Best Rock Album of 2009 Transcends Time and Genre

Best Rock Album of 2009 Transcends Time and Genre

By Contributor
Jan 2nd, 2010


Life sometimes has a funny way of blending your past, present, and
future. Eileen Khatchadourian, the Beirut born bridge between Armenian
folk music and alternative rock, did just that.

January 2009. I was in Achrafieh, Beirut writing my first book. The
months prior had been marked by poetic journeys, aimlessly direct or
directly aimless, through arid Portuguese farms, charred Spanish
meadows, high-browed Florentine stones, patrolled barriers in Cyprus,
and the white cloaks of Hajj. My two month sojourn in Beirut was the
first I had ever taken without the rest of my nuclear family, a test
of how much I truly belonged in the city of my baptism, of yearly
summer vacations, of my mother’s highest praises.

My grandmother’s apartment, where I lived, inspired and suppressed.
The view of the mountains, of Bourj Hammoud church steeples, of
Jaques’ pink apartment building down the hill, of the `Do You Regret
It?’ laser-tattoo removal billboard peering over the highway. Just
beyond that a trash heap, and in the distance, the murky
Mediterranean, far bluer, I told myself, beyond the expansive horizon.

Early one evening, I decided to visit the agoomp I played in as a
child. It was attached to the Armenian Catholic Parish of
Annunciation, a five minute walk door to door. The gates to the parish
were open and in the courtyard I recognized the sign to the agoomp
entrance. Ararat, it read.

I entered and immediately, before noticing the absence of lighting or
children playing and before noticing the dust left over from a
half-finished construction job, I heard a sound. Its identity evaded
me at first. It was the high-pitched hum of a drill, I thought, or
children playing in the street.

AMA 2009 Best Rock Album acceptance
The hallway was faintly lit by distant streetlamps. I passed the
basketball court where I once played, searching for the sound. Up the
stairway. Sound growing clearer, a song, focus deterred by a flood of
memories, the agoomp’s main room, dark, empty. I imagined baron Eli,
my chess mentor, hunched over the bar like he had been the first time
I walked into that loud, lit room. The twins, Harout and Whatshisname,
ping ponging while my cousins watched on, waiting their turn to enter
the plastic-paddle colloseum.

Visions vanish. Vibrations. I was standing over the sound. A voice. A
beautiful melody, a capella. I ran down the stairs and found a door
that might…but instead it fed into a different hallway. Another locked
door, but the sound louder than before. I ran around the building to
the other side, sure of my target, and opened the door.

Plush, red carpet padded the ground of a vast theater. A
contemplative, purposeful voice rang from the stage. Eileen
Khatchadourian sang Dele Yaman into a microphone, eyes closed, swaying
to the melody. Her band mates, Miran Gurunian from the Beirut rock
outfit Blend, Mazen Siblini, Haitham Shalhoub, Jad Aouad, absorbed the
sound as I did.

Sometimes you stumble upon something beautiful by pure chance.
Inchoate, but beautiful. You admire it. The scent of a steady
snowfall. A street painter surprising you with skill and
determination. You know the world would appreciate it. But for that
moment it does not matter because it is just yours. I stumbled into a
sound, one that whisked me away. Eileen and gang let me sit in the
auditorium and watch the rest of their rehearsal.

The songs of Midan, an alternative-rock style arrangement of nine
traditional Armenian songs, took me to the past, present, and future.
I knew what I was hearing was special. I could imagine an Armenian
farmer shaking the mulberry tree in her Adana backyard, singing to
pass the time. Then a suited official with gelled hair, a stern
expression, and blinking lights pulsing behind sunken eyes would
escort her to a time machine. She follows because the mystery entices
more than the present’s predictability. She enters the time machine,
still singing that melody. She is transported to Beirut, 2009, singing
now on stage with alternative rock musicians. She is Eileen. The music
is dutifully modern, the singing effortlessly blended. `We want the
young generation to care about their traditions and rediscover their
music,’ she explains. Crunchy guitars and delayed synthesizers, it
seems, were born to accompany these exact songs. This is what a ripe
mulberry sounds like.

`Why alternative rock?’ muses Eileen. `Simply because the songs are
very old and the young generation, myself included, wouldn’t have been
interested in them.’ In her musical journey to rediscover traditional
Armenian songs, Eileen uses a contemporary lens. The project has put
traditional Armenian music into an alternative rock time capsule that
will make music from the past relevant to present generations, and
preserve it for the future. Midan does not just blend styles, it
blends time.

`If we don’t keep our heritage alive,’ Eileen explains, `then our
culture and identity will disappear, and I would never want that to

After Midan’s release and a number of performances around Beirut,
Khatchadourian’s message connected to audiences worldwide, the spirit
to preserve culture and identity manifested on her own terms. On
December 13th, 2009, less than a year after a single voice cloaked the
halls of my past, Midan was awarded Best Rock Album at the tenth
annual Armenian Music Awards in Los Angeles. Those of us who heard her
perform in Beirut earlier this year were not surprised. Europe, North
America, watch out, a tour may be in the works.

Politicians around the world, particularly in the United States and
the Middle East, could learn a thing or two from the artistic
reconciliation exercised by Midan. Alternative rock or traditional
Armenian musical purists would scoff at the notion of combining the
elements of their respective genres. In refusing to imagine a
collaboration, progress stunts. But what Midan shows us is that two
opposed elements can unify to create something beautiful, greater than
the sum of its parts. It takes compromise, patience, creativity, and
faith that will can, and sometimes must, supplant circumstance.

In the Age of the Internet, as interconnectedness grows, the future of
functional humanity indeed rests in the prosperity of reconciliation
and compromise. Politicians in the United States compromise
begrudgingly at the expense of expediency and urgency. The thrill of
healthcare reform has been delayed and diminished by political
divisiveness and a lack of substantive compromise. In Eileen’s native
Lebanon, the failure of politicians to overcome their divisiveness has
left the Lebanese people lacking in the fundamental services we in the
West take for granted: smooth roads, subway systems, social security.
Eileen Khatchadourian and Midan have shown us that artists,
specifically musicians, can spearhead our progress not only as a
people, but a humanity.

Listen to samples from Midan on Eileen’s official website

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