Saturday, July 29, 2006

Bees and Buckets

So I didn't actually get as wer as I thought last Sunday. It turned out to be a day of deliciously prepared homemade food at my friend Anna's family home in Saghmosavank. It was a beautiful day and we were surrounded by sunshine, family, goats, pigs, chickens, dogs and even a little kitten. Anna's father Tero is a proud man. He loves to work and create things and he looks as if he is part of the land. Forming, shaping, building, growing,... these are the things he does. He proudly showed me their peach trees, apricot trees, apple trees, various pear trees, berries and raspberries. Apricot season is pretty much over but there was one apricot left on a tree and he insisted that I taste it. It was the sweetest, juciest apricot I had ever eaten in my life. Similiarly the raspberries I picked off the bushes were sweetest raspberries I had ever eaten - 10 times sweeter than the organic ones you buy at the supermarket for an outrageous price.
I couldn't stop eating them! Later tero showed me the bees he keeps for honey. Without any protective clothing he reached his hands in and took out layer after layer of honeycomb saturated with bees! Half anxious and half curious I got close enough to get a good look and understanding of how the system works. It was fascinating. After dinner I challenged Anna's brother to backgammon and lost neck to neck and then the madness began as buckets, bottles, cups and saucepans of water started to get thrown left and right. I managed to dodge most of the water and was blessed with only a few drops. We had a fantastic day in all and ended up singing at the top of our voices on our drive home.
The week in the studio has been a productive one. It looks like I will finally be wrapping up this week and am busy discussing distribution deals and concert preparations. The work is hard but I get great pleasure in doing that which I love. I meet nwe faces on a daily basis and have come to love the flow and energy of this city. I do however look forward to the green hills of England and seeing my family soon.
I hope to get some work in progress photos of the village school as the DAC volunteer crew are due to arrive this week and will head up to the village a week later.
We had some refreshing rain today for a change which cooled things down a bit. After a mad night out with some French Armenians who all ended up coming over for coffee at an unmentionable hour I am enjoying a relaxing weekend! I shall be back with more later.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


I feel it is easy for me to express myself with words but today the emotion that I felt while listening to "Marts" (the song I have written about the village) being mixed is one which I am struggling to describe accurately. I can attempt to say that it was a mixture of of goosebumps, joy with a desire to cry and an overwhelming sense of what was borderline ecstatic madness. To love so much, to feel so much and have it induced naturally by sheerly engaging in that which I feel I am meant to do in this life should be so obvious. So many of us make excuses to not be able to do the things we truly want to do and deprive ourselves of the chance to feel true happiness. I could not purchase this feeling anywhere - it is from within. I am grateful for the light.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Interesting Back Rubs and Pagan Preparations

