Brave New World Music


Mountain Xpress
July 28 2009

Armenian vocalist Mariam Matossian performs with Free Planet Radio
by Alli Marshall in Vol. 16 / Iss. 1 on 07/29/2009 Share .

When vocalist and composer Mariam Matossian made the move from her
hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia to Greenville, S.C., she
didn’t figure on meeting any fellow Armenian musicians. In fact, for
her first year in Greenville, when Matossian performed it was mostly
at venues thousands of miles away with her Canadian backing band.

Vocalist Mariam Matossian blends Armenian stories and songs with world
music savvy."Just last summer, someone suggested I get in touch with
River Guerguerian through MySpace," she tells Xpress. Surprised to
learn that a Middle-Eastern influenced percussionist was living just
an hour away in the mountains, Matossian checked out Guerguerian’s
tracks — and was blown away. "I was like, ‘No way,’" she remembers.

At the same time, Gene Berger of Horizon Records in Greenville passed
a disc on to Matossian’s husband (and promoter), Haro Setian. It
was Free Planet Radio’s album, with Guerguerian on drums. Two
recommendations seemed like more of a sign than a coincidence, so
Matossian contacted Guerguerian to see if he could suggest a local
band to back her East coast performances. The percussionist suggested
Free Planet Radio. Matossian describes her first meeting with the
world-jazz trio (including multi-instrumentalist Chris Rosser and
bassist Eliot Wadopian) as "probably one of the most amazing rehearsals
I’ve ever had."

But finding a band who could relate to and riff off of Matossian’s
exotic sound was only half of the challenge. The other side of the coin
was finding an audience in her new home. Three years ago, the singer
relocated after marrying Setian, a Greenville-based realtor. The two
met when Setian purchased one of Matossian’s CDs on Web retailer CD
Baby, which tracks the e-mail addresses of its customers. "Because
I was raised to be a polite Canadian, I wrote people thank-yous,"
Matossian explains. That sparked an e-mail exchange and subsequent
courtship. The two share not just a love of music but their Armenian
heritage and a desire to do good for their ancestral homeland (neither
were born there, but both have traveled to Armenia and volunteered
in its orphanages).

A former republic of the Soviet Union, Armenia is sandwiched
between the oft-tumultuous territories of Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan
and Georgia. It’s an area rich in history (its patriarch the
great-great-grandson of Noah of arc fame) but rarely registers on
the American radar the way other ethnic music hotbeds (Africa, India,
Brazil) do. So, when Matossian booked her first Greenville gig this
past February, she billed it as "A Night of World Music" because
"I didn’t want to be too specific and scare people away."

Far from alienating her audience, she sold out the Warehouse Theatre
and drew crowds from across the region. Setian reports that his
wife’s upcoming White Horse performance (with Free Planet Radio) has
attracted fans from as far as Nashville. From the White Horse Web site:
"Last time these folks were at White Horse we were sold out and the
audience was transported to ecstasy." Last time was actually a Free
Planet Radio concert with Matossian sitting in for three songs. This
time it’s Matossian’s show.

So what does Armenian music sound like? Filtered through Matossian’s
world-view, it’s delicate yet rhythmic, mystical yet earthy, melodic
yet invitingly groovy. "It’s totally a fusion," the vocalist says
of her style. Raised in Vancouver (which, she points out, has a
smaller Armenian population than Toronto, New York or Boston), she
was classically trained on piano; her vocal coaching in opera.

"I grew up listening to Latin, jazz and Middle Eastern music," she
notes. "I’m not a purist; that’s not how I grew up." The end result,
instead of an Armenian cultural program, is more of a jaunt through
world cultures with an emphasis on the songs Matossian has collected
from her mother and from the Armenian orphans she met. At a radio
performance, a Chinese musician told Matossian how much her music
sounded like traditional Chinese tunes; Setian points out that Irish
listeners recognize a commonality to Celtic songs.

Matossian is passionate about her culture, and about introducing it
to others. "I don’t just sing on stage," she says. "I tell stories. I
tell my grandmother’s stories. I’m singing in a foreign language,
so I like to talk about the songs."

who: Mariam Matossian with Free Planet Radio what: Armenian/world
music where: White Horse Black Mountain when: Saturday, Aug. 1 (8 p.m.,
$10. or 669-0816)

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS