, she thinks it’s about the
individual and the individuals relationship to the world which
includes love, death, freedom and rebellion.
"It’s interesting to have shot it in a collapsed spy station and
made that connection," said Torossian, "because an individual, who is
like a spy, is bound to collapse rather one that is free and engaged
Torossian said she truly admires and respect’s Tankian’s vision and
"I absolutely love that he believed in me enough to let me do what I
want without any question," said Torossian. "I love working this way."
Torossian said she has worked with Tankian before and finds that he
is very honest in his feedback.
"He says enough and not too much to open a different possibility if
he sees that the work is not fully realized," said Torossian.
* GA.B1.G5 (gabig) fighters
Director and digital illustrator Roger Kupelian (Arts & Culture, July
23, 2007) said he met and got to know Tankian because of Tankian’s
interest in composing the soundtrack for Kupelian’s Vartan Mamigonian
"We became good friends through the process," said Kupelian, "and he
assigned me the video for Honking Antelope when they started
approaching directors for the indie videos."
Kupelian liked this song and said that for him, it is the best one
off the album.
"It spoke to me, and they knew it would," he said.
Honking Antelope, said the director, "is outwardly very basic,
Orwellian in its origin, illustrating the idea of a ‘war machine’ that
eventually exists for its own purposes, but it’s also meant as a
commentary for the present."
The war machine produces "GA.B1.G5" fighters, code for GABIGS,
literally translating into monkeys in Armenian.
These fighters engage in full-blown carnage in their fictional world
against the backdrop of flying angel figures whose aim is to stop the
The detailed scenes and artistry of this video can only be compared
to the graphics of multi-million dollar computer animated motion
Kupelian came up with the concept by going along to whatever came to
his mind right away after hearing the song.
"It was like this story was waiting to happen and Serj’s music just
brought it out," he adds. "We never deviated from the basic storyline
even after many revisions."
"I feel lucky to have been involved with two of the videos," said
Garin Hussenjian, who contributed to the 12 short films project by
producing Feed Us by Sevag Vrej and co-producing Money by Ara Jason
"Sevag called me and told me about the project and after I heard his
concept, I couldn’t say no," said Hussenjian.
The producer says there were wonderful moments from both of the
Tankian video shoots she was involved in.
"Soudjian’s shoot had many actors and many locations to coordinate,"
said the producer, remembering how she was challenged with managing 30
young Serj Tankian fans, who were extras on Soudjian’s set.
"They were excited out of their minds to be a part of the video,"
Hseenjian said. "It was quite a feat controlling them and getting all
the shots. But we did it, and it turned out pretty well."
At the end of the day, said Hussenjian, she and all those involved
in making the 12 music videos come to fruition, are all very grateful
and excited to be part of Tankian’s debut solo album.
* * *
Empty Walls – Director: Tony Petrossian
The Unthinking Majority – Director: Tawd Dorrnfeld
Money – Director: Ara Soudjian
Feed Us – Director: Sevag Verj
Saving Us – Director: Kevin Estrada
Sky is Over – Director: José Rivera
Baby – Director: Diran Noubar
Honking Antelope – Director: Roger Kupelian
Lie, Lie, Lie – Director: Martha Colburn
Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammo – Director: Greg Watermann
Beethoven’s C*** – Director: Adam Egypt Mortimer
Elect The Dead – Director: Gariné Torossian
* * *
* Feed Us — A dark fairy tale
by Nathan "Nshan" Wong
Feed Us is a phantasmagoric collage of fascist imagery and idyllic
childhood fantasy. Dark in tone and visual colour, this short explores
the dichotomy of innocence and compromise.
A widening revelatory circle closes as the video progresses, drawing
a closer physical distance between an unhinged adult man and pure
As the story unfolds, one has to wonder what is the connection? Are
the boy and man father and son, or the same person? Is the boy
untainted morality; is the man compromised in spirit?
One feels a corruption in the activities of the uniformed man, as
though he is filing paperwork for the destruction of something,
whether it be people or ideals.
Buttoned up and well groomed, his clinical and ordered world
descends into an entropy of scattered papers. He seems to evade or
cover up deepening issues by literally masking himself with a drawing
of a face… a piece of artwork that is light but disturbing in itself.
The boy himself spends his time in an idyllic mood and environment…
a garden of cool colours, soft focus, and starry night sky. The
environment itself surrounds the boy and feels safe. Tranquil in
composure and movement, the boy recalls an idealized time in life
where there are no moral ambiguities.
Towards the end, as boy and man come to see and sit in opposition to
one another, they see what they were and what they could be. The
bureaucrat descends into his madness, the boy learns the lessons of
the future. Or one hopes… again, what is the relationship of the two?
Boy and man? Father and son? Past and future? Inevitable or avoidable?
* * *
* Feed Us – the short film by Sevag Vrej
by Ojig Yeretsian
Feed Us is the story of a man’s journey inside himself, his yearning
to explore and collect the different parts of himself to transform
into an integrated whole.
As a war-mongering bureaucrat, he classifies and organizes and
controls all the mathematics, calibrates the weights, of everything in
his realm of power. His sole subject is the boy below whose whole life
— the stars, the sky, the toys — are dictated by the actions of the
The adult above lives in a world of machines and tools and uniforms
and papers. The boy resides in the garden playing with soldiers and
tanks yet feeling the comfortable embrace of nature. This split world
is unified only by the watchful eye which resides in the background of
the boy’s garden and in the ink stamp of the adult above.
The stressed military man types away scrutinizing every letter,
circle and square slowly realizing he is a cog in the hate mongering
machine. Love haunts him. As much as he’d like to keep the pattern of
orderly conduct, he starts to fray. His role as the powerful creator
sprinkling stars into the world below begins to crack as we hear the
child’s innocent goodbye.
His journey into his psyche brings him face to face with his inner
feminine demonstrating he’s not all that he seems. His identity begins
to unravel as he puts on his new face, embodies the divine energy of
his mask and transforms into a liberated dancer. He unlocks his cage
and is freed of his narrow life upstairs. His documents are flying
around and we see him in his bare flesh trying to contain the sheets
which are the shards of his past life.
He enters the garden and is face to face with himself as child and
mother and adult as he sits in the see saw. He is entering with a
simple game, a game of mirroring. As he dances across the screen, we
know he has tapped into an ancient energy and is flowing with the
force of the universe.
He now knows that he is as much victim as oppressor, as his upturned
Abu Graib prisoner hands ask for a break -through and transcendence.
The boy below plays the violin and comforts him — a moment of
integration of his many sides.
The rage calls for destruction from deep within and we see how the
shame of the oppressed becomes the forceful tank of the oppressor. The
smashing continues as the sprinkles from above keep the child focused
on the stars. The boy’s relationship with nature is one of curiosity
The adult is consumed with fury and is uprooting the plants, trying
to pull out the roots. This hints to a time between the distant past
of childhood innocence and the present state of total chaos. When did
that child become cynical? When did he lose his self respect? What
trauma created this maniac of an adult obsessed with military might
and seduced by power? What happened?
The child stands still and looks up at the stars as the adult
huddles in fetal position. They are both in the garden. We see his eye
and the pain in his psyche as the faces himself.
3. Books: The engaged and engaging world of David Barsamian
by Kay Mouradian
Through his weekly radio program, Alternative Radio, an independent
weekly series based in Boulder, Colorado, David Barsamian’s fiery
brand of politics is heard worldwide. He is a radio producer,
journalist, author, and lecturer and has been working in radio since
1978. In 1986 his program went national and plays also in Canada and
Australia. He is currently on an extended book tour talking about his
latest book, Targeting Iran, co-authored with Noam Chomsky, Ervand
Abrahamian, and Nahid Mozaffari.
I heard his talk at the Luna Playhouse in Glendale a few weeks ago.
Having listened to his radio program, Alternative Radio, and viewed
his website, my perception of him was that of a gentle dissident, but
his intense passion for social justice overshadows that gentleness. He
is a powerful speaker and captures the attention of an audience,
especially those of like mind. He doesn’t care whose toes he steps on,
and he pulls no punches about our politicians in Washington. His credo
is "information is the oxygen of democracy."