And yet another week of mayhem has flown by with splashes of colour and unique moments of Armenian insanity. I have been in the studio every day from 11am until 4pm trying to wrap up the CD so that I can get on my flight back to London on the 8th of August with CD in hand ready to be mastered and duplicated.
This week we finalised the string quartet recordings, wrapped up the Qanun, the Shvi, the Clarinet and Oboe and finally the percussion. We are left with a phenomenal piece of music which will be played by an incredible Cellist Artyom Manoogyan and accompanied by guitar and of course vocal. I am excited for Monday mornings session which will entail the recording of this piece. We have finalised the mix for one song which will be the music video (pictured in last blog) and the light at the end of the tunnel is definitely looking brighter these days.
Two days ago I thought I would treat myself to a back massage after a month of hard work. I should elaborate that a half hour back massage costs 3,000AMD - as in $6.00. I thought it was worth splurging :) I noticed a guitar in the corner of the massage place and wondered why it was there. The ladies that work in the establishment know that I am a singer and while being rubbed I was told by my lady that she played the guitar years ago and someone recently gave her a guitar as a gift. She proceeded to ask me if I would play a song for her before I left. Judging that saying yes would be favourable and would lead to particularly good attention on my aching muscles I consented. It was a good call as I was reduced to a mound of jello not long after. I picked up the guitar and started tuning it and was told that another client had come in and could I perhaps go back into the room in which I was massaged to play my song so as not to disturb them. I am not sure if they thought that I was going to break out into something like Nirvana but I sat back up on the massage table, guitar in hand, in almost darkness, scents of oil in the air, all the romance and love surrounding me and with my newly invigorated muscles sang them a love song. It was an incredibly random moment that went over very well! Next I will be singing in hair salons and supermarkets - stay tuned!!
Apart from that I was at a cafe in the week when a young boy approached and asked if I was indeed "Sona". I must elaborate that Sona is a typical Armenian name and for some reason these kids can't get their head around the name "Sonya" and I am called Sona often. In any case I confirmed and he proceeded to tell me that he has been trying to play my songs on the guitar for the last 2 weeks. When I asked him where he knew them from he told me that he had come to my concert and recorded the songs on his cell phone. I've been bootlegged! - but sweet nevertheless. Perhaps I should think about publishing one of those guitar song books??? :)
Apart from that I had a productive meeting with the principal of the village school today. He proceeded to tell me his worries about meeting deadlines in time for the kids to start classes in September. In general he expressed his gratitude at the project and stressed that it is not often that aid reaches remote villages like Marts. So once again to all who participated - you are really making a difference for these people. Thank you!
I need to apologise for killing off the old lady (she appears in my May Blog of the village). Apparently she is alive and kicking and it is her husband that has passed away. I don't have a photo of him but last time I saw him he was taking sheep up to the top of the mountain at the crack of dawn and was back very late in the evening. He was living until he died - if you know what I mean. He embraced me with his very rough whiskers and drank a shot of vodka to my health the last time I saw him.
I met with a young dancer named Tsolag yesterday who suggested collaborating with me for the September concert. His dance group do some very interesting Avante Garde type dancing with interesting costumes. I managed to view one dance called "Love" that was set to one of Arto Tuncboyaciyan's duduk pieces. This particular dance was so beautiful, erotic, emotional, fluid,... It has been playing over and over in my memory since I saw it. It really was a fantastic representation of what I think love is if expressed to its fullest capacity. Hmmmm. There is so much talent here.
Finally the country is getting geared up for "Vartavar" tomorrow. This is a holiday that dates back to pagan times. Essentially it began when people tossed roses at each other (hence the word Vart=Rose). Unfortunately for conservatives, the roses eventually were replaced by large doses of water - ie. bucketfuls. In essence, if I decide to step out of my apartment tomorrow, it is very likely that some invigorated youth will pour a bucketful of water off his/her balcony right on to my head. It is also likely that children will run up to me and throw water at me or that at some point I might get tossed into the fountains in Republic Square. Black will be the colour of my t-shirt tomorrow and all electronic equipment will remain at home. I actually have an escape plan already. I am leaving to go to Saghmosavank to my friends parents house in the village. Last time I was there was in May (see Interviews and Dreams) and had a splendid day with them. In the villages, each family tends to go up to the mountains and slaughter a lamb and have kebab. Maybe they throw vodka on each other instead of water.... now we're talking!!
So - we shall see what the next week reveals. I have attached some random photos of Armenia that I have taken since being here. Some of these photos were taken by a friend Manoog Caprielian on the Ijevan weekend. The one in the studio is my sound engineer Arman. He is a barrel of laughs and makes recording an altogether amusing experience.
Regarding Lebanon - prayers go out to all of those with family there. I hear more and more people are getting out. I hope this brings some of the Armenians there back to Armenia. I wish them all safety and Godspeed.
Will be back - no doubt fed and watered.
Peace and love

Sunday, July 16, 2006

A Music Video!

