BY ALLEN YEKIKIAN
LOS ANGELES–A new blend of Armenian music has hit the scene in Little Armenia. A unique rendition of once forgotten melodies, this funky beat breathes new life into Armenian folk, fusing it with modern vibes and eclectic grooves in a way never before attempted.
Its producer, Bei Ru, promises his never-before-heard style will redefine the “musical map” of the Armenian Diaspora with its fusion of vintage Armenian tunes with modern beats from Hip-Hop, funk and soul.
A native of Los Angeles, Bei Ru, whose real name is Baruir Panossian, was exposed to the music of his ancestors from an early age, developing a deep love for his parents’ old record collection, which he “obsessively played until the grooves wore out.”
“My earliest memories of listening to music were going through my parents old records, which were mainly Armenian music from the 1960’s and 1970’s,” he says, explaining the progression of his obsession. “Over the years I started collecting any Armenian records from that era I could find, whether it be at thrift stores in Los Angeles or during trips to Armenia, Lebanon and Syria.”
As his love for the music matured, so did his commitment to the art form. Classically trained in the piano during childhood, Bei Ru emerged from his teens with an interpretation of sound that fused the rhythm of his people with his own Hip-Hop-inspired beats and DJ routines.
Today Bei Ru is an up-and-coming DJ and producer, known by many in Los Angeles for his unique beat. His style, an amalgam of cultures spanning multiple generations and nations, is defining his latest work: “Little Armenia,” an album he recently released through his own label, Musa-Ler Music. (Buy CD on iTunes)
“I ultimately wanted to expose people to my own interpretation of all of the incredible Armenian music that’s virtually forgotten about nowadays,” he says.
To do that, he traveled to the source of his inspiration–Armenia, Lebanon and Syria–where he hunted down old and rare Armenian records from the 1960s and 70s, the period when electric instruments and modern sounds began creeping into traditional Armenian music.
“I felt that Armenians and non-Armenians alike should be exposed to this lost era of music that few people seem to remember,” he says. “It’s something about the music from that era that really stands out to me. The way electric instruments and horn sections were used along with traditional Armenian instruments sounded so incredible.”
That’s essentially what inspired the creation of “Little Armenia,” Bei Ru explains, adding that the title of the album is itself a reflection of the combination of influences he’s had growing up in Los Angeles with an Armenian background.
“It’s my interpretation of traditional Armenian folk melodies blended with contemporary sounds and ideas in a way that makes them appeal to people who might not have ever heard these songs otherwise,” he says.
Armenian music, historically, has adapted to the milieu of its people and the societies within which they live, whether they be in Istanbul during the 1860s, Beirut in the 1960s, or in Los Angeles today. In “Little Armenia,” this fusion of Armenian folk and funk seems ethereal, with the combined beats ringing with an almost natural harmony and perfection, as if they were meant to be.
Bei Ru explains this feature as one of the defining characteristics of Armenian music. “Our music in general is extremely soulful and funky in its own right; it’s just a matter of how it’s arranged,” he explains, adding that the album is meant to be a fresh interpretation of the very melodies that defined a generation of Armenians in the Diaspora and Homeland.
Armenian music back then, according to Bei Ru, “had such tasteful, classy arrangements, that it naturally appealed to people without trying to conform to a certain ‘pop’ formula.” But today, he continues, “a lot of contemporary Armenian music is devoid of the elements that made it so amazing during the 60’s and 70’s.”
Much of the essence has been forgotten over time, Bei Ru says, comparing his sampling and remixing of the music to archeology. “Digging through crates for obscure old records and drafting the sounds of times past into contemporary music is as much about preserving the past as digging for bones is,” he explains.
The album is, therefore, as much a chronicle of the Armenian music of his past as it is an expression of his own identity as a Diasporan today–a characteristic common in traditional Armenian folk music.
Highlighting this dichotomy is his rendition of “Gayane” by Aram Khachaturian, who Bei Ru looks up to as one of the greatest composers of the 20th century. Initially written in the 60s as a classical piece for ballet, Bei Ru rearranged the piece, while preserving its original integrity. “I changed the time signature and added drums, bass, percussion, vocals, and a couple of other instruments to make it sound like something no one’s ever heard before.”
Gayane, like the album’s other tracks has a powerful funk element, underpinning its core folk traditions. But Bei Ru declined to place his style in any particular category of music, choosing instead to keep it an open interpretation. He hopes the album will “show that people don’t need their music to sound like everything else.”
“I tried to cover as much ground as possible, as far as the diversity in style and texture, and I truly feel that there’s something on there for everybody, Armenian and non-Armenian alike,” he says, describing “Little Armenia.”
The album, which has cover art designed by Vahe Berberian and photography by Ani Vartivarian, is available at Amoeba Music in Hollywood, Backside Records in Burbank, and Abril Bookstore in Glendale.
Connect with Bei Ru at beirumusic.com
To buy the CD, click here or