Barsamian started his talk with a heated monologue. "A breaking news
announcement," he blared out. "The Glendale Liberation Front just
arrested George W Bush for crimes against humanity." His absurdity and
humor in this three minute political satire was worthy of any Saturday
Night Live appearance where absurdity invariably contains a nugget of
If there is anyone left of the left, that is David Barsamian; a
first-generation Armenian born in New York during the era of the baby
boomers. He is driven by a morality of social justice and refuses to
quietly let our democratic way of life be tainted by politicians who
use corrupt propaganda to promote their addiction to power and line
their pockets as well as those of their friends. I wanted to learn
more about where and when he began to understand the horrors of
injustice and how that affected him. I was also curious if the
Armenian Genocide played a role. We met over coffee in Westwood and I
asked him about his trip to Turkey.
"Which one?" he replied.
He had just returned from a trip to Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon, but
when he told me he had gone to Turkey in 2005 to visit his mother’s
village, my Armenian antenna rose. I became curious about his reaction
to that visit.
Kay Mouradian: Tell me about that trip.
David Barsamian: My mother came from Dubne, about an hour north of
Diyarbakir. Diyarbakir is populated by Kurds. It is their cultural
center and the city where they hold political power. There I met the
mayor who put me in touch with the mayor of Dijali, the area where my
mother’s village is located. The Dijali mayor offered to take me to my
mother’s village. At different times and in different words, both
mayors told me they held great shame and remorse in their hearts for
what their Kurdish grandparents had done to the Armenians during the
Genocide, even as neither tried to justify the actions of their
ancestry. As we drove along the Tigris River, I remembered my mother’s
descriptions of the river and the surrounding semi-arid mountains.
"Your mountains are just like ours in Dubne," she would say when she
visited me at my home in Boulder. My imagination was coursing through
my mind. How will I react? Will I be emotional, nostalgic, angry? When
we arrived in Dubne, the villagers recognized the mayor’s car and
rushed tell him about all the things that needed to be fixed in the
village. When they learned that my mother once lived in Dubne, many of
them took me on a tour of the village … to the stream and the apricot
trees my mother talked about so often. The man who owned the apricot
orchard is an Armenian whose family converted to Islam and he is now
called Mustafa. They gave me a basket filled with apricots, so sweet
to the taste, and I later shared them with those on the bus when I
left Diyarbakir. From the orchard they took me to the old Armenian
cemetery whose gravestones were barely readable. My grandfather was
probably buried there. He was killed before the deportations. We went
to look at the remnants of an Armenian Church. The villagers told me
they used the church stones to build their homes. Like recycling. They
treated me like a rock star, touching me and following me everywhere.
KM: Knowing his mother had survived the genocide, I asked about his
emotional reaction to being in Dubne.
Barsamian: They were so excited having me, a foreigner, in their
village, they never left me alone for a moment. I left Dubne not
KM: Listening to the rhythm of his words, I suspected that music
played a role in David’s life. He told me that he spent the years
1966-70 in India studying Urdu, one of India’s 23 official languages,
and the sitar, an Indian lute, under the guidance of a world-famous
sitar master, Debu Chaudhuri. He traveled and performed with his
teacher, sometimes for groups as large as 20,000. On one occasion they
performed for Indira Gandhi, who at the time was Prime Minister of
India. David gained a rudimentary grasp of both Arabic and Farsi,
because both languages are rooted in Urdu. "I’m totally fearless and
unashamed in my travels if I make grammatical errors, knowing how much
people appreciate foreigners trying to speak their language."
KM: Tell me about your love of language and how it influenced you.
Barsamian: I was the youngest of four children; grew up speaking
Armenian, learned English in school in New York, and as I watched my
parents struggling to write a sentence, I decided early on that I
wanted to have a command of English and the power of a large
vocabulary. My parents came from illiterate villages and didn’t have
books in the home. I saw what happened to them and maybe unconsciously
there was this drive for knowledge, maybe thinking if you are clued in
then maybe you won’t get massacred.
KM: What about your early education?
Barsamian: I barely got through high school and was a drop-out. I
hated school, but I am a voracious reader. At ages 7, 8, and 9 I was
subscribing to Esquire, Newsweek, US News and World Report magazines,
writing letters and getting them published. When the magazines came
every month with my name on the label, I felt like I was something,
somebody. My parents couldn’t imagine writing a letter or expressing
an opinion and getting it published. I spent most of my free time in
the Webster public library on 78th street in New York. I read
everything and anything. The library was an oasis where I could feed
my mind and get away from the roaches in my house. I lived in a
section of New York populated primarily by Germans, Italians, and
Irish immigrants, and I had to constantly explain about being
Armenian, because no one knew anything about Armenians.