We've done it! After a 12 hour day of pain, suffering, joy,heat, hunger and then cold we managed to shoot what will be my first music video. We set the video to my song "Hambyur/Kiss". I will not give away the entire storyline but have put some stills up as a sneak preview to what some of the story will entail. Very sweet, very romantic - and shot in some of the natural beauty in Armenia which seems to be in almost every corner.
Ardag Avdalyan agreed to make the video and after a day of picking actors to play the parts, I arrived at the set only to find that none of them could make it. Who was supposed to be my "love" turned out to be a middle aged man with salt and pepper hair, a huge gut and an abundance of hair all over his body. Absolutely stunned and appalled at my situation, we pulled Ardag's son off the camera and had him play the part. My fear being that perhaps he was not as mature as one should have looked but he was 100 times better than what would have appeared to be a run in with someone's dad. Hoping all will come together believably and beautifully but it was some experience. We were up in the mountains near Kurdish settlers who keep animals and live in tents for 3 months, we passed through Oshagan where the inventor of the Armenian alphabet is buried and there is also an old beautiful bridge, we went up to the ruins of Amberd Castle which date back to the 7th century!
We shot the swing scene first and I had to get intimate with my boy before we had even said 10 words to each other! The lady who played the grandmother killed everyone that day. She found a need to talk incessantly about everything and anything (mainly herself) and also proceeded to pick every herb in every field and mountainside that we visited which resulted in allergy attacks of some of the crew members. Apparently she cures all sorts of ailments with her potions. (A bit like the old goat in Cold Mountain who saves Jude Law). We decided she was a hazard to the countryside and we should get her home as soon as possible but she was picking herbs from 10am until 10pm with an uncontrollable fervour. Hmmmm.... She was eating all fruits and berries and food off the set of the video with the same uncontrollable fervour.
In the morning we suffered scorching heat and by the time we were shooting the final shots in the field I had to stop from shaking so that I could play guitar I was so incredibly cold. We had a meal of cheese, salami, tomatoes and cucumbers at 5pm when I felt like a truck had rolled over me. All in all it took great endurance but I tried to live every moment of the video and think about the love I have for music that inspired such a song. It was my love for that real moment in life - that real feeling of fearless powerful love and connection that seems to confirm that so many things are possible in the world.
Friday evening I took my friend Anna to see Arto Tunciboyaciyan for the first time at the Avante Garde Folk Club. It was a treat as always. I pray that my music can grow in that way - to branch out, to dig deeper, to touch people and move and inspire them to feel and to truly live.
On a completely different note I hear about the things in Lebanon and I hope anyone with friends or family there are not affected and that all will resolve in safety. God be with all of you.
Enjoy the pics. I shall be busy in the studio all week but will report back shortly.
Peace and love

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Sevan, Ichevan, Work Begins in Marts!

What a joy to be here and to have every fibre of my being pulsating with the energy that can be found here in Armenia. It has been yet another week of progress between seeing the light at the end of the tunnel regarding the CD, getting out to see the natural beauty Armenia has to offer, catching Sayat Nova dance ensemble from Boston, seeing two outdoor music jazz concerts, witnessing the opening of Square One Restaurant at Zvartnots airport which has finally added a splash of colour, style, modernity and cheer at the once gray airport, seeing Arto Tunciboyacyan at what I would consider his best ever concert, meeting Armen Varadian a serious contender for the 2010 Olympic Games as a representative for Armenia (in Skeleton) see, camping on the shores of Lake Sevan, seeing the beauty of Ichevan for the first time, going back to one of my favourite monasteries - Geghart and finding my inner peace, and best of all, receiving the news that work has indeed begun in Marts and the old floors are being ripped up and the new material has arrived to be put down.
The last of the news really got me excited because it has been a long process getting the funds together for such a scheme - especially as the big well known charity organisations I approached were not interested in what I was doing and even said I wouldn't be able to handle it on my own. Thanks to Nareg Hartunyan and Yerkir Non-Profit it will all become a reality. Thanks especially to all the people that donated and made this possible. I hope to be able to get up to Marts before my return to England in August and will be sure to photograph the progress. I will also ask the DAC volunteers who are there in August to take photographs so that by September we can show where we are.
Sevan was brilliant. We set up a tent with on the shore and had a feast of barbequed vegetables and fish. In our midst we had the luxury of a man named Khajag who has been in the restaurant business for 17 years and when he got out his barbequeing kit (see photo) we knew we were in for a seriously good meal. We played some guitar, took random swims in the lake, and ended up gleaning the land for wood at 11pm when our wood was running out. In the plot next to ours we could see a raging bonfire surrounded by locals who had the radio going which made it even harder (by the way the radio was playing all night and was also accompanied by noisy frogs and violent birds in the morning who managed to get into our food supply).
At Arto's concert I experienced a song which was cello and synthesiser called "The Olive Tree". This particular piece of music touched my soul in such a way that I would like to write a piece of music just for the cello. I cannot explain the magic Arto is capable of inducing. He is a true musical genius. By the end of the concert he had children from different nations dancing around him and he was like a crazed magical pied piper! His musicians are all indredibly talented and it is a great inspiration to me to see the brilliance of sound and music which is so alive and so incredibly diverse.
I continue to meet interesting people on a day to day basis. I met a couple from Missouri last week who are Allman Brothers fans and as Yankee as Yanks can be yet they have been living in Dilijan for a year and speak Armenian. It was incredible! We met at a bar where the actual pumps for the kegs are on the wall (see picture) and you are charged per liter that you drink. Can you imagine what kind of reaction this would cause in the UK or the USA? All you can drink and the responsibility is yours - amazing it doesn't seem to cause any problems here.
So this is it for the time being. I shall be back with info.
Peace and love, sunshine and happiness

