Nina Boutchakjian (Photo by Colin Handis)

Nina Boutchakjian: With Her Oud Close to Her Heart

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YEREVAN / DUBAI – Musician Nina Boutchakjian, known as “Nina Oud” on her social media platforms, was born in Lebanon to an Armenian father (whose family hails from Aintab) and Lebanese mother and raised in Sweden (Stockholm/Nykvarn). She began her studies at the Arab Music Institute in Cairo, Egypt. Boutchakjian consequently saw her career take off, touring all over Europe and the Middle East with her oud and remarkable voice. In 2014 she produced her solo album, “Sea Salt” (MBI), which was the third best-selling Arabic album in Virgin Megastores.

Boutchakjian now resides in Dubai, performing with guitarist Abir Saidani and traveling throughout the world.

Dear Nina, I firmly believe that not a single instrument has any gender limitation – a woman can play a tuba and a man can play a harp. You are the pioneer among women professional oud solo players. Was it hard to overcome that obstacle?

Yes, I believe anyone can. When I started my solo concerts 20 years ago, it was hard to be accepted, but not because my being female. I think it is more because I had no experience. Today I am happy to see so many female oud players around the world.

How did your interest in oud music arise?

My step-dad used to sing a lot at home, and my younger brother, Christian, is a DJ in Sweden, specializing in deep house music. I went to Cairo for tourism and I found the music school! The only available instrument was the oud, but my dream was to play the accordion! I was so small and the Arabic accordion is so big and heavy my teachers did not let me, but I do play a little today!

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 It was so interesting to listen to the electric oud. How long has it been around?

I remember, when I started to play the electric oud, musicians were calling me to ask about it! It was not so popular back then, but now it is trendy, I think! Today I play on a semi-electric oud, as it gives more the real sound of the instrument I love. The sound of oud is what catches my heart.

Nina Boutchakjian

What other innovation would you like to make to the oud?

I think the oud is perfect as it is. It is just the sound problem on stage when there is a big band. The band usually covers the sound of oud as it is very soulful, but with semi electric/acoustic, a good microphone and a good sound engineer it works.

What other instrument do you play?

Not as professional, but I play some percussions and keyboard.

International Armenian performers have made an important mark in the history of oud playing – Udi Hrant Kenkulian, Agapios Tomboulis (Hagop Stambulyan), Roupen Altiparmakian, Harry Minassian, John Berberian, John Bilezikjian, Richard Hagopian, Alan Shavarsh Bardezbanian, Ara Dinkjian, Georges Kazazian, Daron Malakian, Haig Yazdjian, Andrew Hagopian, Brian Ansbigian. Do you consider yourself a part of this tradition and family?

I wish I will one day to be a part of that family – we all have our dreams and I hope one day they will be realized. But for now all I want is to make people happy and enjoy my music. The icons you mentioned have had a long way and history I am still learning.

Do you have any Armenian compositions in your repertoire?

Every time I listen to Armenian music I get goose bumps, even though I do not speak the language, but it is in my future plans, God willing. I also have many Armenian musician friends in Dubai. We meet to jam together. The Middle Easterners after settling in the West sometimes go back…

I assume, that with your passion for the oud it would be almost impossible to pursue a career in Sweden.

Sweden is home for me; I wish I could make career there, but I did not try really hard. Maybe I will one day. Sweden is a global leader in music. I believe the world is much smaller now, especially after 2020, when a song coming out, for example, in Africa, people can hear it immediately in Canada.

I was in Dubai once back in 2007 as a part of 300 choir members from Armenia and Artsakh performing with the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra choral songs perhaps for the first time in UAE… How is a musician’s life in Dubai now?

That is amazing! As you know, Dubai is multicultural, that opens for us musicians to embrace music from all over the world. This mix of culture makes it richer to learn.

Since in Armenia few children are interested in folk music (unfortunately), teaching oud and other folk instruments in musical high schools is free. My daughter attends oud classes without any intentions to become a musician. However, what would you tell oud students?

When I started learning the oud, I was not a fan of this instrument, but with time you might build a beautiful relationship with this piece of wood, very close to your heart (literally) and soul. I would say – choose always what you like and what you want, but always give a chance, it might be the one as in my case…

And one of traditional questions: have you ever visited your fatherland? 

It is my dream to perform in Armenia but I will definitely visit even without any concerts. Last year I was going to travel to Armenia with an Armenian friend (also from Lebanon), but the coronavirus came and we changed our plans. Maybe this year… we will see what life is hiding for us.

 

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