Monday, October 22, 2012

10/8 - the appendix

While you peruse the below article on 10/8 take a listen to a live dance hall version of "Aghmoogi" courtesy of Tomzara.
This one really has the swing of a live dance party "Armenian shuffle" that I mention in the previous post. Onnik Dinkjian on vocals, John Berberian on oud, Carnig Mikitarian on clarinet.

10/8: if you have to ask, you'll never understand

 The title of this posting is, of course, a play on Louis Armstrong’s famous response to the question “what exactly is jazz?” So what is 10/8? 10/8 is a rhythm used in Armenian music, but even if you try and count it out you probably won’t get it; it has a weird syncopation to it that those who haven’t grown up with it find it very hard to pick up (unless perhaps you are a professional percussionist). Here is a great example of a brisk 10/8 meter: the well known “Husenigin Sazera Medley” by (yet again) the Kef Time Band. (Richard Hagopian on oud and vocals, Hachig Kazarian on clarinet, et. al.) 

10/8 (as played in this song) is pretty much restricted to Armenian, Turkish, and Syriac music – and in the realm of Armenian music, it’s only used in Western Armenian kef music as played in America, and basically, not in any other genre. (They’ve never heard of a 10/8 in Armenia. There’s no sheet music with this rhythm either, outside of Turkey.) If you don’t have a very good feel for 10/8, for the swing and the nuance of the rhythm, you won’t be able to just get up and play along. And I find if you can’t feel the rhythm of a song, you’re not going to enjoy the song or understand why it appeals to others. Hence the title phrase of this post. But hey, prove me wrong. Just to be clear I’m not trying to insult the rest of the world, I just think that it’s hard to appreciate this style of song if you didn’t grow up with it.

Someone (I can’t remember where I read it) once described the 9/4 zeybek rhythm as “the soul rhythm of Smyrna.” I would call 10/8 the soul rhythm of the Armenian-Americans. Our favorite dance, the “shuffle,” is done in 10/8 rhythm. A lot of our dances are difficult, but doing the shuffle is like riding a bike – once you really have it in your bones, it falls into place like a beautiful I-don’t-know-what. I’ve been to so many Armenian dances I could practically do the shuffle in my sleep. It’s as if an Armenian’s heart beats in 10/8 instead of 4/4. But again, the shuffle is an Armenian-American dance created in America. It is unknown in the old country, or what’s left of the old country, to be precise. But does that make it any less Armenian? It’s as least as Armenian as William Saroyan, if not more. 

All our best and most important songs are in 10/8 rhythm, like “Hars oo Pesa,” (Bride and Groom) a folk tune hailing from Kharpert which has become the pan-Armenian-American wedding song (at least for those who have kef time music at their weddings). Here’s how it goes down in suburban Detroit. The wedding party, pinkies joined, waits outside the doors of the reception hall. The oudist plays an introductory taksim (basically an instrumental solo, but that’s a story for another post) and as the anticipation bubbles up, announces the bride and groom. Then, as the doors are swung open, the beat of the song begins – and the anticipation bubbles over and explodes, and relief sets in that, yes indeed they did get married! And joyfulness with a touch of familiarity, upon hearing that sweet, good old beat of the 10/8 rhythm, fills all the wedding guests. Upon seeing the new bride and groom dance into the hall to that beat, a sweet feeling of nostalgia for all weddings past and hope for all weddings in the future accompanies the joy for the wedding of the present. It’s practically a spiritual experience. 

I don’t have an example of “Hars-oo-Pesa,” but I do have a 1920s example of Husenigin Sazera (here entitled Ouy Janem, this is the Dikranagerdtsi version while the first example was the Kharpertsi variant.) The following will link you to Ouy Janem, sung by Karekin Proodian (with oud and violin accompaniment), an early Armenian immigrant musician best known for his composition of yet another 10/8, “Sheg Mazerov Er” (She Had Blonde Hair), which can be found on itunes on the album Kef Time Detroit. And without further ado, Mr. Proodian:

Ouy Janem - Karekin Proodian (click me)

