Members of Zulal

Zulal Trio’s Gentle Sounds Make a Big Impact


BOSTON — The angelic voices of three singers —Teni Apelian, Anaïs Alexandra Tekerian and Yeraz Markarian — form Zulal, the award-winning a cappella group.

Zulal, which means “clear water,” has one foot in the now and another in Armenia’s historic folk melodies. While the songs they sing mark the trials and joys of old Armenian village life, they do so in esteemed venues as the Getty Museum, the Metropolitan Museum, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, the Berklee College of Music, and the Kennedy Center.

In addition, Zulal has four critically acclaimed albums to its credit, the most recent “By the Shepherd’s Clock.” The album got a rave review from Recorded A Cappella Review Board. The liner notes include the histories of the songs and how the melodies were saved in Western Armenia.

Teni Apelian

Apelian’s love for Armenian folk music has guided her musical explorations. Her love for the a cappella genre began at Carnegie Mellon where she sang in the school’s Jazz Choir and earned a master’s degree in arts management. A trip to Armenia in 2000 eventually led her to the members of Zulal. In addition to arranging, recording and performing with Zulal, she enjoys teaching Armenian folk music in the classroom setting. Zulal has brought life and breath to her foremost passion and she considers herself lucky to share the creative process with two friends who are now truly sisters.

Anaïs Alexandra Tekerian

Tekerian, originally from San Francisco, discovered her joy of folk when she was a member and then director of the Yale Slavic chorus. A singer and writer now living in New York, she has created and performed several theater works for the stage, and has published essays and original songs. She also enjoys teaching piano. Celebrating her Armenian heritage through song with Zulal is a constant source of joy and inspiration.

Yeraz Markarian

Markarian was first introduced to a cappella at Barnard College at Columbia University where she began singing as a “bass.” A native New Yorker, she has a background in marketing and a PhD in clinical psychology. Her passion for Armenian folk music began at an early age, when she performed with the Hamazkayin’s Armenian Children’s Choir of New York at Lincoln Center at the age of 6. She is proud to take part in discovering, arranging and protecting Armenian folk music, and is overjoyed that what began as an innocent conversation among friends has led to the creation and sisterhood that is Zulal.

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The trio responded to questions posed to them, as they sing — blended as one voice.

When/how did the group form officially? In what groups did you sing before? Or were you a soloist?

Armenians have a saying that your destiny is your jagadakeer, the writing on your forehead. We think that there is a bit of fate at play in how Zulal came to be. Teni met a friend from Armenia by chance on a street in Manhattan and that encounter led her to Anaïs. Yeraz heard Anaïs performing a cappella one night in New York and they talked afterwards about singing Armenian music together and decided to contact Teni. We had no idea our voices would fit the way they did, and we started the process of arranging and singing with no big plans in mind. We found each other and then really started to delve into Armenian folk music together. We met in a studio apt on Riverside Drive in NYC one night and arranged Bingyol as our first song, realizing we had stumbled upon something new that simply felt good. That feel-good feeling was echoed back to us by our very first listeners. That was back in the autumn of 2002 – and our trio has remained and evolved together since.

All three of us had backgrounds in singing and performing a cappella music. Yeraz sang bass at Barnard College’s pop a cappella group, Teni sang in an a cappella Jazz Choir throughout her time at Carnegie Mellon and Anaïs directed the Slavic chorus at Yale University. The arrangements we weave together as Zulal are informed by the harmonics inherent in Armenian folk music as well as all of our musical leanings since college, which was quite some time ago!

How do you come up with the intricate, velvety harmonies?

Armenian folk music is full of odd time signatures and melismatic singing so it does demand some precision, for which our backgrounds in Balkan, jazz and rock have been helpful. Armenian folk resides in a curious place between Eastern and Western traditions, and we therefore explore it through the prism of both. And while vocal training provides control and flexibility, this music calls for more than that. It is soulful, like most music that has survived for hundreds of years, and one must access something deeper than skill in order to do it justice. We each separately studied singing in the a cappella style in college and had a love for the sound of harmony and voices blending without instruments. We collaborate with instrumentalists and love singing with other musicians too, but felt that our venture together at the start was meant to honor the sound of voices.

How often do you tour? Of course with Covid and the subsequent lockdown, everything must have gone haywire.

We remember our last performance before the lock down at the National Cathedral in DC and how drastically performers around the world were affected by what unfolded afterwards. We have been very fortunate to have a wonderful performing career as a trio over the last twenty years. The lockdown was devastating on so many fronts. In addition to the inability to share live music, we also found it hard to rehearse digitally. So much of the arrangement process also taps into the energetic fields between us and it simply doesn’t translate to digital platforms. Over this past year, since things have calmed down we have experienced a resurgence of concert requests, including an upcoming performance series at Carnegie Hall’s Musical Explorers program next year.

Do you also sing in projects outside the trio?

