César Veas Valencia

César Veas Valencia: From Chile to Armenia with Love to Duduk and Everything

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YEREVAN — Love for Armenian music brought 33 years-old Chilean musician César Veas Valencia to Yerevan. From 2007 to 2013, he studied music, improvisation and electric guitar with teacher Jorge Díaz in Santiago, as well as performing on electric guitar and popular music at Projazz Professional Institute. Later, he studied also music and sound therapy at Ruta Alegre Holistic training center, Santiago. In addition, he started singing sacred music in Vox Celeste Choir of Santiago. In 2017, Veas founded UniSono Terapias, a company that imports into Chile musical instruments focused on music and sound therapy. He also offered sound therapy and music therapy services for companies, schools, kindergartens, and private practice.

César, when did you first encounter Armenian music?

It all started with Gurdjieff. I was deeply intrigued by his philosophy, as well as his music and dances. Wanting to learn more about him, I discovered he hailed from Gyumri, Armenia, sparking my interest in Armenian culture. I participated in the recording and release of the disc “Oriental Songs,” containing Gurdjieff’s music. My interest led me to explore Armenian music, especially Komitas, and when I first heard the sound of duduk, I was captivated instantly! I reached out to duduk player Gagik Gasparyan in Córdoba, Argentina, who helped me to find an instrument and started giving me lessons. For about three years, I traveled two or three times per year to train with Gagik. Then, I felt the urge to visit Armenia, which brings me here today for the second time. My first visit was a six-month journey last year, and it was a wonderful experience. When I arrived, I only knew one person — a duduk master who had provided instruments for my small store in Santiago. He greeted me at the airport and helped me find accommodation. Finding a teacher was my next task. While working in a café in Yerevan, I noticed a musician whom I admired, Arsen Petrosyan, one of my favorite duduk players. I struck up a conversation with him, and I was fortunate that he agreed to be my teacher. He is a great person.

Komitas’s music has always deeply touched my heart. I continue to explore more Armenian music; recently, I’ve been listening to the songs of Ashugh Jivani, who has become my favorite for now.  I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the high level of music in Armenia, whether it’s classical, folk, or jazz! Another memorable experience was meeting a guy at a dance festival who happened to be a choir singer. After expressing my interest in joining a choir, he introduced me to his choir conductor, and that’s how I became a member of the Khazer choir. So now, playing the duduk and singing in the choir are my main musical activities in Armenia.

Additionally, I decided to join the Armenian Voluntary Corps to immerse myself more in Armenian life and connect with locals. Currently, I’m working with the Akna organization, led by Levon Eskenian, the leader of the Gurdjieff Ensemble. One of our purposes is to organize a tour of the Ensemble to Latin America and Spain. In addition to my involvement in music, I also teach Spanish at the European University. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that many Armenians have a great love for the Spanish language and culture – another wonderful experience here!

And how is your experience learning Armenian?

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Shat dejvar eh (Very difficult). But I’m really enjoying learning Armenian, so I hope to speak it more as I go along. I actually started taking online classes before coming here. Fortunately, the university also offers Armenian classes. Interestingly, when I try to buy something in a store here, people often switch to English to help me. However, I prefer to practice my Armenian, so I say them: Chem khosum angleren (I don’t speak English).

 

Have you ever organized Armenian concert in Chile?

Yes, before my trip to Armenia I had the opportunity to perform in a concert featuring solo duduk as well as duduk with dam. It was a wonderful experience, especially since after six months in Armenia, I had prepared a special repertoire. I met two Chilean musicians — one played the shvee and the other the bloul and dap (tambourine). We practiced together for two to three weeks and eventually held a concert, mostly attended by a Chilean audience. Additionally, I had the honor of performing for the Armenian community in Chile. I hope to continue sharing Armenian music through more concerts in Chile.

 

César, how do you describe the sound of the duduk?

Deep and spiritual, that connects the listener with an ancient space.

César Veas Valencia

And don’t you think duduk is becoming very commonplace for Armenia?

It’s true that the duduk has become more popular for Armenia and in Armenia, but my first impression is that many people here don’t know much about Armenian music. It’s sad because I believe everyone should have a deep understanding and appreciation for it. However, this situation is not unique to Armenia; it’s similar in many countries. Nevertheless, there are many dedicated individuals working hard to research and learn Armenian music and dance. I personally believe that the duduk deserves more recognition worldwide. While it’s true that the instrument has gained popularity in various countries, thanks in part to international films, many people mistakenly believe it’s easy to play. In reality, mastering the duduk requires serious training with a teacher. Unfortunately, some people here don’t understand that someone would travel to Armenia specifically to learn to play the duduk. Many people here do not understand that someone can come here to learn to play duduk.

No wonder, some years ago there was a Mexican guy here, Luis Argüelles, who learned playing duduk and now promotes the instrument in Mexico. And not only him…

 

What else do you like in Armenia?

I like everything! I love Armenian dances very much! And people! They are very kind and warm, very open and emotional. I feel comfortable with them. The natural beauty of Armenia, particularly around Goris, Jermuk, and Lori, captivates me. Yerevan, with its numerous attractions, is a truly beautiful city. And let’s not forget the incredible cuisine — my favorites are tolma and long kebab, haykakan surj (Armenian coffee). The tastiest fruits and vegetables I tried here!

 

Do you have any dreams regarding Armenia?

My future path is uncertain; I’m undecided between staying in Armenia or returning to Chile. However, in the short term, my dream is to forge connections between Armenia and other nations, starting with my homeland. I aspire to organize Armenian cultural projects in Chile and collaborate with Armenian musicians for international cultural exchanges. By sharing Armenia’s rich cultural heritage with the world, I hope to raise awareness and appreciation for its diverse traditions, which remain relatively unknown globally.

 

Now the situation is not stable in Armenia…

Indeed, the situation in Armenia can be challenging, and I witnessed it firsthand during my visit last September. However, the political climate alone isn’t enough to make me leave Armenia at this moment. I believe that staying here allows me to fulfill a part of my purpose — to offer support during difficult times. Here, I can contribute more effectively to Armenia than I could in my own country.

It is very touching to hear such words form a non-Armenian. Thanks for this conversation, César!

 

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