Friday, April 1, 2016

Collectif Medz Bazar - the best new thing since sliced basterma

A short time before Christmas I saw a video on youtube that was nothing short of a revelation. All I could tell for sure was that these were young French-Armenians and they were rapping about some type of Turkish or Armenian food called "Kokorech."

To those that knew about Collectif Medz Bazar long before me, I apologize that I am late to the game, but more importantly WHY DID YOU NOT TELL ME ABOUT THEM!!!

I have to say, this is one of the most creative, wonderful expressions of music and art by young Armenians that I have ever seen. 

In recent years we have seen many young Armenians coming up with new ways to express themselves in the realm of music. Until I saw this video, there were very few of these musical expressions or artists that I felt an identification with. Without naming names of other artists, it seems most young Armenians who try to do something "new and different" from traditional Armenian music, either modify the dance music with house and techno beats and/or too much keyboard, or try to take the purist canonical Armenian songs of Gomidas and others and perform them in some funky, hipster-ish style such as acoustic guitar, jazz fusion, classical guitar, a capella singing, etc. 

Neither of those styles did I identify with, although sometimes I enjoyed them. But Collectif Medz Bazar (whose members, apparently are not all Armenian but Armenian, French, Turkish, and other ethnicities living in Paris) has created for the first time, music that was new and different, but which also resonated with me. (Of course, my first love is the kef music of groups like the Kef Time Band or Onnik Dinkjian, but that music is not "new and different.") Medz Bazar has created music that is new without trying to compete with clubbing music, that's Armenian without being inside the box 100% certified by Gomidas, that has the Turkish and all the other influences. And it has authenticity, and the spirit of being a young Armenian in the Diaspora.

Let's take the video...from the opening scene where everyone is waking up, sleeping under Armenian style afghans or "medz mayrig blankets" as I called them growing up (and we owned several), to the scenes walking through the streets of Paris, going to a restaurant, dancing in the street, I loved this video. The style of the whole thing, both music and video, was to me above all AUTHENTIC. It was not posturing and trying to be cool or badass or hipster like some of the other artists that have come along. These young people seem to be GENUINE and really having FUN with the music and the video they created. At the same time, they created something of high quality.

I have never eaten Kokorech before but that's not the point. The scenes dancing in the street and going to the Turkish-Kurdish restaurant reminded me, when I watched the video again today, of my days only a few years ago in college at the University of Michigan, where I spent most of my time with the other members of the Armenian Club. Mostly everyone was Armenian, but people would bring their non-Armenian friends to hang out with us, and they loved the Armenian (or Anatolian, or Mediterranean, or Middle Eastern) lifestyle and socializing. Our friends were Anglos, Greeks, Turks, Jews, Indians, and other ethnicities. I remember times dancing in the streets of Ann Arbor, parties at our apartment where we drank ouzo, ate our own homemade shish kebab and pilaf, or beoregs I brought from home, and played the CD "Kef Time Detroit" at full volume. I'm pretty sure I even had a medz mayrig blanket. There have been times we did the Michigan Hop in the streets. The Kokorec video reminded me of just that same lifestyle that we lived. 

I also listened to the entire album of Medz Bazar, entitled "Kokorec". A brief run down of the album:
1. Kokorec - See above
2. Jarnana - Getme - Ok, apparently this song is in Albanian. I had no idea what language this was at first. Then they sing a really catchy song in Turkish, that sounds basically like a Hayastantsi pop song minus the keyboard. But I mean that in a really good way.
3. Dolama - This song was really cool. It also has a music video. I like how they are lying around and then decide to sing this off-meter song in Turkish. Really nice clarinet solo in the beginning of this.
This was cool as they did this classic Armenian song in Armenian French and Turkish. Even the Armenian lyrics are new as far as I could tell. 
5. Al Ayloughs. They basically did this classic Armenian folk song straight but they nailed it.
6. Ayayay. This one was in French and it also had a European or French style to it.
This was a heavy Armenian folk song that sounds like it's from Moush or somewhere like that. I noticed the influence from the Kotchnak and Akn singing groups, which I didn't mention but two of Medz Bazar's members are the children of the leaders of those groups. Obviously they inherited the talent. 
This was really enjoyable. I remember this song from a Shoghaken album. They killed it on this number and then added in a Kurdish (?) song in the middle for good measure. This is a great Armenian dance number. 

This post is really getting too long, but I have to also at least mention two other things. "Notre Patrie" in which the group sings about the confusing relationship with the homeland and the Diaspora, as well as political issues in Armenia, especially as huge numbers of Diasporan youth descend on Armenia each summer. This one I couldn't relate to quite as much as I've only been to Armenia once (though it was in the summer pretty much as they describe) 

And 'Ariur Ar 'Ariur, in which the main singer raps about being an Armenian in the Diaspora. I really can't go in depth about all the things he brings up, but suffice it to say, he's poking fun at a lot of ideas that are held by many Armenians (i.e., hating the Turks) and also showing the conflicts we grow up with as Armenian young people in the Diaspora, again it really resonated with me.

In summary, I can't believe it took me a year and a half to discover Collectif Medz Bazar, but I am so happy that I did. This music completely speaks to me and I'm sure it will also to many of you. To me this is a truly authentic group giving voice to the youth of the Armenian Diaspora, and not just Armenians but others as well! From a fellow young Diasporan Armenian musician, I wish the best of luck to the members of Collectif Medz Bazar and I hope they create another album, and I really hope I get the chance to see them perform one day.