Music is a kind of movement, like light or temperature or electricity. It is made up of tones, which are, like movement, generated within the soul. This motion conforms to the movements of the inner world, the world of feelings and sentiments. The movements of a person’s inner world result from the movements of the outer world. In this manner, differences in environment generate differences in emotions.
-Komitas Vartabed (1869-1935)
The music of Deleyaman appears to be a contradiction. Both ethereal and earthy, their sound is heavily rooted in the traditions of Armenian folk while embracing the mysticism of the European countryside. The unique harmony the group exudes, at times, seems alien to the ear and almost impossible to describe. Yet when listening to the music, one feels an instant connection to the rhythm and soul of their acoustics.
The sense of the foreign and familiar commingling permeated the Eagle Rock Art Center on Friday, May 16 as the French-Armenian group Deleyaman performed its repertoire for a sold out audience. More than 300 people gathered in the candlelit gallery to enjoy an evening of music in celebration of the 80th anniversary of the Hamazgayin cultural organization.
The night’s performance brought to life the cultures of east and west through a blend of acoustic and electronic, old and new, according to Hamazkayin Regional Board member Manishag Markarian, who introduced the band. As is customary at Hamazgayin events, one of its members came on stage to recite poetry before the show. With a delightful charm and energy, Matilda Tavanian recited Gevork Emin’s Menk and Hamo Sahakian’s Akhr, as well as a third piece of her own creation. Through poetry, Tavanian bridged the gap between generations and cultures, across time and space and set the mood for the rest of the evening.
Founded eight years ago in a small French village on the English Channel, Deleyaman consists of four members: Aret Madilian, Beatrice Valantin, Gerard Madilian and Mia Bjorlingsson. The contrasting styles of its members, each with their own unique story and artistic vision, contribute to the sonic alchemy of this novel group’s mysterious hum.
As the lights dimmed in the hall, the warm sound of Jirard’s Duduk began to lure the Armenian soul back to its highlands. Slowly, Aret reinterpreted the sounds of the Armenian countryside as he switched between the Anatolian Saz, his keyboard synthetics and a solo drum. Mia drummed to the beat of the 70s, adding to the Caucasian mix the flavor of rock-n-roll. All the while, the tranquil multilingual chorals of Beatrice transformed the music into what can only be described as a heavenly prayer.
It is befitting that the band chose to take on the name of an ancient Armenian chant between lovers. Over the centuries, Deleyaman has become a symbol of longing, of the passion to a return from exile to the Armenian highlands.
There is an international character to the music of Deleyaman. The group’s founder, Aret grew up in Istanbul, moving to Los Angeles in his teens where he began to experiment with punk music. Jirard spent years touring the Caucasus, studying with world-renowned duduk masters. Beatrice grew up on Baroque, while singing choral every Sunday in her Protestant Church in France. Mia, a Swedish national, is a product of the vibrant jazz and rock sounds of the 1970s. Together, they are an eclectic group who according to Aret, draw musical inspiration from poetry and traditional folk ballads.
“Our music is inspired by Armenian and English poetry,” he said, referencing the poetry of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edgar Allen Poe, the ballads of Sayat Nova and the compositions of Komitas. In addition to traditional Armenian pieces, the band also incorporates Swedish and Celtic folk into its repertoire. Both elements, Aret explained, are a perfect marriage, which illuminate the soul of the band.
“Just like with Armenian music, the instruments and vocal harmony of Celtic music speaks to the heart,” he said. “There is something nostalgic and melancholic in Armenian and Irish music.”
“We have an ancient medieval Swedish folk song and I am certain every Armenian will feel a connection to it when they hear it,” he added.
He explained that the band doesn’t limit itself to just one principle or element when creating music. Each song is a combination of the unique musical background of each of its members.
“My specialty in the group is to mix different harmonies,” Beatrice added. “Personally, I love Baroque music. I would listen to Bach and Vivaldi when I was young.”
Mia, who was involved with jazz and rock prior to joining the group, explained that the unique style of the band has actually inspired her to play the drums and percussion in a very different kind of way than she was normally used to. “But it doesn’t prevent me from finding my place,” she noted. “I don’t play a repetitive rhythm. It’s quite another approach. All the various sounds integrate very well.”
Aret explained that this type of harmony between the members of the group is because each member is quick to understand one another. “We know how to follow each other’s inspirations and rhythm,” he said.
To date, Deleyaman has produced three albums. The first one, entitled 00/1 was released in 2001. The second one, released in 2003 was titled “second,” while the their latest CD, released in 2006, is entitled “3” and is a play on the 21st letter in the Armenian alphabet, “Hee.”
Ironically, it wasn’t the Armenian community of France that first embraced the band when they started out in 2000. “We would get mixed crowds but it was mainly the gothic and alternative crowd that was first attracted to our music,” Aret explained.
“We didn’t have a big Armenian fan base at first,” he added. “It was somewhat strange to come to terms with the fact that the Duduk was so well embraced by people who didn’t even know what it was.”
But last year, the Naregatsi Art institute in Armenia invited them to do a tour of Shushi, Yerevan, Goris and Gyumri. “It was very exciting,” Aret remarked. “The Armenian crowed reacted very well to our music.”
“I think our music isn’t just Armenian, it’s universal,” he said.
Music should not be named, because the minute it’s categorized, part of its essence is lost, all the band members agreed.
“The deeper we look in ourselves, the closer we get to a fundamental oneness with the universe,” Beatrice explained. “There is something universal in solitude.”
This sense, that music gives life a deeper meaning–that it is meant for more than just entertainment, is the philosophy behind the music of Deleyaman. “The process of looking inward is something that’s very liberating. I don’t remember who I am or what I am doing when I am making music,” stated Aret.
That spiritual feeling of liberation, however, can be found in Armenian music, according to Beatrice, who said she grew up in a very compartmentalized and rigid protestant home.
“There’s something universal to it; an infinite aspect that you can kind of experience but never really grasp,” she remarked.
Aret agreed. “There is a very strong spiritual element in Armenian music, and I think it has been lost,” he said as he picked up the band’s second CD to illustrate his point. “It’s the seventh letter of the Armenian alphabet,” he explained, pointing to the drawing of the letter “Eh” on the album cover.
“Eh” has many meanings. The most basic of them is simply, “is,” or “everything is,” according to Aret. But in Armenian Christian tradition, the letter “Eh,” is a direct reference to God or eternity and means, “He exists.”
Aret was right. A vital aspect to Armenian music has been forgotten. Komitas too believed that we had overlooked the spiritual side of who we were as a people. After traveling across the Armenian plateau, recording and transcribing Armenian folk and liturgical music, he noticed that the liturgical songs that he had collected from villages and ancient monasteries were, in their primitive forms, virtually identical to the folk songs created by the Armenian peasant as he sang about his daily life experiences.