We each have had other spaces or projects in which we use our voice as singers, but in terms of our primary vocal performance group,  Zulal is our first priority and one of the reasons we have stayed together for so long. Zulal’s longevity has required a certain shared prioritization and we are lucky to have had that throughout our career together.

Why do these songs mean so much to you?

Armenian folk music is based on a connection to nature, to the cycles of the seasons, the quiet inner wisdom that ties us to our ancient roots, simultaneously universal and at the same moment so intrinsically tied to our sense of identity. Although we are all quite different — we all share a reverence for this genre and its meaning. It is what binds us still. The mother’s call for a blessing as she rocks her child to sleep is a call that is shared among mothers around the world and at the same time it is singular to our small tribe. As we three grew together and deepened our exploration of the folk genre, we came upon more and more music that related to women: women’s work, lullabies, flirtations, women’s rituals, laments of a girl married too young, songs about marriage and wishing for the right match, songs of spinning wool and gossip, songs that appeal to the female goddesses of rain. As we worked and arranged we found such synergy  in exploring themes of the hearth and nature, the female voice and sisterhood.

Our earlier repertoire consisted of more familiar songs but as our interest and access developed we came upon melodies that had been notated but not necessarily entered into the  mainstream consciousness of the Armenian canon. Most Armenian music lovers adore a popular set of songs, often credited to Komitas or Altounian. We have enjoyed finding and building upon worthy harmonies that haven’t necessarily been heard by Western Armenians. But then, if we are truthful, we will admit that for every 3 or 4 obscure songs we arrange, we give our audiences a favorite to enjoy. After all, who doesn’t love the familiar?

Where do you find the songs?

We have spent two decades researching Armenian folk music. Most often, we find our favorite gems in songbooks, archival recordings, through Houshamadyan, or the website Tsaynatran. We have loved studying the work of musical archivists Hayrik Muradian, Komitas Vartabed and the work of ethnomusicologist Bedros Alahadoian. Then of course there are all the artists we grew up listening to, like Haig Yazdjian from Greece, the Shoghaken Ensemble from Armenia, Parik Nazarian transplanted from Beirut, Kotchnak from Paris and Knar from Istanbul, to name just a few.

Do you collaborate with non-Armenian folk musicians?

We love collaborating with folk musicians from different backgrounds, both in the classical music world and the folk world. Some of our collaborators include Udi Bar-David, Shane Shanahan, and musicians such as Etienne Charles, Gregorio Uribe and Soul Science Lab with whom we shared the Musical Explorers stage at Carnegie, and others throughout the years.

One of the first things the Turkish and Azerbaijani forces have done when they have attacked any Armenian city or town, has been to destroy the cultural monuments. Do you think by singing these folk songs, you are preserving the cultural heritage of Armenians?

From our inception we realized that the music of our ancestors is not only a treasure trove for its incredible beauty, but also for the amount of information and history it contains in its lyrics and melodies. We made the decision as a group to concentrate on the folk music that is our heritage to honor those who came before us, but also to be part of the preservation of this invaluable wealth for future generations who will need this music as much as we do. Especially in a world that seems to want to erase so much of different cultures’ uniqueness, it is the artist’s duty to uphold the beauty that is her inheritance.

Do you have songs from Artsakh in your repertory?

We do not have any songs that originate directly from Artsakh, but we do have songs that reference people from Artsakh, i.e., Karabaghtsis, like the song Zoulo, on our newest album, that features Yeraz’s aunt Berjoohi Yessaian which was passed down to us through oral tradition. The majority of our songs stem from what was Western Armenia, what is today Eastern Turkey. We have many songs from Moush, Sassoun, Van, Palu, and quite a few that are troubadour songs or attributed to Komitas. Now more than ever, we will extend our research efforts to protect folk songs from Artsakh.

Members of Zulal

What is next for you? Performances lined up, solo or as Zulal?

We have an exciting line-up of performances this year. In addition to smaller performances and fundraisers we are excited to sing shows at NYC’s DROM and UC Irvine in February. Then, as mentioned earlier, in May we join Carnegie Hall’s Musical Explorers for a third time for a series of professional workshops and concerts. Our artistic collaborators this year will be in the genres of Blue Grass and Kenyan songs; in the past it was Hip Hop and Cumbia.

Musical Explorers is an inventive program in which Carnegie Hall partners with teachers at schools throughout New York City to provide young children with basic music skills, singing and listening skills, and exposure to a diverse range of cultures in their local communities. Zulal has been selected to be in this program and to teach Armenian folk music to a very large audience (8,000) of young children in New York City about the traditional music we hold so dear. We will also be teaching the children to dance the Tamzara!

(Zulal will perform at the Armenian Mirror-Spectator anniversary gala on October 28. They will next perform at the University of California, Irvine, in February. Zulal’s albums and songs are available on all major online platforms as well on their website,

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