Monday, June 26, 2006

Heartwarming Excerpts and Concert Preparations

So I was having a cup of coffee with Samuel Mesropian, principal of the "Himnadram" Cultural Office and organiser of the Golden Guitar Festival in which I participated this last month. I made a comment on how I was so impressed that they gave one of the participants a guitar at the end of the festival because he hadn't owned one in 5 years. I was then told that after the fall of communism, this guy's employment basically became non-existent and eventually he ended up moving out of the city in desperation and into a summer residence (this is basically a stone hut in the mountains with no facilities or running water). Apparently he began growing his own food and only owned some old filthy clothes. However, when one of his friends heard about the Guitar Festival he convinced him to participate after buying him a fresh pair of clothes and cleaned him up for the auditions. I must say he was one of my favourite participants. The audience loved him too and I suppose no one realised where this guy was coming from. I think its fantastic that they got him fresh clothes and even gave him a guitar in the end. The love of music is so powerful.

Yerevan continues to be extremely hot. I have been busy in the studio and rehearsing for what will offically be my concert. We had a run through yesterday and although it seems it ought to be haphazard rehearsing once for a debut it all seemed to come togehter. I am looking forward to performing tomorrow and putting it behind me now too so I can fully focus on getting the recording done.

I had coffee with an old friend Raffi Meneshian who used to be my Camp Counselor. At the age of 15 he had played violin for me during the camp talent show and I had sang and we had won. He now runs Pomegranate Records which has a nice collection of artists under its name. It is funny how 15 years later we should see each other in Armenia. But that is the way Armenia is. I have come across so many faces from my childhood and some of us have made it here and its so great that we are still connected to our Armenianness. In so many ways after all the things we have been taught while growing up it is a sort of homecoming.

The latest on the village is that some of the wood is already ready and Yerkir should be heading up this weekend to put everything into action. I might sit in for the ride if I am able. Unfortunately my friends grandmother in the village has died. Her photo is in my May 25th blog entitled More From Armenia. Hard to believe she died suddenly - I remember her amazing blue eyes.

At the moment there is the mayhem of Meg Azg Meg Meshaguyt (One People One Culture) Festival going on around Armenia. Though I have been asked to participate the level of unorganisation was so unbearable that I turned it down in the end. They called me to a meeting on Thursday and asked if I could be 7 hours away with my 9 musicians the following day. The other concerts available also seemed to be last minute in random places so I though it better to focus on the one concert tomorrow. I managed 4 tv interviews all last week as well. I did two morning shows - one of which was a technical nightmare and unfortunately the one that is broadcast to the entire globe (as luck would have it!). I also did another morning show and a prerecorded show called "Hotline" that is done in English and specifically recorded for the diaspora and worldwide specatators. My host was Nina Hovanian - daughter of famous tycoon who married an Armenian war hero. She runs a shop here in Yerevan which has tremendously talented local artists. She is providing a lot of jobs and putting out and designing some really beautiful stuff. Apparently she met her husband when deciding to collect some flowers in what she didn't realise was a war zone. Naturally he dove on her and saved her life. Then there was love....

And so I shall leave it here for now though I could go on and on and on and on. Getting some concert prep work done. I shall be back from the land of heat and music with further news.


Sunday, June 18, 2006

In the Swing of Things

And so the last few days I have tried to concentrate on not melting....The heat is pretty intense especially when rehearsing in hot classrooms and recording in hot studios. I was finally offered some relief at the Congress Hotel Swimming Pool. (Building on far left with pink roof in the photo of Ararat Mountain bordering the city). After much batting of the eyelashes and flashing of the teeth I was given a space amongst the idle, the wealthy, the self-pampering types and probably a very fortunate and clever crowd. One dip into the pool and the payment of $100 a month became very very justifiable!! I shall eat less and swim more!!

Recording is going brilliantly though one forgets exactly how much time it takes to put these things together. With the heat nerves can wear thin although it is a joy to hear all of it unfold. We have been invited to appear on "Pari Looys" on Armenia TV with Garen on Wednesday morning. (This is the Armenian version of the Good Morning Show). We might do a gig on channel 2 also - possibly Friday. The concert is nearing and I am trying to remember my song lyrics which I have had to alter many times and so I may sing a few interesting things on stage!

