Tamar Kaprielian

Nvak — Amplifying the Female Voice in Armenia

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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.

Tamar Kaprielian and Alex Salibian

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.”

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Indeed, the situation in the Armenian music world mirrors what one finds in dance and theater as well in this post-Soviet republic, as music education still follows the same rigid, classical ideology as during the USSR. “We’re here to change that!” Kaprelian exclaims. Kaprelian explains that prior to Nvak, no infrastructure existed for artists in Armenia to write their own music, nor was there a place where gender minorities could learn contemporary music production skills. Production equipment and recording studios in Armenia are both scarce and expensive, so that local musicians have often find it difficult to grow their music beyond the “basement band” stage. They eventually give music up for another more mainstream career or undertaking.

Tamar Kaprielian and Ali Tamposi for Song Start

Continued Growth

Nvak has grown organically and steadily since its inception to become one of the most impactful young organizations in Armenia. Apart from discovering new talent, the organization offers songwriting and music production workshops, as well as an experienced staff and advisors whom its young artists can access year-round for information, advice and feedback.

To great excitement, in July 2020, the Nvak team launched its beta-test of the first year-round remote program in Malawi. The program works in 4 phases: Songwriting, Music Business and Mental Health, Production, and Amplification. This creates what Kaprelian terms “a holistic approach to making music.”

Nvak plans to launch a similar year-round program in Armenia in the Summer of 2021, and then expand into new markets in 2022. Unfortunately, since the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic broke out funding has been difficult for non-profits around the globe, and Nvak is no exception, as many families and organizations do not have the disposable income anymore to contribute to non-profit causes. Kaprielian is quick to add that as a result it’s now more important than ever to invest in young artists, in order to “connect musicians through community, and thus give them the tools to excel in their careers.” Nvak is a real winner to my mind and already proving its worth in spades.

Vanadzor’s Hit Singer, Rosa Linn

Nvak’s first new song release through its recently minted distribution deal with SONY/The Orchard — King by rising star Rosa Linn, convinces, as does Rosa Linn’s vocal range and versatility.

Born in Vandazor, the 20-year-old artist brings her own twist to ’80s and ’90s indie pop — in both English and in Russian, no less. She is breathy at times, crystal clear at others.

The Nvak strategy will be to release the song first in Russia over the summer, then worldwide.

A sampling of the lyrics is a first teaser, to a rhythmic, catchy club tune that ranges in tone and volume: “Baby I know you a saint and I’m a gangsta/High on me but we could never be together/Cause you’re a king and imma imma gansta…We’re like fire melting into ice/I love the way that we collide.” The fact that Rosa Linn and other Nvak stars will be distributed through a global distribution deal with The Orchard augurs well for their future success, as does the fact that they are being taught the business savvy needed to navigate a very tough industry.

Rosa Linn

As an aside, I am also a fan of another Nvak singer Brunette — whose gentle cooings and rhythms belong as much to the Parisian cabaret scene of the 1940s and ’50s as they do to electronica or house music. But more about her later.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Nvak has teamed up with Spotify and with Ali Tamposi’s non-profit Creative Waves in order to create a new, easily accessible e-learning platform for music education called Song Start. The new venture will include original videos recorded specifically for Song Start by leading artists and industry professionals. They will cover songwriting, as well as music production and the music business, from A to Z. These e-classes and expertise would be prohibitively expensive and inaccessible to young people in many parts of the world, including the United States where music education has been cut from many public school systems.

Listening again to Rosa Linn’s debut album, one can easily imagine that other young women in Amenia and around the world will be inspired by artists of her caliber. Thanks in part to Nvak’s dedication and vision, they may be one step closer to achieving professional success — and perhaps even fame. Proof positive as well that supporting arts organizations and creative ventures can be just as important as the brick-and-mortar approach more typically prioritized in the world of philanthropic giving.

To learn more about Nvak, go to https://www.nvak.org/ or email: info@nvak.org.

 

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