Naregatsi Folk Instruments Ensemble takes folk music to an unusual setting

Naregatsi Folk Instruments Ensemble

Achod Papasian | Music of Armenia, Yerevan

I couldn’t help but be surprised to see these teenagers in a place like Calumet, where grown-ups usually celebrate in a cloud of smoke and loud music until the early hours of the morning. They appeared kind of out of place but with their black and red costumes designed with floral patterns, they seemed to blend into the hippieish background of the bar just well.

The event was quite significant for the members of the band since this was the first time they were entertaining an audience in a bar. It was also first time they played in a reduced lineup: only nine of the twenty-five original members were present. These young musicians have already toured Switzerland, France and Germany. This year, the band conducted by Hovik Sahakyan celebrated its 5th anniversary.

The concert opened with a swift introduction, the “Festive Prelude” by G. Manasyan. Warm glances and childish smiles flowed on the stage between the musicians. A singer joined the band for the second song, “Ousti goukas gharib belboul” by Sayat Nova. The next song - a Moldavian Dance - started with a duduk solo joined by dhol. The two qanon players then performed a singular interpretation of the traditional “Hingalla”. All eyes were on the kamantcha player during her solo of the “Zanguezour Dance” led by the young dhol player who kept giggling and glancing around at his fellow players. The following song was a qanon solo based on the theme of “Sireli Yerge” by Ts. Hovhannissian. The solo was executed with such a great intensity that it brought the whole audience into a period of silence. Afterwards, the singer joined the band again for “Qaghani yerg”. She sang with the self assurance of a cantatrice, nodding her head, deeply persuaded of every word she sang.

The manager of the band introduced Hovik Sahakyan to the audience, who has been the director of the ensemble since its establishment. A melody on shvi kicked-off the second part of the concert, with the piece “Haykakan Manranvagner” by Beglarian. At the side of the stage, the conductor gave indications for interpretation with wide gestures. The oud player then advanced timidly to the front stage and performed a solo, Sayat Nova’s “Tchis Asoum, Ti Lats Is Eli”. After the classic “Sari Siroun Yar” interpreted by the whole band, we enjoyed the second qanon solo of the evening which consisted in a long suite played with great sensibility. The melody emerged and disappeared in silence, with vibrating impulsions. The interpretation was executed with great freedom, such that the player seemed to have opened another world where the audience could drift away in abstract landscapes.

The next piece, "Qaravan" started mysteriously with droplets of qanon and the drone of duduk. The melodies followed a versatile path and the members of the band united in the dramatic intensity. The vocalist joined in the middle of the song with Avetik Issahakyan’s lyrics; one of the highlights of the evening. After a sober kamantcha solo, the band interpreted another powerful piece: “Zourni Trngi”, a traditional dance that elevated the spectators, following the rhythmic claps of the conductor. The atmosphere reached its summit with “Tamzara”. The young duduk player took the zourna, but could hardly follow the brisk rhythm. Fortunately, the whole public was cheering him on with clapping and cheering in a happy trance.

The new generation is promising! At the end of the concert, I could hardly believe that the performers who took us to another dimension were not even eighteen years old. A dimension where music is a game and the players are kings…