The way to count it, if you really want to know, is 1-2-3 1-2 1-2 1-2-3 with the accent on each count of “one”. Except do it at double speed because it’s really not 10/8, it’s 10/16 and we just call it 10/8 out of convenience. But note that it is not 5/8 because it doesn’t repeat itself until you’ve done 10 counts.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Great Debate

Herakrin Telin Vra (Click me)

The link above is a song entitled Herakrin Telin Vra (On The Telegraph Wires) of which the first line is,"will a bird sit on telegraph wires?" The song is sung in the Armenian language by Vartan Margosian, prolific Armenian-American recording artist of the 1920s. Vartan Margosian was born in Kharpert, and lived in the New York area, which meant he belonged to the largest group of Armenians having the same regional origin living the US in his time. Indeed, the "Kharpertsies" were the dominant group in the Armenian-American community at least up until the mid 1970s. The song goes on to sing of love and telegrams, and we could leave it at that. But we can't, because this particular song was originally sung in the Turkish language. Indeed, "Herakrin Telin Vra" never seems to have caught on while the popularity of the original song "Telegrafin Telleri" (the first verse of which is the same, but in the Turkish language), continues in the Armenian community to this day. Here is Telegrafin Telleri as performed by the Kef Time Band (Richard Hagopian on oud and vocals, Hachig Kazarian on clarinet):

This recording comes from the LP Kef Time Fresno, released in 1969, and marketed among the Armenians.

That's right, Turkish language songs have a popularity among the Armenians, even though the Turkish government tried to annihilate the Armenian people in the Genocide of 1915. The reason for this is pretty simple. When the first Armenians immigrated to North America about 100 years ago, they brought their music with them, as explained in my first post. But what I didn't explain in my first post was that this music included songs sung in the Turkish language. Some of the songs were supposedly composed by Armenians. Another reason for the popularity of Turkish songs was that some groups of Armenians, such as those from Adana and Marash, Gesaria and Yozghat, spoke Turkish as their native tongue and didn't understand Armenian. Even in Armenian-speaking areas, the Turkish songs were popular because everyone understood Turkish (the language of the Ottoman Empire) as well as their native Armenian. In the big cities of the old country, such as Istanbul and Izmir, Armenians, Greeks, and Sephardic Jews played in bands together at clubs (called gazinos) with a polyethnic clientele. In such settings, the language of song was always Turkish because that was the one language everyone understood. An Armenian would not understand Greek, and vice versa.

These Turkish-language songs were brought over to America, and the Armenians continued playing them, because it was a part of the music they knew. In places like New York, even the collaboration between Armenians, Greeks, Jews, and Bulgarians continued. While some Armenians were opposed to singing in Turkish, the majority won out and Turkish continued to be sung at Armenian-American events such as dances, weddings, and picnics.

However, since the 1970s, there has been a lot of debate over this music and whether it is appropriate to play at Armenian events. The Armenians from Beirut, who began immigrating to the US in mass numbers in the late 70s due to the Lebanese Civil War which started in 1975, were much more nationalistic than the American Armenians. Not only that, but they had their own style of dance music, Armenian Pop (called "Continental" at the time) which was heavily influenced by 60s French pop music, and later, disco, and which was created in part to "wipe out Turkish music" in the Armenian community of Lebanon. The Beirutsi Armenians brought their new viewpoint with them and really made life difficult for the old-time Armenian-American musicians. Some of them did enjoy the music that was played here, but the anti-Turkish-music group, whether they were a majority or not, made their voice loudly known. The minority of American-bred Armenians who had been opposed to the Turkish music all along immediately joined them.

It had already been a faux pas to sing in Turkish at certain select community events and venues, but now Turkish music was under an outright ban. The only place Turkish music could be heard was at nightclubs, independently organized events such as Kef Time Hartford and Kef Time Cape Cod, and weddings where the family might have requested it. There was even an incident in Watertown, Mass., where a gun was pulled in protest against Turkish music. In addition, it got to the point where not just Turkish-language songs were considered Turkish and banned, but the "kef time" genre of music itself was deemed to be too "Turkish-influenced" and it was proposed to be banned and replaced by "Continental music". Fortunately, this only seems to have happened in L.A. and Canada, as Armenian communities in the East Coast and Midwest continue to hire "kef" bands for their events on a regular basis.

