Tigrane Kazazian (Davit Jotyan photo)

Tigrane Kazazian: To Embrace World Cultures with an Open Mind

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YEREVAN — Thirty-six-year-old Tigrane Kazazian is an oud player, multi-instrumentalist, composer and singer. He was born in Cairo, in the family of a musician and a historian. From the age of 5 to 17, he played tennis at a high-level in Egypt and France. He also started studying the violin and piano since he was a child, and at the age of 18, he learned to play the oud on his own. He studied at the American University of Cairo and Concordia University of Montreal. In 2012, he moved to Armenia to study at the Komitas State Conservatory. In 2018, Tigrane created the Kazazian Trio with duduk player Arsen Petrosyan and percussionist Eduard Harutyunyan. In 2021, Kazazian’s album “Cairo Nights” was published by “Green United Music” company; in 2023, his second album “Still Love” was released by L’horizon Violet/Absilone. He plays avant-garde, folk, and world music-inspired original compositions; he has performed in a number of countries with a trio and concerts with various musicians. He also writes music for documentary films.

Tigrane, I congratulate you again for your performance with the Lucy Khanyan Trio on November 10, during which you performed your works, as well as one of your father’s works. The combination of oud, electro-acoustics, bloul and piano was very original. How would you describe that unusual musical fusion?

It is very difficult to define genres and categories with words. They say avant-garde folk, world music, ethno-jazz, but none of the names are accurate.

By the way, it is also difficult to define the genre of works of your father, Georges Kazazian.

He started with various Egyptian folk instruments, then switched to flamenco, jazz and finally to Indian music. All that is in his music, and I learned that from him — to embrace world cultures with an open mind. And the most important thing is to know what we are saying through that music.

While listening to your last concert, I was surprised to find that I felt better. After the concert, another listener, an artist, told me the same thing. Have you been told about the healing effects of your music?

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Yes, once in a while they say that, thank you. On the other hand, I think that my music can also cause sadness in addition to calming. There are many sad things happening in our world today, which cannot but be conveyed through the music being written today.

The musical mosaic of Armenia is very diverse, and I think that you already have found your place there. Still, is it possible to live only with music in such an environment?

In any case, music cannot be related to only one place. As you said, it is possible to live only by music in Armenia, if you also work abroad. Of course, a musician working in a restaurant can live without cooperation with the wider world, but that is not my way.

Tigrane, my daughter plays the oud. What advice would you give her and those learning to play it?

I would advise all musicians to do their work creatively, instead of memorizing their musical language and just using it, but to speak the language fluently, make it their own, so that they can convey what they have to say.

It so happened that before I got to know you, I knew about your parents from afar. Your mother, French historian Anne Le Gall-Kazazian, is the author of works on Egyptian Armenians. Is her interest due her marrying an Armenian from there?

Yes, my mother is from Brittany, 100-percent Breton. Her interest in Armenians started after meeting my father. My mother graduated from the philosophy department of the Sorbonne University, defended her thesis, after which she went to Egypt to study Arabic. She lived in Egypt for a long time as well as in other countries and she continues her Armenian studies, making researches in the archives. She speaks Armenian fluently and comes to Yerevan frequently.

Where was the Kazazian family from, and what place does Georges Kazazian occupy in modern Egyptian music?

My paternal grandfather was from Tigranakert, now Diyarbakır. He did not want my father to go into music. My father left Egypt for England and he met musicians there and then studied music. He already knew how to play the guitar a little, and he started playing the oud at the age of 29. He has written music for several Egyptian films and has released 15 albums. My father’s musical language is very free and unique. The musical world he created is very different, it has nothing to do with Arabic, Indian, Armenian or any other music. Listening to his music, I understood that someone was explaining life to me and for the first time in my life I understood what they were telling me, because before that I did not find my place, I did not understand the world.

In 2016, you and your father created the “Nour” (Pomegranate) project, which lasted for short period. Your performance of The Dance of Fire with two ouds was absolutely wonderful.

We wanted to share the dialogue between father and son. There were several concerts in Armenia, one in Egypt, but we did not continue because my father was in Egypt, I was here, and we were both busy with our own projects.

Unlike Armenians from Lebanon and Syria, Armenians from Egypt have not repatriated to Armenia recently. In the event that many Armenians find foreign roots in themselves and immigrate to other countries under that pretext, how did it happen that you, being half French, settled in Armenia?

It was very randomly, in four days. I called an Egyptian acquaintance from Canada with whom I had studied at the American University in Cairo. He said that he is in Armenia and intends to attend a two-week duduk course at the Yerevan Conservatory. I asked if there was an oud class, and receiving a positive answer, I expressed my desire to come and study in Yerevan. My friend said that I should come before October 10, but it was already September 30. After four days I was already in Armenia… and I stayed for 11 years. I immediately felt good here. For me Armenia occupies a place between Egypt and France. It was also the first country where people, knowing my name, did not ask where I am from, being sure that I am local.

As far as I know, the middle names of your two sons are Charents.

Before coming to Armenia, I did not even know who Charents was, but it turned out that I started a family in Armenia with the great-granddaughter of Yeghishe Charents.

What are your upcoming projects?

In January I am going to perform with the Tigrane Kazazian Trio in Paris and I will cooperate with French singer, songwriter Blaubird in the coming months.

It is wonderful that a half-Armenian young man born in the Diaspora has repatriated, is in his chosen profession and has a family. Tigrane, thank you for the conversation; I wish you great creative success and happiness in the homeland, which, we hope, will find its dignified peace.

Thank you! I wish strength to Armenia and I highly hope that music will contribute to peace and love in the world especially in our troubled times.

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