KM: Where did your interest in politics begin?
Barsamian: My uncle, Sarkis Hagopian, visited every Sunday
afternoon. He wasn’t a blood relation, but he was from my mother’s
village, and he was very political. I was learning from him even at
seven years old. I loved being with someone who had clearly defined
political ideas, so different from my parents. Uncle Sarkis was a
strong Armenian ARF nationalist and a radical who hated Nixon and
Joseph McCarthy. At nine I was educating myself watching the McCarthy
hearings and Edward R. Murrow’s famous broadcast on CBS which
eventually became the film Goodnight and Goodluck.
KM: Tell me more about your early interest in social justice.
Barsamian: There were two major things. I was strongly influenced by
my parent’s displacement and disposition and the ensuing Turkish
denial, and the other, believe it or not, was a baseball team, the
Brooklyn Dodgers. One of my brothers was a Yankee fan, the other a
Giants fan and for me to individuate myself, I had to be a Dodgers
fan. When rumors hinted the Dodgers would leave New York, I believed
owner Walter O’Malley when he said the Dodgers would never leave New
York….until Los Angeles made him a deal, gave him Chavez Ravine worth
80 million dollars and uprooted the Mexican-American community who
lived there. That taught me all I needed to know about greed,
economics, lying, and manipulation.
KM: I find it interesting that many in the Armenian community don’t
know of you.
Barsamian: That’s because my politics are so radical. Most
American-Armenians are Republicans, flag wavers, primarily interested
in making money and don’t want to upset the status quo. I don’t feel
American citizens should serve in the military in wars of imperialism
or wars of aggression, but if it is about being attacked that is a
very different thing. I attract those who are concerned primarily with
social justice, and I’m seeing hope in the younger Armenian
generation. I’m proud to say that my birthday is on Flag Day, June 14,
the same birthday as Che Gueverra, and I identify more with Che
KM: Barsamian recently returned from Turkey, Syria and Lebanon. In
Turkey he interviewed Hrant Dink’s son and Ron Margalies, a prominent
Turkish Jewish commentator and poet. In Beirut he interviewed Rami
Khouri, an independent Arab journalist who at one time interviewed
Osama Bin Laden, and Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a leading authority on
Hezbollah. And in Damascus he talked with Yassin al Haj Saleh — one
of Syria’s leading dissidents and political activists who spent more
than 15 years in the jails of Hafez al-Assad. Barsamian said Yassin is
a brilliant guy, was a medical student when arrested, and taught
himself English while in jail. Those interviews will be scheduled on
his radio program. Barsamian’s web site, alternativeradio.org, is a
treasure trove of programs with many of today’s well-known
personalities who are unafraid to challenge the ideas of those in
power. His radio program on NPR is funded entirely by listeners who
hear a program and order a CD.
Kay Mouradian is author of A Gift in the Sunlight: An Armenian Story
4. Aravod Ensemble celebrates and entertains
The Aravod Ensemble will be entertaining those attending the big,
cross-continental Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) bashes in California
and Pennsylvania next weekend. Aravod, which has been around since
1997, will be playing at the AYF Dance in Orange County on Friday,
November 9. Twenty-four hours later, the Philly and New Jersey-based
band will play at the AYF Dance in Philadelphia on Saturday, November
10. Not only will the crowds be celebrating, but Aravod is also
celebrating. The band with the mission to spread joy through Armenian
music, has just released its long-awaited album, Gamar. The 65-minute
album has 21 songs and is a mix of traditional and modern Armenian,
Greek and Arabic music. Band members say "Gamar," which means arc, may
be seen as a link to the group’s past, present, and future.
*************** ************************************************** **********
5. Soul: Lord loves a working man
* Max Baloian’s coast-to-coast journey
by Lory Tatoulian
For the past two and half months, Max Baloian, lead guitarist and
brainchild for the band, Lord Loves a Working Man, has been shuttling
around his band-mates in a converted wine bus they call Bertha. Their
excursion is part of the Tour de Fat festival sponsored by the New
Belgium Breweries based in Colorado. Max and his band have been
following the trajectory of the festival in the western United States,
playing four to five gigs in each state. With 6000 miles already put
on Bertha’s odometer, the band reached the last leg of the tour at the
popular Los Angeles haunt known as the El Cid.
