Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Udi Boghos Kirechjian - Udi Hrant's little-known singing and oud-playing brother-in-law


Top: Udi Hrant; Bottom: Udi Boghos

You've heard of Udi Hrant, but have you heard of the other blind Armenian oud-playing singer from Istanbul - Udi Boghos? And would you believe me if I told you they were "bajanakh" i.e. "brother-in-law" or to be more specific, married to two sisters?

Yes folks, it's all true. Boghos Kirechjian, with his thick, slicked back hair (presaging Elvis), his bold choice (for a blind gentleman) not to rock shades, and most importantly his VOICE, was perhaps the coolest cat in mid-century Bolis. He didn't have the oud chops of Hrant - that goes without saying - but the man had some pipes.

Dig him singing the now-classic "Parov Yegar Siroun Yar":


The genesis of this recording is quite interesting. After Udi Hrant returned in December from his succesful 1950 US tour (which started as an attempt to have American doctors treat his blindness, bankrolled by Greek-American underworld figure Lahanaras), Aydin Asllan, the Albanian-American ethnic record king who owned the Balkan label, had an idea. For years recordings had been imported from Turkey and Greece by popular artists including Hrant and Jewish-Greek rebetiko singer Roza Eskenazi. But what if Asllan were to go to the Mediterranean himself and record these stellar artists. He might have more artistic freedom, especially in Turkey, if he just recorded them and brought the masters back to the US for release aimed at the immigrant community. Besides, Hrant had been a smash hit in the US and maybe there was money to be made on further releases. Furthermore, there might be success in bringing other Armenian and Greek artists to tour in the States. 

And so, on May 19, 1951, Asllan boarded a ship in New York Harbor headed for Piraeus, Greece, the port of Athens. (Special thanks to Joe Graziosi for these details). He apparently met up with Rebetiko diva Roza Eskenazi along with her oudist Agapios Tomboulis (of partially Armenian descent) and Greek kemenche player Lambros Leondaridis and went with them to Istanbul, the city where all of them were born, for a series of special recording sessions. Armenian artists Udi Hrant and Udi Boghos were recorded, as well as Turkish gypsy musicians Şukru Tunar (clarinet), Kemani Haydar Tatlıyay (violin), Kanuni Ahmet Yatman (kanun), and Ali Kocadinc (dumbeg/darbuka), and Lambros' brother Kemençeci Parashko who still lived in Istanbul. 

Here is a picture of some of the members of the group with Aydin Asllan standing at far left (with Roza standing at the microphone, these are most of the abovementioned musicians aside from Hrant and Boghos):



At this special recording session, Armenian-language songs written by Hrant, Boghos, and other composers were recorded with a band consisting of Hrant (oud and vocals), Boghos (vocals), Tunar (clarinet), Yatman (kanun), Tatliyay (violin) and Kocadinc (drum). In other words Armenian language songs were recorded in Istanbul in 1951 by a band composed of Armenians and Muslim Turkish Gypsies playing together. These included such popular numbers as "Siroon Aghchig" and "Serdis Vera Kar Me Ga" (sung by Hrant) as well as "Vart Kaghelen Gou Kas Yar" and "Parov Yegar Siroun Yar" (sung by Boghos), among other songs. The band even did an instrumental version of "Soode Soode" that was titled "Haygagan Barer - Dugun Oyunu" (Armenian Dances - Wedding Dance, in Armenian and Turkish respectively). But what would have been super controversial to the authorities was Boghos' rendition of "Çanakkale Içinde," a Turkish-language song of mysterious origins which by this time had become a Turkish nationalist ballad. To an Armenian, the words had different connotations relating to suffering they had experienced during the First World War. 

Suffice it to say, none of these songs would have been possible, politically speaking, to release in Turkey. And so, along with Roza Eskenazi's songs backed by Turkish Gypsy and Greek musicians, Asllan brought the masters back to the US to have them pressed as 78 rpm records and sold to Greek- and Armenian-Americans and other immigrants from the region. By December 1951, they were being sold in the ethnic record stores throughout the US. From October 1952 - October 1953, Roza Eskenazi herself also came to America to tour for a solid year. Udi Hrant also returned around the same time period, and would do so almost every year or every other year up to approximately 1963. 

The song Parov Yegar Siroun Yar became very popular in the repertoire of many Armenian kef bands, and is maybe most associated with Richard Hagopian. The lyrics which Boghos delivered in his signature style are as follows:

Բարով եկար սիրուն եար
Ես կը մեռնիմ քեզ համար
Ինծի մէկ համբոյր մը տուր
Աստուծու սէրուն համար

Երբ որ ես քեզ մօտենամ
Դուն ինչու կը հեռանաս
Համբոյր մըն ալ կ'ուզեմ նէ
Ան ալ դժուարուն կու տաս

Ինչու զիս կը լացընես
Անխիղճ մ'ըլլար դուն այդպէս
Գիտեմ ամէնէն վերջը 
Դուն զիս պիտի մեռցընես

Parov yegar siroun yar
Yes gu mernim kez hamar
Indzi meg hampouyr mu dour
Asdoudzou seroun hamar

Yerp vor yes kez modenam
Toun inchou gu heranas
Hampouyr mun al g'ouzem ne
An al tzhvaroun gou das

Inchou zis gu latsunes
Ankhighj m'ullar toun aytbes
Kidem amenen verchu
Toun zis bidi mertsunes

Welcome, sweet love
I am dying for you
Give me one kiss
For the love of God

When I get close to you
Why do you move away?
And if I want a kiss
That also you barely give

Why do you make me cry?
Don't be heartless like that
I know in the end
You will make me die

Udi Boghos Kirechjian was married to the sister of Udi Hrant Kenkulian's wife, Aghavni. Unfortunately I don't know Mrs. Kirechjian's name nor do I know the maiden name of the sisters. Any Bolsetsi or friend of the family with information, please let me know and it would be much appreciated.

HARRY KEZELIAN
MICHIGAN, 3/16/21

2 comments:

  1. the lineup on that album sounds incredible! Those are some of my favorite musicians and I had no idea they were ever recorded together! Any idea where this album might still be found?

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