When Komitas Rocks out

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Lebanese-Armenian Singer Brings New Life to Old Music

By Serena Hajjar

Special to the Mirror Spectator

BEIRUT — Imagine your favorite traditional Armenian song. Now, set it to a rock tune. Finally, add an Armenian woman to sing it. This is the combination on which Armenian rock singer, Eileen Khatchadourian, has built her signature style.

The intense rock persona depicted in her music videos is only one aspect of her; in person, she is cheerful, feisty and brutally honest.

Born in Beirut and raised there as well as Cyprus and Montreal, Khatchadourian grew up in a traditional Armenian family. She attended the St. Hripsimiantz Armenian College (high school) in Lebanon and was a member of the Armenian Catholic Scouts. Her artistic family instilled a love of music in their daughter at an early age — she started singing at 4. At age 7, while singing onstage, she decided she would become a singer — correction, a rock star. And she has certainly reached her dream in her home country, all while holding down a day job as a freelance wardrobe stylist for TV commercials. Now, she is looking to expand into the US.

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Khatchadourian’s top musical influences cover a wide spectrum, including the likes of Michael Jackson, Bjork, Tory Amos, opera composer Richard Wagner, Nina Simone and Jeff Buckley. Her favorite Armenian musicians are System of a Down and Datevik.

Her first CD, “Midan” (“My Home”), won the “Best Rock Album” award at the Armenian Music Awards in Los Angeles in 2009.

Khatchadourian said she overcomes cultural and political barriers through music. She said she believes the universal language of music and, specifically, rock music, enables her to connect with her non-Armenian audience.

“Rock is very old. It’s an institution; it’s a school. [I]t’s very easy to reach people through rock because you have many styles and all generations have listened to it,” she said. “I love rock.”

A testament to the universal power of music is when she sees people crying with emotion while she sings, “especially the ones who don’t understand Armenian.” By converting traditional Armenian songs into rock, she gives the familiar tunes a revamp. Your ears may be accustomed to hearing the peaceful Sari Siroun Yar with the trilling kanon and the soothing duduk. However, Khatchadourian updates the song with electric guitar and upbeat drums in her version, while keeping true to the gentle nature of the melody. “My greatest wish is to help non-Armenian people and young Armenians discover their Armenian heritage through my music,” she said.

For Khatchadourian, a singing career is not about personal gain. The singer chose to donate proceeds from her debut album to the Khatchig Babikian Foundation, which helps Armenian students in Lebanon earn scholarships to universities throughout the country.

Khatchadourian acknowledges the fact that she would not be here without her producers, her family and her band. When talking about her producers — Carole Babikian Kokoni and Nadim Farhad — she said, “I’m lucky to have two people who believe in me because without them I wouldn’t have done this album. I wouldn’t have been here.”

Khatchadourian’s videos for Zartir Vortyag and Komitas’ Karouna, both from her first album, can be found on YouTube. The video for Zartir Vortyag was banned by the Lebanese General Security because of its references to the Armenian Genocide, which the government deemed damaging to the relations between Lebanon and Turkey. She said, “We wanted [the song] to be a kind of testimonial. We’re bringing the idea of a mother sending her son to fight,” a recurring theme throughout Armenian history.

Khatchadourian aims to release her second album by March 2013. It will include some songs in English along with the song Sardarabad and a few of her own original compositions. However, the focus of the album will remain her Armenian identity. In the meantime, the singer is looking to stage concerts in Armenia, Europe and the US.

Khatchadourian is satisfied with the path her musical career has taken. “I feel fulfilled when I’m on stage. And this is where I want to be. I don’t need anything else.”

Khatchadourian’s CD, “Midan,” is available on iTunes, Amazon and CDRama.com. Khatchadourian can be found on Facebook, MySpace (myspace.com/khatchadourianeileen) and Twitter (@eileenkatch). For more information, visit www.eileenkhatchadourian.com.

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