Thursday, March 26, 2009

A folk musician watched in amazement as a major pop star listed off seemingly endless reasons why singing live isn’t always a good idea. “They’ll do anything they can to avoid singing live,” he said. “You’ll see. If the Culture Minister persists in her decision to ban lip synching, these pop stars will have her removed from office. Behind their smiles, they’re wicked, and will do anything to reach their goals.”

Hasmik and the musician continued their rehearsal for an upcoming concert of Armenian lullabies, the latest discoveries being traditional lullabies from Moush, Musa Ler, and Nor Nakhichevan, the latter lullaby originally from the Hamshen region of Turkey.

“With songs like this, I marvel at the pop stars and modern composers spending so much time producing mediocre songs,” the musician commented.

Later, he told a story about a festival in Tbilisi in which musicians from Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan participated. “The Azeri musicians wouldn’t relax, acting like they were in a state of war not only with Armenia, but with us. They were obviously trained and coached back home on how to act when meeting with Armenians, even on a cultural level. Once I pressed the button for the elevator to open in our hotel, and when the door opened and the Azeri musicians saw me, they hurried to close the door to keep me out. Once I asked an Azeri musician how he was doing, and how life was in Azerbaijan. He said he was fine, and that all was fine in his country, ‘depending on whom we meet,’ obviously referring to Armenians. I told him that in Armenia we welcome everybody, treat them well, and send them away with a smile, ‘not depending on what nationality they might be.’ The musician walked away with a sick look on his face, not expecting my answer.”

I was reminded of Shoghaken’s trip to the Smithsonian Folk Festival in Washington, D.C., in 2002, and my encounter with an Azeri musician. “You know,” he told me, “your kanon player is nothing compared to ours.” After he received no response, he continued, obviously trying to test my patience. “Your kanon player is very primitive. Our kanon player is an expert, and can put yours to shame.”

Still ignoring his attempt at starting an argument, the Azeri walked off, frustrated. This, while the folk musicians from Turkey were always friendly and congratulatory. Perhaps the Azeris could learn from their brothers in Turkey that there’s a time and a place for everything, including their warlike manner.

The Azeri was later banned from any future participation in Smithsonian events for his confrontational manner, for instance announcing before his group’s concerts that they were singing songs about their lost homeland, Karabagh....

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