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September 10, 2008

Armenian a cappella

Providence Journal (RI):

The female a cappella trio Zulal take the rural folk music of Armenia and make it bewitching and transcendent; the tricky rhythms and subtly bizarre (to American ears) structures go down easily when paired with the women’s honeyed voices. On their latest record, last year’s Notes To a Crane, the trio apply shimmering Western harmonies to old folk songs from all corners of Armenia that reflect life, love and happiness that are often subsumed by the painful history of the people.

From the playful opener “Yaruhs Khorodig E (My Sweetheart is Cute! So What If He’s Short?)” to the lullaby “Kele Lao (Come, Let Us Go, My Son),” the non-Armenian speaker won’t know what they’re singing, and yet he or she will, which is kind of what music’s all about, isn’t it?

All three members of Zulal were born and raised in the United States, and Teni Apelian says that “all of us have had fairly different cultural experiences.” But Armenian folk music “has always been part of my life.”

Zulal apply elements of pop and jazz harmony to their interpretations of Armenian songs, but they work from songbooks and archival recordings to find the real stuff. Luckily, Apelian says, there’s plenty of archival material to work from, and the Armenian folk tradition is fairly good shape.

The Armenian a cappella tradition, on the other hand, isn’t as well known, Apelian says — most of the best-known Armenian music is instrumental. But singing a cappella, she says, establishes a connection and an homage to the traditions of Armenian rural life — “the village life from which these songs grew” — to perform them with just voices. “It’s reminiscent of that simpler time. It was very much a vocal tradition.”

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Posted by acapnews at September 10, 2008 10:35 PM

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