Max Baloian is a robust and spirited fellow who sports a peppered
handlebar mustache and knows how to play a mean guitar. When he’s up
on stage with his instrument, his fingers run wild across the strings
as his body grooves and jolts to the music, accentuated with
sophisticated bounces, skips and sways.
Collecting rare and vintage soul records for years, Max has always
had an affinity for Southern Memphis Soul music. "This is music that
takes your heart out and rips it into pieces," Max emphatically said.
You can hear Max’s love of soul music interwoven into many of the
songs in his band’s repertoire. His love for this gut wrenching,
down-home soul music is what made Max pick his own guitar and emulate
the music he would listen to for hours.
"I was moved by a particular song called Make It Up To You by a man
named Clay Hammons," Max said. When listening to that recording, Max
decided that he wanted to be more than a passive listener, but take a
stab at recreating what he had heard. "God I have to just try it," Max
explained. "I wanted to work hard at trying to capture and revive the
brutal honesty and emotion of what effects me in this music — this
music that takes your heart out and rips it into pieces," Baloian
emphatically said. "We never thought that is would get out of the
Not only did it did it get out of the garage, but his band burgeoned
into a 9-piece soul band that has been gracing the stages of the
western United Stated for the past four years. Lord Loves a Working
Man, hosts a sundry of talented musicians who electrify clubs with an
dramatic array of instruments including two saxophones, two guitars,
drums, bass, trumpet, organ, and guitar.
"I wanted to revive James Car, and ZZ Hill," Baloian said. "We
started writing our own songs in this style, but rephrasing things our
own way." Baloian noted that the band writes 90 percent of the songs,
and the rest are covers. "We started writing songs from a very honest
place with the realization this music is truly an Americana tradition;
it has a huge amount of back story," Baloian explains. "The roots of
it come from another continent and then goes through so many years of
intense joy and intense sadness that embroiled itself in the late
Even though none of the band members are black or from Memphis, Lord
Loves a Working Man, has proven its musical prowess by staying true to
a genre that is decades and miles removed from the time and place of
where this distinct style of soul was born. Now, based in the mission
district in San Francisco, the band has revealed the vestiges of
the1960’s rhythm and blues, and resurrected these musical treasures
with bravado and a biting energy. Fans who come out to hear the music,
move their bodies in a sinuous sway to the sultry drifts that are
emanated from this down-home powerhouse.
Max’s artistic sensibilities are trans-generational and not only
rooted in familial ties, but in the actual earth and soil of the San
Joaquin Valley. In 1923, his great grandfather Garabed started the
family produce business in Fresno. His uncles and father continued the
agricultural enterprise and created a life ensconced in the labor of
the land. While still working on the family’s farms, Max’s father,
well-known Fresno born poet, James Baloian, had yet another calling,
and that was his writing. His father being an accomplished poet and
his mother, Cecilia, working as a teacher, Max’s world was rife with
words, poetry, fruit, music and friends.
His father was one of the first poetic pioneers to explore the
bi-cultural and complex worlds of Armenian life on the American
landscape. Following in the tradition of William Saroyan, James
Baloian pushed the literary boundaries of his time and truly revealed
the raw and unfettered life of Armenians living in the Central Valley.
These early impressions, gleaned from his father’s work, clearly
influenced Max’s own unique relationship with art and its pursuit.
"We had big dinners on our Ranch in Fresno," Max said. "My dad would
take his earnings and throw dinners with musicians, writers and
artists. I was always being bombarded with all these musical
influences of Armenian music, blues, rock and roll, folk music and
soul," Baloian recalls. "Nothing was barred, there were no
Max Baloian realizes the universal impact of passion through his
music; be it the folkloric musings of Richard Hagopian and his oud at
Armenian picnics or the dissonant jazz riffs of Charlie Parker and his
saxophone at a New York City blues club, for Baloian, soul is soul.
"I can’t help but have flashbacks of the dances at the Armenian
picnics and kef times, where you see people who you thought couldn’t
even get up and walk anymore, get up and dance at these picnics. When
the Tamzara hits, everybody all of a sudden starts rocking out. That
what we try to do, that’s why we have a soul band," Baloian said.
Lord Loves a Working Man currently has a self-titled CD out and
their second CD will be released in the spring of 2008.
