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Mаry Mamyan

A Fusion of Old and New: Los Angeles Element Band Brings Innovative Sound to Yerevan

The group Element Band, founded in Los Angeles in 2005, recently performed for the first time in Yerevan.

Element Band, which partners Armenian and a host of other ethnic musical traditions and rock melodies via innovative new arrangements, is touring Armenia with two of its six members – Ara Dabandjian, the group’s founder and song writer, and Soseh Aramouni, one of the vocalists.

“When we arrived we thought how people would accept us, being we were from overseas and sing in Armenian,” says Sose with a laugh.

The group has three CDs under its belt and is working on a fourth.

“But one thing became clear. First, such music is acceptable and the second is that people have never heard such arrangements and that the result was very positive,” Ara notes.

On stage, Ara can be seen playing a number of instruments. When I asked exactly how many does he play, Ara joked, “One day I’ll count them.”

While most of Element Band’s repertory is based on Armenian traditional renditions, the group fuses traditional American, French, Spanish, Bulgarian, Italian, Portuguese, Greek songs as well. In all, the group sings n ten languages. The band members like to call their unique product a part of the world music scene.

“I always stress that the soul and breath is very Armenia; that which we have felt and feel. Coming here, those feelings have doubled because we are playing in the homeland after all,” says Ara.

Element Band has played at the prestigious Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, a stage graced by the likes of the Beatles and Frank Sinatra, on several occasions.

Ara confesses that the band’s music really hits home in an Armenian setting where people long for a taste of national culture. Nevertheless, the group wants to enlarge the audience of its music to audiences beyond its present confines, thus the exploration of new renditions and arrangements.

“This is the part that’s a bit more difficult. We have succeeded to a small degree and are proud of the accomplishment. It’s not easy and it’s something new to present Armenian songs publicly to other peoples. But we are proud to be a part of that scene and that people come to hear us,” Ara says.

He believes that music is at the core of culture and preserving one’s identity. Sose adds that it’s easier to portray one’s culture to others via music. In the case of music, people come and listen. It’s not like literature which demands knowledge of the language.

Ara and Sose do not want to see Armenian young people in the diaspora losing their culture. They may don’t speak the language but at least they love to listen to the music.

“In a place like Los Angeles material things are more important than culture. This important question cannot be stressed enough. Hopefully, we are doing are part through music,” Ara says. 

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