LOS ANGELES — Even before she founded the nonprofit Nvak Foundation in 2016 and took the helm as CEO of the innovative record label Nvak Collective, Tamar Kaprelian was already a star. In fact, by then this charismatic Armenian-American artist, activist, and music industry veteran had signed major recording contracts with RCA & Interscope Records and honed her craft with some of LA’s top songsmiths. Along the way, for good measure she also graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia University, double majoring in English and comparative literature. She released her debut album, “Sinner or a Saint,” in 2010 on Interscope Records and was then selected to represent Armenia in the 2015 Eurovision contest as part of the supergroup Genealogy.
A Novel Idea
It was that same year, after spending several months in Armenia preparing for Eurovision, that Kaprelian discovered a talented underground music scene. These remarkable performers, however, remained relatively unknown outside their immediate circles due to the lack of a strong support system. This same lack of infrastructure exists in many parts of Armenian society, as well as in other developing nations.
These artists simply needed a platform to amplify their voices, Kaprelian explains: “Without the infrastructure to support that talent, their voices remained silent. Having spent a decade writing and performing in the United States, I developed a network of powerful professionals in the music industry and wanted to put those contacts to good use.” So Kaprelian began soliciting donations from industry executives as well as a handful of Armenian donors — obtaining enough funding to launch a 2016 beta program of Nvak in Armenia.
In Armenian, the noun “nvak” means “song” or “music,” and shares roots with the verb “nuh-vaak-elle,” to play (music). Kaprielian’s vision is for Nvak to provide world-class music education and resources to female and non-binary musicians living in underserved communities: “We aim to use music as a tool to amplify our artists’ voices, build community, and prepare them for careers in the industry. We serve the rest of the world by bringing previously absent narratives into the mainstream market, using art as a means for empowerment and economic development.” The organization has quickly gone from local to global. Since launching in 2016, it has already fostered year-round creative communities in Armenia, Israel and Malawi. With the help of a small but dedicated staff, Nvak has also developed a committed global network of professionals who align with its mission.
Kaprelian’s passion for the project quickly becomes clear as she describes its unique role in helping underserved or neglected segments of society: “Our programming is hyper-localized. The work that we do in Armenia is unique to Armenia. But traditional gender roles have left women and the LGBTQ community with less opportunity for career development both in Armenia and in the rest of the world. And while women in Armenia do have access to education, it often doesn’t lead to fulfilling career opportunities.”