******* ************************************************** ******************
6. Hip hop: Hay Tgheq and Armenian rap
* An interview with band member Mikayel Abrahamyan
by Hayk Ghazaryan
Four years after a love of rap music brought Mikayel Abrahamian and
Hayk Margaryan together to form the group Hay Tgheq in Armenia, they
overcame initial resistance to their style of music to become wildly
popular among the youth.
In fact, their music has become so accepted and appreciated that
they will make the long journey to Los Angeles to attend the Nov. 23
Armenian Music Awards, for which their CD Me Katil Meghyr, (A Drop of
Honey) is nominated in the Best R&B and Rap category.
But it wasn’t so long ago that the group, who is not influenced at
all by traditional Armenian music, was heavily criticized for the
slang and jargon they used in their lyrics about the daily lives of
In addition to financial problems, the group had to struggle with
the government, which didn’t allow their music videos to air on
"We have always had criticism and we welcome healthy criticism,"
Abrahamian, 22, said. "People needed to get used to our style of
rapping using jargon. This is another way of expressing thoughts and
"Peoples’ taste in music has been changing for the better recently.
Four five years ago no one listened rap, not to mention R&B. Now, it
has changed. We’ll have more rap, rock, R&B singers in the future."
With nobody to turn to for advice on how to deal with the resistance
to their music, Hay Tgheq credit their fans at home for helping them
overcome the difficulties by understanding their music and liking
"Of course, we love our audience and fans everywhere, but the
audience in Armenia is different. We can sense it," Abrahamian, also
known as Misho, said. "We sing about life in Armenia and being
Armenian is not enough to fully comprehend us and our songs. One has
also got to live in Armenia."
Now the group can boast a following and people who do understand their music.
One fan posted on a forum site: "I call them Revolutionary!!! They
keep it real and I am personally impressed big time, there aren’t any
other Armenian musicians who represent what is going on for real."
Abrahamian and Margaryan (Hayko), 22, were in their teens when they
began exploring their interest in rap, which soon developed into a
desire to create serious rap music.
They released their first album, Hay Tgheq in 2004, followed two
years later by Mi Katil Meghyr, and now they say they’ve gotten the
hang of the process.
"It used to take quite long to finish the first album, but now it
would not take more than a month, maximum two if there are time
constraints, to finish an album because we know what we want and we
know what we are doing," said Abrahamian, who is also in his sixth
year at Yerevan State Medical University. He says he will work as a
doctor if he needs to.
"The muse is always there, but we need to be in a quiet place alone.
When you know what you want to write and sing about, it takes just an
hour to draft a song. I sing about the real things, what you have
lived and gone through because if you don’t, your audience can already
Their songs like Amara (It’s Summer), Harazat Kucha (Dear Backyard),
Ynkeruhi Chunem (I Don’t Have a Girlfriend) and Mashnes u Yes (My Car
and I) have become hits and Abrahamyan and Margaryan are even working
on their solo albums: Yeka Tesa (I Have Come and Seen) and Antsats
Champa (Passed Road), respectively.
Now established at the forefront of Armenian rap, the members of Hay
Tgheq unexpectedly find themselves being asked to be mentors to those
who aspire to follow in their footsteps.
Young rappers approach them for help and advice — support that they
didn’t have when they started.
While he’s happy that there’s an interest in rap, Abrahamyan said
that most who seek their advice don’t know what they want to do.
What they see now are people who want to rap for the sole purpose of
"These people just want to become famous and be loved. But this
won’t make a person into a real and successful rapper," Abrahamyan
said. "They are not real rappers because they are
While Hay Tgheq has performed in numerous concerts and events,
including in Moscow, they enjoy the ones in Yerevan the most.
"People abroad also understand us, but it’s different here in
Armenia," Abrahamyan said. "We sing about life here and people here
understand us better."
But Hay Tgheq is planning a concert in the United States soon and
their third album is scheduled to be released next year.
"Our goal was to create Armenian rap in Armenia. We have so much to
tell the youth," Abrahamyan said. "Today we are listened (to) and
understood. The youth not only listens to a song, lyrics and music,
but also to the messages that we want to send."
********** ************************************************** ***************
7. Theater: Shanley Shuffle
* reviewed by Aram Kouyoumdjian
Since the stunning success of John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt — the
winner of both the Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 2005 — the
playwright’s earlier works, formerly the province of a niche but loyal
following, have come to enjoy elevated prominence in the mainstream.