But the debate continues to rage today, with Martin Haroutunian's article "Pulling the Plug on Turkish Music" Turkish music is still considered banned at most Armenian community events. And Haroutunian's article addresses kef music in general, showing us that some are still concerned with the "kef time" style per se, and not just the Turkish lyrics.

My own opinion should be obvious by now. Although I don't advocate or practice following the latest Turkish hit parade of pop music, I believe that the traditional Turkish-language folk songs (as sung by Armenians!!!) are a part of our heritage and deserve to be carried on. This opinion was formed in me at an early age, when I was at a wedding. During a certain song, a lady got up and complained about the Turkish music. My grandmother, God rest her soul, was sitting next to me, and made the comment, "what a bunch of nonsense. We've been playing this music for a hundred years." Indeed we have.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Intro: Eat, Drink, and Enjoy Kef

     Hello to everyone out there in cyberspace....welcome to "Kef Time USA," where I'm going to discuss one of my favorite subjects: kef music.

     Now if you are Armenian-American like myself you probably already know what kef music is, but for the 99.9% of people who aren't, I'll explain. Kef music, in its broadest definition, is the folk music and especially dance music tradition of the "first wave" of Armenians who immigrated to the US 100 years ago. This music style was passed down through the generations to today. The main instruments are clarinet, oud (kinda like a guitar), dumbeg (a hand drum), the occasional tambourine, and American guitar. In the old days violin was more common in place of the clarinet. Sometimes the kanun, a type of zither is added to the mix, as well as extra "American" instruments.

     It is usually accompanied by line dancing, where a large group of people dance on and on in a circle, joined usually by pinkies. Then we have another type of dancing which we call in English "freestyle" (tak bar), as seen in the background title picture. The freestyle dancing is done with partners, who never touch each other, they simply outstretch their arms, wave them around, snap their fingers, and in the case of the women, undulate their wrists and hands.

     Many Armenians are deeply familiar with kef music but they don't necessarily call it by that name. They may just call it "Armenian music" or "Armenian dance music." The name kef music has come about more recently, since a specific name was needed to contrast this style to the newer style of Armenian dance music known as "Armenian pop music" (which was brought to America by the second wave of Armenian immigration that followed the Lebanese Civil War of 1975.) The word "kef" has several meanings; "a kef" can mean a party, as in the event itself; or "kef" can mean simply "good times," as in the expression, "we're having kef."

     The Kef Time Band has been one of the most popular in the history of the genre. Their success with the albums Kef Time Las Vegas (1968), Kef Time Fresno, Kef Time Detroit, and Kef Time Hartford as well as their countless live performances set the standard for nearly every band that followed them. One of their most well-known recordings was of "Soode Soode," (pronounced "soo-deh"), one of the most popular songs in the whole kef genre. You can easily download it on itunes or watch it played live by most of the original band in this video: Soode Soode was the first track on Kef Time Las Vegas and its "driving rhythms" (as described in the liner notes) propelled the members of the Kef Time Band to fame: Richard Hagopian on oud and vocals, Hachig Kazarian on clarinet, Buddy Sarkissian on percussion, and Jack Chalikian on kanun. (In the video Richard dedicates the song to the recently deceased Buddy, and is joined by Hachig and Jack on stage.)

     Soode Soode was originally recorded by Edward Bogosian (Yetvart Boghosian, 1900-?) an Armenian comic actor and singer who was born in Constantinople and immigrated to the US around 1920, settling in New York. Bogosian, otherwise known as "Maestro Yetvart," recorded extensively on Metropolitan, a small ethnic label, in the 40s and 50s. He claimed to have written "Sood E, Sood E" - in any case, it was his biggest hit - and the title of this post is a quote from the lyrics, which pretty much sums up the entire song. Without further ado, I present you with "Sood Eh, Sood Eh" by Maestro Yetvart himself. Click on the link below to listen to the original recording.....

Sood E, Sood E

The recording of Soode Soode from "Kef Time Las Vegas" has appeared on youtube here: