“Some of the guys from my college class gave me a guitar for my birthday and things just took off.” This is how Narek, a 4th year student at Yerevan’s Medical University, describes how the story all began.
One day Narek met Zakar at the Student Council where he’d often hang out. Zakar, who would always be in a state of confusion, coming and going aimlessly, took Narek on as a bass player in his group. It all started for Narek about three years back as well when they played a gig at the Medical University’s auditorium.
“It was the instruments that brought us together. We never really sat down and decided to form a group. We needed a flute player and then met up with Anushavan. We were missing a guitarist and teamed up with Vagner”, recounts Zakar, one of the founding members of the group Synkope.
Synkope is a medical term that means “a pause of the heart”. The guys in the group recount that they’ve played under a variety of names before coming up with this appellation.
“When asked me what type of music do we play and I tell them, a mixed bag of stuff. When asked what instruments we play, I’d give the same answer, a mix of instruments. It was the same with the group’s line-up, a mix of guys and girls. That’s how we formed this mixed group” relates Zakar.
Today, there are solo, bass and acoustic guitars, keyboards, flute and percussion in this “mixed” band at the Medical University. Anna has been the group’s vocalist for about a month now. It’s not only the instruments that have brought the group’s members together, nor the fact they’re all aspiring doctors.
The band describes their music as a fusion of mountain, classical, metal, jazz and rock; but they never give the matter much thought. They play what they feel and experience.
As to how they see their future in the band and whether they’d like to make some real money as musicians, Narek confesses that for him the band is a bit more than just a serious hobby. Zakar doesn’t rule out anything either except for playing on street corners for chump a change. They consider themselves to be “medical musicians”.
“The people who listen to us are those who don’t consider rock to be just a couple of bass guitars wailing away.” That’s how Jeff (Vahagn Papayan), who along with some friends founded the band Oxsenhem in 2001, sees things.
Jeff describes the ban’s music as progressive rock. Koryun, the group’s guitarist, says that the band’s music is always developing and exploring new directions and in a state of flux.
When Oxsenhem was formed many of its members were already playing in other Armenian rock bands. Oxsenhem’s musical palette took on another shading. The band mostly performs complex but melodic music accompanied by the sounds of violin and flute. Vocalists invited from other groups perform on some of the songs as well. Jeff and now Vardan, the group’s newest and youngest member who plays a variety of keyboard instruments, write all the music.
When asked if they earn their living playing rock music all the members respond with a smile. “Yes, rock music is our life.” To mention, Jeff, for example, is employed as a sound engineer.
Vahagn believes that, “You have to excel at your work in order to make money instead of whining all the time. Otherwise you’ll wind up having neither instruments nor the time and place to practice.”
Koryun interjects that a time will come when all the garbage that now passes as music on the T.V. will be swept away and that not every “manifestation will be included under the rubric of music”.
With a sound being the synthesis of ten musical instruments Aramazd cuts a unique figure in the Armenian reality of today. What results is a personification of spirit particular to Aramazd himself. As he puts it the idea came totally out of the blue but it’s all based on a love of metal.
“In 1999 my friend Armen, who now lives in Los Angeles, laid down two guitar rhythms on tape at the Hay FM studio and took off. A week later I called him up and told him to get back here to see what I did with his tracks”, Aramazd says (Artashes Mkrtchian).
He notes that with the aid of some deft computer programming the barebones of his first song, “Yeghernakan” appeared with lyrics from Paruyr Sevak’s (Armenian writer) epic work “Anlreli Zangakatun”.
“My friend left and I continued on with the songs “Kochari” and “Hovern Yegan” for which I meticulously downloaded the parts for the bass and national musical instruments”, Aramazd says. He adds that he adopted the name of the supreme god in the Armenian mythological pantheon when his songs first appeared on the Internet.
Aramazd observes that back in 1999 the realm of metal rock in Armenia was practically non-existent. There was no audience; no groups and no one actually believed this type of music would actually appeal to anyone. Only a few individuals knew about his song writing. Now he says things have changed. People now listen to heavy metal and there are groups playing this music.
Today Aramazd is quite popular with those who listen to heavy rock and they can listen to this music through the Internet and over the radio.
“I’d like to be better known but I’ve never thought about going commercial,” states Aramazd. He’s working on a CD to come out soon most likely to be called “Ar” which means – the beginning of everything. But he doesn’t expect that heavy metal music will bring in big bucks in Armenia for the time being.
In addition to this project Aramazd also hosts a Sunday radio program from 10 to 3 in the morning dedicated to this type of music. He plays his own recordings and songs from other Armenian metal bands and publicizes their work.
Most of his listeners probably don’t know that Aramazd, who is a specialist in calculating equipment, doesn’t consider himself a musician nor does he pretend to be one. When it comes to opining on the rock scene in Armenia he states that it’s impossible to say anything positive regarding something that doesn’t exist.
The article has been published in Hetq.am (the online publication of Association of Investigative Journalists of Armenia)