It is not surprising, then, that two such earlier works secured
relatively lengthy runs in Los Angeles this summer and fall. What is
surprising, however, is that both happened to be directed by
Armenians. Anita Khanzadian helmed The Dreamer Examines His Pillow
(through October 14) at the McCadden Place Theatre in Hollywood, while
Michael Arabian took on Danny and the Deep Blue Sea (through October
20) at the Elephant Theater just down the road.
Danny and Dreamer are both romantic relationship dramas that feature
characters wrangling with emotional wounds. Danny is actually
subtitled "An Apache Dance," which describes a violent pas de deux.
The two lost souls attempting the dance are Danny himself and Roberta,
a girl he meets at a bar.
In Arabian’s atmospheric staging, the bar was bathed in blue light
and immersed in fog. The opening scene of the play emerged as the fog
dissipated, just as the characters emerged, over the course of the
play, from the haze that clouded their lives.
The two-character set-up in Danny comes with built-in limitations.
There’s the problem of exposition. Each character must share some
revealing tale — rather artificially — so that the audience can
glean a back-story that explains Danny’s rage and Roberta’s
psychological baggage. From Daniel De Weldon and Deborah Dir, however,
Arabian elicited provocative performances that combined physical
aggression and emotional vulnerability. His nuanced direction charted
a credible developmental arc — one that avoided, for the most part,
overwrought sentimentality — as the characters reluctantly dropped
their tough Bronx exteriors and revealed their tender inner selves,
ready to yield to love and trust.
A similar journey framed Dreamer. That lengthy one-act play is
constructed around three scenes, the first of which depicts a taut
confrontation between former lovers Tommy and Donna. Since their
break-up — the previous year — 27-year-old Tommy has been living in
a dump of an apartment, stealing from his own mother, and dating
Donna’s 16-year-old sister. When Donna shows up at his door — Bronx
accent and attitude in tow — their ensuing fight awakens them to the
lingering affection they feel for one another.
The second scene unfolds between Donna and her father, an artist
prone to loneliness and boozing since his wife’s death. In the role,
Eddie Jones — real-life husband to Khanzadian — contributed a
skillful performance that was part grief, part mischief. Jones, a
veteran actor with more than a passing resemblance to Charles Durning,
impressed in the third and final scene as well, in which his character
visits Tommy and sees in him a great deal of his younger self.
Khanzadian commanded generally strong acting from her cast (although
she could have lowered the decibel level of Amanda Tepe’s turn as
Donna). Having previously directed Shanley’s work (Beggars in the
House of Plenty), Khanzadian ably captured the energy that underlies
Shanley’s raw dialogue and scenes of charged conflict. She was
somewhat hindered in her staging, however, by a too-spare set that
mandated some awkward movement choices.
Works by Shanley that predate Doubt — a "parable" about priestly
abuse at a Catholic school in 1964 — are often too amplified with
sentiment. With Doubt, he achieves a gripping, yet modulated, tone.
But it remains the task of directors like Arabian and Khanzadian to
inject the appropriate tone of reserve into the rest.
* * *
Aram Kouyoumdjian is the winner of Elly Awards for both playwriting
(The Farewells) and directing (Three Hotels). His latest work is
8. Diana Der-Hovanessian receives gold medal
Poet Diana Der-Hovanessian, president of the New England Poetry Club,
received a gold medal from the Minister of Culture of the Republic of
Armenia for her contribution to world literature and her many years of
translating Armenian poetry. The award was also given in recognition
of her own poetry.
Prof. Der-Hovanessian was given a book reception by the Armenian
Writers Union for her new book, The Second Question which was recently
published by Sheep Meadow Press in New York. She also presented a
paper to the Armenian Writer’s Union titled "Identity in a Hyphenated
From November 5 to 11, Diana Der-Hovanessian will be in Taiwan
participating in the Taipei Poetry Festival representing the New
England Poetry Club. She will be reading from The Second Question as
well as translations from the Armenian.
Ms. Der-Hovanessian was featured in the Sept. 29 Poetry Matters
column in the Arts and Culture Section of the Armenian Reporter.
(c) 2007 Armenian Reporter LLC. All Rights Reserved