When it came to picking out some of the top Armenian jams, we knew we couldn’t go anywhere else but to the legendary beat machine that is Bei Ru. The Los Angeles based producer/composer has made a name for himself through his unconventional use of Middle Eastern melodies and riddims, drum samples, electronic quirks, and even a live backing band. He’s an authority on all sounds Armenian and he’s lined up some of his all time favourites for you to rewind.
Middle Eastern Rock
One of the best examples of traditional music blended with rock and jazz influences. Berberian is a legendary oud player from New Jersey, who recorded this album with well-known guitarist Joe Beck who plays electric fuzz guitar, and Chet Amsterdam on Fender Bass. The ensemble plays original compositions by Berberian, as well as cover versions of traditional Armenian melodies. The music ranges from folk, to psychedelic rock. Definitely one of the most adventurous recordings ever produced by an oud player.
She was one of the more prominent jazz/pop vocalists of the ’60s and ’70s in Armenia. During a trip to Armenia in 2005, I found a record that featured her as a vocalist on a couple of cuts. I was so impressed by her voice and her general funkiness that I sought out more of her work and eventually found a couple of her solo records, my favorite being a self-titled album from 1976, released on the Russian-based Melodiya label. Highly recommended.
A four-piece progressive-rock band based in France during the late 1970s. They released their only album in 1978 under a small, independent French label called Dom. Only a small number of copies were pressed, making it really difficult to find in original form nowadays. I first came across this record through a friend who had it in her parents’ old record collection, and I was lucky enough to track down a copy some years later. The music ranges from slow and psychedelic, to up-tempo and percussion-driven, such as featured on the song “Kele Kele” — an epic cover version of the folk tune written by legendary Armenian composer Komitas. Makes you wonder how such an innovative and talented band is still virtually unheard of some 30 years later.
Oor Eyir Astvats
Definitely one of the best-known Armenian singers, and with reason. I found sealed copies of his first few albums at an Armenian record store in L.A., which currently only sells CDs but had a couple of boxes of old stock they hadn’t gotten rid of in the ’70s/’80s. His first album was recorded and released in Los Angeles in 1976, and featured Pamboukjian’s unique vocal stylings over funky drums, electric bass lines, violins and some slick keyboard work. Although the album is a great listen all the way through, his cover version of “Oor Eyir Astvats” (“Where Were You God”) — a song written by Arthur Meschian about the Armenian genocide — stands out as a great example of how Pamboukjian’s heartfelt vocal delivery shines on ballads, as well as on funk-influenced party cuts.
The Vosbikian Band
Armenian Dance Favorites
Formed in Philadelphia in 1939. After a number of 78 rpm releases, they released their first full-length album in 1955, and were notably the first Armenian-American band to do so. They were known for playing “Kef,” or party/dance music, and were commonly referred to as “The Fabulous Vosbikian Band” throughout the East Coast. Spanning generations of musicians, they independently released an album in 1975 called Armenian Dance Favorites, which featured members of the original Vosbikian Band joined by a younger generation of Vosbikians. I found the record for just a dollar at a thrift store in Los Angeles, and didn’t think twice about picking it up.
Khachaturian was a Georgian-born Armenian composer and cellist, most notably known for his masterpiece Gayane, a suite written for ballet during the mid–20th century. Khachaturian had a way of combining his love for Armenian folk melodies with classical instrumentation in a way that was never before attempted or heard. I was introduced to his music by my parents, who would constantly play his records throughout our house, and as I got older I started buying every recording of his I could find. Gayane — which still stands as my favorite of his works — has been recorded and played by orchestras all over the world, so fortunately for us it’s pretty easy to find on vinyl. I’ve always loved the song “Lullaby” — a stunning, melancholy piece that I reworked for a song I aptly titled “Gayane,” off my own album Little Armenia (L.A.). Truly beautiful music by — in my humble opinion — one of the greatest composers of the 20th century.