Spirit of Armenia

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 2, 2007 06:22pm | Post a Comment
I checked out the "Spirit of Armenia!" Sunday night up at the Hollywood Bowl with my beloved Ngoc em. I've lived in Los Angeles. for more than a few years now and, shamefully, it was my first time up there. I'd definitely like to go back soon.

Anyway, I didn't know what to expect at all. My exposure to Armenian music is mostly limited to KSCI where I've seen seen more than enough Tupac-indebted gangsta rap. Still, I would possibly prefer that to my even stronger dislike of five thousand-year-old tunes played on a fretless bass.

The Bowl was pretty full. Even though we were outside and there was no smoking except outside, the air hung heavy with cigarette/cigar smoke and perfume. We brought 2 Buck Chuck and cheese with sesame pita chips. We found our seats. Saw a couple of friends near us but sat where we were assigned.

I don't think I've ever been to one of those concerts with the big screens projecting what's going on the stage before. No lie, I think the biggest concert I'd ever been to (before last night) was Big Audio Dynamite in a park in 1992.

I found myself alternating between squinting at the stage and craning at the big screens. I wished I'd brought binoculars or opera glasses or something. It's like being at a sports bar. Even if you want to focus on something, the televisions all around hypnotize with their pretty colors! It's even more difficult to look away when you're periodically blinded by the gleam of gargantuan images of Adiss Harmandian cracking smirks and busting out in his Tom Jones-like gestures.

Although the Armenian diaspora is pretty wide spread, I'm guessing that 95% of the world have no more than a rather vague notion of the country it is. I don't put the blame entirely on us, though. It seems like Armenians, whilst assuredly proud of their history, frequently downplay their ancestral origins -- at least in the case of celebrities. 

Consider this list of famous Armenians:

               Sid Haig (ne Sidney Mosesian)                          Cher (nee Cheryl Sarkisian)           Raffi (ne Raffi Cavoukian)

Charles Aznavour (ne Chardour Aznavourian)     Sylvie Vartan (Vartanian)                                 Andre Agassi 

I heard even the guys from System of a Down groused that they couldn't find the Armenian music at Amoeba when they looked in the European section of World Music. I think we file it in the middle east. Armenia is a transcontinental country located at the junction of Asia and Europe in the southern Caucasus. It's where Noah's enormous ark landed and where Prometheus was chained by Zeus (if you're the religious sort).

Armenia is also crossed by the ancient Silk Road and the music is a reflection of disparate music from the enormous Eurasian expanse mixing together in an accessible and pleasing way. Frequently featured instruments include dulcimers, ouds and the duduk. The latter is a mournful flute that I became aware of whilst listening to Crime + the City Solution in Burbank whereupon a girl pointed it out to me.

To my ears, the music has Romani, Sephardic, Medieval European, Central Asian, and Persian shades. The music ranged from folk to pop and there were a lot of performers. Some of the poppier stuff had a vaguely afro-cuban influence that seems to be the universal language of "world music" fusion.

There were dancers in amazing costumes and the host of the event introduced Djivan Gasparyan, who played a melody on the duduk that I was surprised to recognize.

Armenia's more famous and conquer-happy neighbors have been included Babylonians, Assyrians, Turks, Russians, and Persians, so maybe keeping a low cultural profile has, up until now, helped them last into the modern age. From 1915 to 1917 Armenians were the victims of a large scale genocide perpetrated by the Turks.

To this day, the Turkish government minimizes, downplays and distances itself from this chapter of its history, dismissing it as  exaggerated crimes committed in the distant past by a people no one now has any connection to. In spite of this, on and before April 24 it's a common sight around Los Angeles to see silver luxury cars painted or draped in Armenian flags. There is a "Little Armenia" in Los Angeles and Glendale is now about 40% Armenian.

Final thought: I've heard more sweeping, negative generalizations about Armenians in Los Angeles than about anyone else (well, except the Anglo minority that I'm a part of), and usually by people who nonetheless consider themselves to be open-minded, progressive people.

Yes, you may find the macho tracksuited guy who thinks he's Scarface annoying but if your mechanic gives you baklava or the clerk at the electronics store won't take no for an answer when he offers you a soda, I hope you feel like a jerk. And you're an irredeemable racialist hypocrite if you slag Armenians and still enjoy Zankou!


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