The meeting with the mayor of Martz and Yerkir non-profit organisation regarding my school renovation project in the village of Martz went brilliantly. They are officially preparing the wood flooring (drying the wood to prevent it from warping, cracking, etc..) The tiles for hallways and kitchen are to be shipped over this week and once the kids have finished their exams work will start in the building. Estimated finish time is September the 1st. It seems the mayor, the non-profit and myself are cooperating brilliantly and so hopefully a will go as planned. Thank you to everyone who has contributed - we are making a real difference! We are still short of funds in general and for desks and chairs - another $2,000 would be useful. For anyone who would like to participate please email me as every little bit goes quite a way here. Further information regarding this project can be found in previous blogs (August 2005, One Month to Go, To the Village and Musical Advances).

Finally we had a farewell party for a dear friend of ours from Syria called Sam. It was my first official late night in Yerevan. The evening consisted of more interesting fruit concoctions, apple flavoured "nergileh", much much dancing, new faces, great conversations and a good night overall. We followed it with a barbeque the following afternoon where Sam's host family kindly threw a get together in his honour for about thirty something people. The food was divine and soon shots of apricot vodka went around and the singing broke out. The host of the house made a toast to all the Armenians who have come here from outside of Armenia - he felt priveledged that we should gather under his roof. When we come here and try to make a difference, people DO actually care. It means a lot to them. And so we come full circle to say that after this exciting barbeque, several of us decided to return to the pool and cool off for one hour. This was followed by a helping of Square One chocolate cake (the kind that oozes when you stick your fork into it).And so the days merge into one another - I shall be Yerevan bound the next few weeks as the days are full of rehearsals and recordings (and random dips into the pool).

Coming to you chlorinated and cooled.


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Did I mention monasteries?

And so another eventful few days has gone by in Armenia where life is spontaneous, amusing, charming and lately very hot! I have experienced nights out at Paplavok Jazz Club with a little man called "Forche" entertaining the masses followed by a friendly gathering on the steps of the Cascade overlooking Yerevan with the Birthright Armenia volunteer crew and bizarre alchoholic fruit concoctions. I have been rejected from the closest swimming pool in Yerevan due to a high number of applications (and the line - don't you know who I am didn't seem to cut it just yet)!. I spent a day of madness with avid monastery fans cramped in a small white Niva hopping from one awesome monument to the next. Upon making a wrong turn in the road we found ourselves at the top of a mountain looking right at the peak of Mount Aragadz. Scattered before us were shepherd tents and horses and donkeys grazing on what was some of the most spectacular terrain I had seen. What a lifestyle far from our own. (Those lucky jackasses - the donkeys not the shepherds). At this point the horses seemed to take a very keen interest in our car. I wonder if cars make it up there normally! We picked up the son of the local shepherd to show us the road back which he had obviously only ever done on horseback or foot and he hadn't negotiated for big rocks and the art of tackling them with a car. Fortunately for us we had an experienced driver and only hit one big rock once and managed not to pierce anything!
The monasteries were interesting - some in ruins and some still standing in all their glory. After a lunch of local cheese, bread, tomatoes and cucumbers we made our way to one very beautiful one nestled in a valley. Fields of vibrant flowers lined the roads as we ventured through Western Armenia and a red and purple sunset, followed by a massive yellow moon escorted us home.
I had the priveledge of being introduced to "Ardashes" kebab which if anyone has a love of the "kebab" must venture out to Armenia just to have this gastronomical overtaking of all the senses. The barbequed mushrooms scored very high on the "if I eat more I shall go insane from joy" category, the veal barbeque was spicy and delicious, the chicken melted in the mouth, the vegetables and potatoes were another example of supreme divinity... I highly recommend it.
As for recording, we have had a very successful session yesterday evening with the standard of the string quartet at a truly superior level. We start preparing for our concert on the 27th and all is slowly but surely falling into place - now if I can just remember all my words when I sing!
Regarding the school renovation, we will start soon with a final meeting with the mayor of the village this Thursday. Will look forward to seeing it in action. Off for another venture.
From the hot summer sun of Yerevan I bid you all sunshine and flowers.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Officially Armenian and Some Applause

