Miqayel Voskanyan and Friends Bring Dynamism from Armenia to the Modern Folk Scene


By Harry Kezelian

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

DETROIT and YEREVAN — MVF Band has just released a music video of the classic Makhmur Aghjik dedicated to the song’s creators, Silva Kaputikyan and Khachatur Avetisyan, and filmed at poetess Kaputikyan’s House-Museum.

Miqayel Voskanyan

As the movement of Modern Armenian Folk Music has continued to grow over the past few years, much of it has been taking place in the Diaspora (see this review of two albums in the Mirror-Spectator). However, as we have recognized, one of the leaders of the movement was Arto Tuncboyaciyan and the Armenian Navy Band based in Armenia itself — when they first started, they were calling it “avant-garde folk.” More recently coming out of Armenia, we are hearing the talented young singer, composer, and tar-player, Miqayel Voskanyan. He has become one of the powerful new voices in this field and has been growing in popularity in Armenia as well as the Diaspora and international circles.

Miqayel Voskanyan and Friends

Voskanyan is a talented singer with a smooth vocal style that falls somewhere between Armenian folklore and current Western pop. His latest production of the song Makhmur Aghjik is accompanied by a high quality music video, with no actors, performers or singers, nor images of Voskanyan himself, but simply the recording of the song accompanied by footage exploring the Silva Kaputikyan House-Museum from end to end. Legendary poetess Silva Kaputikyan (perhaps more recognizable to some by the Western Armenian pronunciation Gaboudigian) wrote the lyrics of this classic song, while the music was composed by Soviet-era kanon player, Khachatur Avetisyan, who helped bring the kanon to its current popularity in Eastern Armenia. The music video was dedicated to both artists. The video is deeply stirring, showing us the preserved home and personal life of one of the great Armenian writers of the past 100 years, and ending with a close-up of three photographs of Kaputikyan with other 20th century Armenian icons: Catholicos Vazken I, classical composer Aram Khachaturian, and fellow writer and poet Avedik Isahakian. The video, while deeply patriotic, is a welcome respite from other “patriotic” Armenian music videos of recent years which have featured over-the-top production, ultra-nationalistic imagery, anachronistic costume and music, and pomegranates gratuitously flying through the air. Voskanyan sings with deep Armenian — and human — feeling. The arrangement is jazz-influenced and modern, yet doesn’t take away from the original feeling of the song.

Voskanyan is the leader of the MVF Band (Miqayel Voskanyan and Friends), formed in 2011, which includes David Melkonyan on saxophone, Arman Peshtmaljyan on keys, Gurgen Ghazaryan on bass, and Movses Ghazaryan on drums. Voskanyan is the leader of the band with his vocals and tar playing. The tar, also widely used in the Caucasus, is native to Persia and historically has had roughly the same place in Eastern Armenian musical culture as the oud has had in that of Western Armenia. Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, ashoughs (troubadours) of large cities and amateur musicians of small villages played the tar and sang for the enjoyment of the people; it was one of the most popular and versatile instruments used in Eastern Armenia before the Soviet Era.

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Voskanyan has melded the enchanting sounds of the tar seamlessly into modern, jazz-, funk-, and hip-hop-inspired arrangements with the other instruments of the band, and the whole concept is quite reminiscent of Ara Dinkjian’s band Night Ark which combined oud with jazz instrumentation in the 1980s and 1990s. And Voskanyan really pulls it off — this is not just a token addition of an ethnic instrument, as happens too often when we hear, for example, duduk dropped into a pop song with a hip-hop beat. Much of Voskanyan’s music can be heard on YouTube, including several live videos. Some standout live performances that are viewable include classic folk songs Esor Urbat E, which Voskanyan imbues with a bit of a hip-hop feel in his vocal phrasing, and Sari Aghjik (known to readers perhaps as Sari Gelin, Neynim Aman, Yerevan Bagh Em Arel, etc.) which Voskanyan’s vocals, at first gentle and then powerful are showcased, with saxophone obbligato from Melkonyan. This classic song is an excellent test of an Armenian musician — though it is a simple, powerful song that will sound good when played by any competent musician, a great musician will always turn it into something new and fresh that usually shows forth that particular musician’s style, feelings, and abilities. Voskanyan more than passes the test.

The live performances as well as album recordings available display Voskanyan’s delicate yet powerful handling of the tar, his smooth vocals, the modernistic grooves of the rhythm section and Melkonyan’s jazz- and folk- influenced saxophone playing (the choice of the soprano saxophone, rather than tenor or alto, is perfect for Armenian music, and has also been used this way in kef music circles in the US some 10-20 years ago). Melkonyan’s solos are as an important part of the band’s sound as are Voskanyan’s vocals and tar. The band’s first album was 2014’s “Folk Fusion,” and they have started work on a second album, “Nightology,” currently awaiting release. This writer, for one, cannot wait.


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