Lebanese-Armenian recording artist Eileen Khatchadourian knows a thing or two about rebirth. Part of the third-generation of genocide survivors, Khatchadourian grew up in the midst of the 15-year long Lebanese civil war. Her debut album Midan, a mixture of traditional Armenian songs and alternative rock, was an angst filled stormer. Her latest release,Titernig (butterly in Armenian), is a sonic reincarnation. We caught up with her just before the album’s release to talk about its inception, her time growing up, and what lies in store next.
AK: Let’s talk a bit about origins. You were born in Beirut towards the beginning of the War and grew up in an Armenian-Lebanese family – one that was very involved in music.
Yes, I lived my first 13 years running away from bombs, hiding in underground shelters and playing Monopoly and cards with the neighbours, listening to Beethoven and Wagner, watching my grandmother playing piano and playing it myself as well. I dreamt about becoming a rock star and leaving the country.
AK: You are part of the third generation of survivors of the Armenian Genocide and the theme features heavily in your music. What is your first memory of learning about the tragedy? What do you believe future generations need to do to commemorate generations past?
My first memory of learning about the Genocide is that of my grandparents talking about the horrifying events they had gone through. I was amazed by the fact that they had managed to create happy families in spite of the terrors they had witnessed. My grandfather’s mom was killed in front of his own eyes… I was very impressed by their strength – and terrified by the idea that it could happen to us again!
It’s important for everyone to know the story of their family and the history of their people. For Armenians living in the diaspora, it is important to know where we come from, where we lived, how we lived, what we worked with, how we survived the terrors and how we eventually ended up where we are today. To commemorate past generations lost, we should contribute to the ongoing collective – and individual – research of the Genocide. By allowing our Armenian history to be known to the peoples of the world, we can raise awareness of the importance of respecting the cultures, languages and religions of all the world’s minority populations.
AK: You released your last album, Midan, in 2008 under your full name. That album was a mixture of traditional Armenian songs juxtaposed with a more alternative sound.Titernig has a distinctly different approach. What do you make of your transition?
More than six years have passed since Midan. Six years is a long time and many things happened during those years. I have matured and gained more confidence in both my voice and my personal creative capacity. I feel confident in doing what I want to do without caring about what others have to say.
Titernig is kind of a new beginning, almost like a rebirth. I have moved away from the earlier album’s alternative rock feel and towards a more electronic style. Titernig is also the result of different experiences; different collaborations with different artists and cultures.
Titernig is a globetrotter.
AK: Can you tell us a bit about the concept behind the album’s artwork? Who did it and how did it come about?
The artwork, just like the music, was the result of teamwork. When we talked about the album’s title, Titernig, we imagined a cocoon… a birth or a rebirth. A cocoon that opens up and becomes a butterfly after an exhaustive process of growth, and a butterfly that is fragile, aerial and unpredictable in its flight.
I had a great team with me: Tanya Traboulsi the photographer, Beatrice Harb the stylist and Stéphanie Aznarez the make up artist. And of course Abraham Zeitoun, who created the album’s beautiful design and the image that makes you feel as though the album is literally growing and then fluttering away as you open it up and go through it.
AK: We want to speak to you a bit about the term “world music”. How do you feel about the label? Do you find it detrimental to what you’re trying to achieve?
No, I have no problem with that label. World music means different things to different people; it’s different types and styles of music from all over the world. But some would probably say my music is more properly termed electronic.
AK: Tell us a bit about the live aspect of your music. What can one expect when they see you perform? What elements do you utilize to convey the message of the music?
People come to see Khatchadourian, to meet with me, to hear my voice. I love to be on stage, I’ve loved it all my life and I love the audience. Live performance depends a lot on the extent to which you are backed up by musicians. It is never, and it shouldn’t be, the same as studio music. It is visual, it is live, it is the real thing – and my voice is the main instrument.
AK: What do you have planned after the album? Would you like to tour on it? What’s next for you?
I’ve been invited to the Armenia Project 2015 in Istanbul where I will perform live on April 22 along with several other artists from around the world. Then I’m off to Los Angeles at the beginning of May to attend the World Armenian Entertainment Awards at which I’ve been nominated for the Best Female Vocalist of the Armenian Diaspora award. And then, yes, I would love to tour the world with my Titernig!