By Taleen Babayan
NEW YORK — With a music scene dominated by recycled pop music and digital voice enhancers, it is a challenging feat to turn on the radio and hear a song that is unique yet appealing to the listener. The band, Viza, however, has achieved just that, fusing rock, metal and Middle Eastern music, to create a one-of-a-kind sound. The Los Angeles-based group will perform for the first time in New York City at the Knitting Factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on Friday, May 21 at 9 p.m. and Philadelphia at the Northstar on Saturday
May 22 at 9 p.m.
Viza, which is managed by System of a Down lead singer Serj Tankian’s label, Serjical Strike, was initially formed years ago in New York City by vocalist K’noup and developed further in Los Angeles into a nine-member band. Each of its nine members — including K’noup (vocals and 12-string guitar), Jivan Gasparyan Jr. (duduk and zurna), Orbel Babayan (electric guitar, tar, saz, vox), Shant Bismejian (electric guitar), Andrew Kzirian (oud), Alex Khatcherian (bass), Suguru Onaka (keyboards, accordion), Chris Daniel (percussion) and Hiram Rosario (drums) — is talented in his own right.
Viza’s brand of international rock music is influenced by Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Eastern European and Latin cultures. The hard-working group, which has played in many venues including the Troubadour, Key Club, Roxy, Derby and Viper Room has put out an album a year since its formation, including “Eros,” “De Facto,” “Maktub” and “Visa E.P.” They are currently working on their newest CD, titled “Made in Chernobyl,” which features Serj Tankian on the track Viktor.
Aside from creating innovative music, Viza is a socially-conscious band and has been covered in the Los Angeles Times for their activism on human rights and social justice work. Of the band’s nine members, six are Armenian and one is Greek, so “the band is well aware of the history of Anatolia through the years,” said band member Kzirian, noting that many of their families were impacted by Ottoman policies against minorities and the persecution of certain ethnic groups. Because of this, “the band has taken on a strong human rights awareness approach in its advocacy and shows.”
The group has organized benefit concerts to promote understanding of the Armenian Genocide and human rights as well as to raise funds for the Armenian Relief Society’ s Armenia-Artsakh Orphan Project and the Bird’s Nest Orphanage in Lebanon. “Silence the Lies, Rock the Truth” on April 24 at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles, enabled Viza to work with community organizations such as the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF), Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) and the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), as well as social justice groups regarding human rights. The group also organized a “Feed the Need” show on Thanksgiving Eve last year, held at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. Portions of the ticket sales of each show went to Armenian Orphanages and the Los Angeles Mission to Help Feed the Needy, reflecting the band members’ awareness and passion about their surroundings in Los Angeles and the need to speak out against genocide.