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Press, Publicity, PR, Bootlegging,Collaborations...

It has been a productive few days in the city of Yerevan. Perhaps it is because of the appearance of rain clouds as of late that are keeping us away from the paradisical playground of the Congress Hotel swimming pool (see photo). Either way - have had much productive meetings with James Tufenkian, great conversations with Arthur Ispiryan (singer - see photo), Roupen Haghverdian (father of "heghinagayin" music in Armenia) who has agreed to collaborate on one of my songs and is seen in the photos writing lyrics for one of my songs, with Ardag Avdalian who is writing the storyline for a music video, Raffi Der Hovhannesian political mover and shaker, and so on.
I picked up a copy of Officia (Russian magazine) where they have covered the guitar festival in June and was pleased to see a photo of myself included in the article along with the Yerevan Weekly which seemed to have me on half of the back page with a great write up by Zela Margossian (thank you Zela - very well written and true to my heart).
The latest bit of information which had me floored was that I walked into my local supermarket where one of the employees (Harout) asked for my website details. I was happy to provide them and told him he could listen to free samples of all of my songs and could also buy the mp3's as albums or single songs off my website. He was quick to inform me that he already had bought my CD of 10 English songs from the local Armenian CD shop. I stared at him quizzically as I am positive my old CD's are not available as the original copies sold out. After spelling out my name and confirming that indeed it was my music that he bought I came to the realisation that after only 3 months in Armenia I have been pirated!!! Ahhhh - no escape from the slack musical laws in this country. The artists here are quick to be copied and there isn't very much you can do. The good news is that Harout told me there was an underground movement in Armenia of fans of my previous English stuff. I guess there was a demand that made it a temptation to pirate in the first place. It's a shame we artists don't make money on the stuff we bleed for.
So there you have it in a nutshell. My condolences go out to the boys in the jazz band Time Report that were due to give an outdoor concert at the beginning of the week. I also send my condolences to the lighting and sound technicians who were all set up and ready to roll at 8:30pm when the skies turned black and poured out endless hail and battering rain. I hope the equipment made it and the instruments are not too badly damaged. Goes to show that no matter how much you plan in this world God always has the last word!
Arsineh Khachikian my graphic designer has come up with a beautiful layout and cover for the CD. I am incredibly excited how the magic is all being woven together on this project. A further thank you to several people who donated towards the project this week - Maral Balabanian and Minas Kalachian. These kids are really going to be smiling thanks to you guys :)
I shall be back soon with an update on the village and music.
From the land of hail and rainclouds and World Cup Mania

Monday, July 03, 2006

Concerts, Music, Parties,....

