YEREVAN — The voice of Sevana Tchakerian, folk singer, arranger, composer, and instrumentalist, has become quite familiar to the ears of music lovers in the Armenian Diaspora and Armenia in recent years. Best known for Collectif Medz Bazar, the avant-garde French-Armenian-Turkish folk group she co-founded in her hometown of Paris, Tchakerian moved to Armenia as the second Karabakh War broke out, stayed to assist in relief efforts (https://mirrorspectator.com/2020/11/05/sevana-tchakerian-is-fighting-back-with-her-only-weapon-music/), and has recently announced her parting of ways with the Medz Bazar group in an official sense. To the relief of her many fans, however, she is continuing to produce music, and the first fruits of her newest project, “Jinj” were released on the internet on Friday, June 11.
The band Jinj (meaning “clear” – “chinch” in Western Armenian) is composed of the duo Tchakerian and Gor Tadevosyan. Their Facebook page simply states that the group “fuses French hip-hop with Armenian folk music into an unconventional sound rooted in tradition.” The vocal on the group’s first single, Khosa Khosa, is primarily delivered in rap style in the French language by Tchakerian, with a hook sung in Armenian by Tchakerian and Tadevosyan together. The group writes their own material as well as performing folk songs.
Tchakerian, no stranger to experimentation and controversy, is sure to stir discussion with the song. The recording and especially the music video, which was released on the same day, are pushing the avant-garde side of Armenian music to new heights.
The music is basically hip-hop with some Armenian folk elements, like the blul (i.e. srink/kaval – shepherd’s flute) played by Grigor Kartashyan. The Paradjanov-esque attire and filmography of the music video, directed by Persian-Armenian Armen Piri Masihi, brings to mind Lady Gaga’s recent song, 911, which had a music video directly referencing the famed surrealist Soviet Armenian filmmaker. Especially in the second part of the song, Tchakerian’s outfit and makeup seems directly inspired by the mystery woman from “The Color of Pomegranates.” The doll-like movements or stock-still poses of the figures in the video are another direct reference to the well-known film. Though not for everyone, the idea works extremely well. Paradjanov made “the Color of Pomegranates” essentially as a feature-long music video for the songs of Sayat-Nova. The same techniques worked for Lady Gaga, and now, for Jinj. There is something to the idea of listening to hypnotic music while seeing a surreal tableau of human figures with penetrating eyes.
The song itself seems to be open to multiple interpretations. Being sung as a male-female duet, the lyrics “mer masin khosa” (talk about us) could be interpreted in reference to a relationship; the artists in another interview mentioned that the song is something for all people to relate to. But, it is hard not to see this song as social commentary about Armenia, in the tradition of songs by Collectif Medz Bazar such as Notre Patrie and Vodki (released earlier this year). Seen in that light, the song becomes a message of resilience, strength, and solidarity. The statement that “mer masin khosa, ourish jar chounes” (talk about us, there is no other solution) and further that focusing on oneself will get you nowhere, can be seen as a call to young Diasporans to come together in support of Armenia’s future, moving there if necessary as Tchakerian and director Piri Masihi have done. Another interpretation that is definitely mentioned in the French lyrics at least, is related to the Coronavirus pandemic. Several references to sickness, viruses, plague, etc., make it obvious that the health emergency around the world was also on the songwriters’ minds. The message here seems to be again “stop focusing on yourself, our only solution is to be directed toward other” to make sure the virus stops spreading.
Tchakerian’s personal attitude is also strongly reflected in the song, as typical hip-hop braggadocio is used as a smart-aleck way to drive home a message of optimism (for the prosperity of Armenia, it would seem) and to state the artist’s steadfast attitude (“no one can shut me up”) and priorities (“I live for those I can count on my fingers”).