The cover of her CD "Armat"

Interview: Sirusho Merges Traditional and Pop Music for Fun Hybrid

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NEW YORK — Sirusho Harutyunyan, better known by her stage name Sirusho, has left an indelible mark on the international music scene during the course of her two-decade career and recording of five award-winning studio albums. In addition to composing songs, filming music videos and performing live, Sirusho, 31, is the creator of PreGomesh jewelry line, with all pieces handmade in Armenia. Throughout her artistic career, Sirusho, who was born in Yerevan, has remained focused and determined, exhibiting a strong work ethic and constantly pushing boundaries.

Performing at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2008

And while her music has evolved, incorporating pop, folk, R&B and soul, Sirusho’s innate desire and ability to preserve traditional Armenian music, with an up-tempo modern twist, remains, bringing her legions of fans of all generations and countries.

Following her electric New Jersey concert on March 17, Taleen Babayan sat down with Sirusho for an interview conducted in Armenian as the singer and her production team prepared to travel to Boston for scheduled engagements and performances.

A positive role model, Sirusho exudes talent, grace and smarts, proving just how much she — and her country — have to offer the world.

 

Taleen Babayan: Congratulations on a spectacular performance that was composed of many cultural, historical and contemporary layers. Your concert went beyond music and had rich and informative aspects, including a short film of your team traveling to Ani to film a music video for your song Der Zor. How did you come up with the idea of traveling to Western Armenia (Eastern Turkey) and why did you feel it was necessary to travel there and take on potential challenges and risks?

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Sirusho Harutyunyan: I always wanted to go to Ani to film a music video and perhaps I voiced this wish aloud that brought it into being. I first came up with the idea during Pregomesh (Sirusho’s 2012 single) because I wanted to show that Ani was ours. Along with my production team, we researched the trip and realized it wasn’t possible at that time. During my next album we tried again and mapped out the journey, taking into consideration the technical aspects of the production and the risk of filming a song about the Armenian Genocide in Turkey. When we recorded Der Zor (from her 2016 Armat album), we realized, yes, we have to film there, no matter what. We learned other groups from Armenia had traveled to Ani and were able to film so that gave us some hope that we could do it too. We did come across challenges when we traveled to Ani, but it was a significant experience for all of us and tied our production team together because we realized how dedicated we are to our work and to our goal of filming in Ani, which allowed us to forge ahead. It was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life.

TB: Another part of the concert I enjoyed was the behind the scenes footage of your duet with Harout Pamboukjian for his signature song Tariner. Why do you think it is important for today’s popular contemporary singers such as yourself to honor and respect the legacy and work of those before you?

SH: I have parents who traveled through the same journey (Sirusho’s father is actor/director Hrachya Harutyunyan and her mother is singer Syuzan Margaryan). As a representative of my generation, I applaud and thank those who came before me for their hard work. It’s a beautiful thing. We can’t forget the journeys others took before us and we have to always show gratitude and learn from them. I remember listening to Harout Pamboukjian with my friends at parties and gatherings when I was younger. For me, I associate his music with those years. Even if he himself wasn’t present, his voice was present among us. Through his music, he takes his listeners through happy times as well as painful moments. He has entered people’s hearts and I was just happy to have the opportunity to sing and record together. It’s hard to re-record a song already loved by so many but my wish to collaborate was sincere and from my heart.

TB: You come from an artistically talented family and I’m sure arts and culture were always encouraged in your home. Did you know from an early age you wanted to dedicate your life to singing? What obstacles did you have to overcome, if any?

SH: From a very young age, perhaps 7-years-old, I sang. I never made the choice to become a singer. I just sang and everything went into motion from there. From a young age, because my parents were well known, whatever success I had, people attributed that success to them and not me. In a way that was hurtful. But I try not to pay attention to whatever is not the truth. When you show your talents and your successes, people eventually see that it’s you who has the talent and the ability.

TB: But your voice speaks for itself. You opened up the concert a cappella and sang with no musical accompaniment for the first few minutes. You sang live the whole show, especially when you were dancing, while other singers may have relied on lip sync.

Topics: Armenia, New York
People: Sirusho

SH: It’s my hope that when people hear my voice and see me in concert, demonstrating my hard work on stage, they see that as well. The smart ones understand.

TB: You burst onto the international scene in 2008 during the Eurovision competition for your song Qele, Qele, which to this day holds the record for most points on behalf of Armenia. When you were going through that experience, did you feel a shift or turning point in your career that you could open up Armenian music not just to Armenians but to the world at large?

SH: When I first started out, my family and I came to the US where there were opportunities from different music companies and labels. I am happy my parents and I understood that we didn’t want to be reliant on these companies and that I wanted to make my own decisions. If I went with a label, I wouldn’t have been able to do the “Armat” project (her 2016 album and subsequent music videos and documentaries), which is very Armenian and a sizable undertaking. For me, it is more enjoyable to make my own decisions. I don’t want anyone to tell me I can’t do this or that because I am contractually obliged. After Eurovision, a lot of opportunities opened up since the competition gave me more exposure and a larger audience on the international scene. I remember one time I went into a store in Greece and the clerk, who was Greek, said she loved my songs, especially Shorora (from her 2005 album, “Sheram”). I was touched because this is an Armenian folk song.

TB: In addition to recording pop music, you have made a real effort to record Armenian traditional and folk music with a modern spin as we have heard on your “Armat” album. As an artist, why is it significant to remember your cultural and historical roots?

SH: My thought is that it is our natural, human need to belong in order to feel safe. We are all Armenian and our shared history and mentality makes us feel stronger and safer. While living outside (the homeland) it’s natural to feel lonely and even while living in Armenia. But we aren’t alone. We should always be together and I want to remember the history we went through together and how strong we’ve been to be here as a people today. We have had strong forebears and heroes and we stand on their shoulders. We have to honor our heroes and their moral values, power and strength and we have to continue that legacy with pride and find that inner strength within all of us.

TB: Your talents, music and professionalism bridges Armenians from around the world so I want to ask where do you see yourself artistically in your future and what do you see for Armenia’s future?

SH: Artistically, I’m not sure where I’m headed and that’s what’s most interesting about my work. I compose and write my own songs and what I write tomorrow is unexpected. I myself sometimes don’t know what I will create. It may seem to me everything is fine and then I write a song about something I didn’t even realize was bothering me or making me uncomfortable. I didn’t talk about it or even feel it but independently of me it became a song. Maybe the song understands me better than I understand myself. The songs suggest what follows. When the songs are born then I decide what direction to go in. I wouldn’t be surprised if my next album is in the international genre.

As for us as a country, my hope is tied to my generation and the following generations. Whatever profession someone chooses, her or she should strive to be the best. Whether you’re a driver or a doctor, be a hard-working professional because that way you can help your country, your family and the world.

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