Tuesday evening, the temperature at 30 degrees Celsius and hoardes of people pouring in to the hall, the air conditioning unfortunately having given up in the previous weeks, and 14 musicians on a stage which would be more appropriate for 6 or 7 we pulled off one very hot and sweaty concert!
The overall energy was fabulous. The crowd was a good mix of diasporans, local fans who had been exposed to the tv interviews, big boys like James Tufenkian and some of Arto Tunciboyacians Navy Band musicians, poet Levon Blbulian, Lilit Pipoyan, soloists and organisers of Kohar, artist Yuri Arevian, one of the employees of my local supermarket, etc..
We managed to play most of the songs on the new CD and I threw in a couple of my old English tunes with just the guitar and percussion which went over very well. By the 7th song my chest looked as if it were made of glass and sweat was dripping on my guitar and running into my eyeballs and stinging my eyes. We persevered to complete 12 of the 14 songs we had planned to do to an audience who equally endured the conditions and finished off clapping along and applauding with great enthusiasm.
Thank you, thank you, thank everyone who made it happen. Linus Quartet: Lusine Aghababyan, Lilit Mkhitaryan, Gemma Abrahamyan, Askhen Gasparyan. Flautist Nelly Manoukyan, Guitarist Ashot Vosganyan, Percussion Edik Hartunyan, Accordion Arthur Khachatryan, Kanun Mary Vardanyan, Shvi Arthur Krikoryan, Duduk Armen Krikoryan, Oboe Asghik Ghazaryan, and Clarinet Martin Oolikhanyan. To my arranger/producer Narine Zarifyan, Naregatsi Art Institute who gave us the hall, recorded the concert on to DVD and invited the press. To the technical team who sorted it all out last minute and of course to all the people who took the time to come and watch the show - thank you.
We have been invited to play Vahakni Country Club some time in mid-late July and James Tufenkian is eager to purchase the first CD and play us in his hotels and restaurants. The general feedback has been very good and having just arrived from a recording session this morning I too am excited about the evolution of this record.
The plan is to wrap up at the end of this month and return to Armenia in the 3rd and 4th weeks of September to give a CD promotional concert. In the meantime we are preparing to record a music video for one of the songs so that it can circulate in the month of August and more people can get the gist of what the music is about. God willing it will touch people the way Armenia touched me last year and we can raise a bit of dosh for the benefit of these villages.
Speaking of which..the mayor of the village will be down today and we shall be likely to go up this week and put things into action finally. On my return in September I expect to be able to photograph a school with solid wood floors, running water in the kitchen, tiled hallways and kitchen and God willing if we get the funds some new desks and chairs too. I miss the kids so much already - I would truly enjoy a trip up there this week if studio time allows it.
Friday night marked the closing ceremonies of Meg Azg Meg Meshaguyt (One People, One Culture) which proved to be a ROCKING outdoor concert with thousands gathered in Republic Square to witness many great and well loved Armenian artists including the Kohar Choir , Nune, Alla Levonyan, and even Andre - our Eurovision song contest entry this year. We placed 8 by the way for our first year of participation - not too bad eh? The evening ended with splendid fireworks over the Square and I must say I was impressed by the quality and duration (Go Armenia). I admit that at the first explosion quite a few people took to the floor - hey you never know.
Saturday evening was a splendid dinner at a restaurant called Gedap in the valley. We had some delicous food in the company of singer Artur Ispiryan and his lovely wife Madlene, Alex Sardar, Edil Hovnanian, Brian Arzruni, and other friends who to say the least are all movers and shakers in Armenia.
As for yesterday evening, we enjoyed a feast at the Hovnanian residence that overlooked the valley. A completely overwhelmingly beautiful house with 16 bathrooms, wrap around balconies, an art collection to die for, complete with impecccable taste and a swimming pool. Edil created an absolutely beautiful atmosphere with fantastic food from top restaurants, good wine, good music and an excellent mix of people. We enjoyed some chit chat and broke into song later in the evening. Some of the Birthright Armenia volunteers got the bright idea of throwing the guests into the pool at 1am. Black evening dress, sandals and jewelry did not seem to work in my favour as I was hurled into the swimming pool. I was not very impressed but thanks to modern day tumble dryers and blow dryers I made it home in one piece.
Today I meet with James Tufenkian to hash out ideas regarding the interior design of his hotels. I also meet with Arsineh Khachikian my adorable graphic designer to review the CD packaging and will be off to watch "Time Report" a fantastic jazz band on the steps of the Cascade. Another interesting evening of music to say the least for which there seems to be no lack of in this small and exciting city. An artists paradise to say the least.
I shall be back with more - emerging occasionally from the dust and the heat...
Peace and love.