And so it has finally happened! 5 painstaking visits to the "Ovir" and I have bought myself and Armenian passport valid for the next 10 years. This beautiful blue document complete with picture, official stamps and pages of unmarked beauty is mine. The joy! To have grown up my whole life knowing that I am Armenian and to finally be accepted as one of my own countrymen (with a $300 charge). I am one very very happy Armenian! I no longer require a visa to return here and I am also free to travel to Karabagh. The gates are now open - it shall become a "choori jampah" (waterway) for me.
Last night was my debut performance on a stage in Armenia. I took part in the "Vosge Guitar 2006 Paradon" (Golden Guitar Festival 2006). I must say that I experienced the true feeling of being home again - home in my heart and soul and truly enjoying giving it out to the audience. I was pleased it was received with great enthusiasm and am truly touched and feel fortunate that Armenia accepts me among their loved musicians. I have the great luck of being greatly supported by the "Bob Dylan" of Armenia (Roupen Haghverdian) and his support sheds some light on me and I hope that I am able to shine.
As for Armenia, I have found my roots and to say the least they are growing downwards. We had a fantastic night out at an open air concert at the Opera to celebrate the victory of the Armenian Chess Team. The music was pumping, the crowds were dancing and soon we had an abundance of sparklers, balloons and flags. It was great to see the national pride and the happiness evident in all the people present. I shall attach some pictures in the future.
Finally, the recording goes well. A very special thank you to the musicians who made it happen at the concert last night. They are a special group of young people who truly enjoy their art and I felt priveledged to have such a dedicated and talented group of people with me: Linus String Quartet, Nelly Manoukian on flute, Nairi Musoyan on duduk, Asghik Ghazarian on oboe, Ashod Vosganian on guitar, and Sasha Grigoryan on percussion. Thank you, thank you, thank you - couldn't have done it without you.
Will be back with pictures - might take a few in the studio tonight.
Peace and love

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Music, Music, Music and Some Monasteries

And so it intensifies.....I have had the pleasure of entertaining and being entertained. From the smoky corners of Malkhas Jazz Club where greats like Armen Hyusnuts on saxophone (see photo) and Malkhas himself (see photo) to evenings at the Avante Garde Folk Club where the Armenian Navy Band put on one of their best shows that I have ever seen, to the outside wonderful mayhem of the Cascade where I could liken the concert atmosphere to Central Park concerts in New York City. As unbearably hot June makes its way into Yerevan, so do the tourists and the buzz and night life.
I have also had the pleasure of being shown once again on a tv program and playing some of my songs and have had my first live rehearsal since I have been here. I am excited to start the recrording process tomorrow and also excited to make my first appearance on a stage in Armenia this Thursday evening as part of the "Golden Guitar Festival" which will be televised, broadcast and then also sold as a DVD. Not too bad... :) I was invited to play a concert at the Avante Garde Folk Club as well. So little time so much to do - I wish the days were longer.
As for the social scene, I have met a group of very interesting young people through my photographer/designer friend Arsineh Khachikian who has permanently moved to Armenia from the USA. There are young people here from all parts of the world trying to make a difference in Armenia or at the very least acquainting themselves to that which they have heard about for so long but never actually felt or seen. Its a great gang of people - great minds, great souls - all very interesting for a creative extrovert like myself! Its nice to connect to fellow diasporan Armenians too - after all I have more in common with them than the locals. Its familiar - a small piece of what I have always known.
This Sunday Arsineh and I hired my driver Serop to take us to a place called Pujavank. In my 2 inch sandals I tackled muddy roads, brooks and inclines under a blistering sun to get photographed for the CD. Arsineh (see photo) is a dear friend I have known since she was 12 and I am thrilled she is here at the moment. Doors seem to be opening for her left and right as she is a blossoming talent having been commissioned to take photos of people such as System of Down and the last Nune concert in Armenia. I have the fortune of her services to prepare the CD booklet. Before we tackled the road our driver decided it was undriveable. He thought it a perfect moment to give up and lay some bread in the shade and cut us hunks of cheese and sausage and drink a jar of yogurt which he managed to get on his chin and nose too. On our way up, poor Arsineh slipped in the brook, stubbed a toe and tackled the road barefoot and even managed to get a few scrapes all in the name of art.Beautiful. Us artists bleed, cry, hurt, and go hungry in the name of art. When we got to the top of a very long hike we encountered the ruins of 12th century Pujavank (see photos). There we took some great shots and headed back down and passed out in the car on the way home.
All is well here in Yerevan apart from the sweltering heat. Oh what I would do for air conditioned, tiled apartments and lazy summer days sipping Pimms or lemonade...anyway - into the hot and intense studio for me. Here we go....