By Carlos Jose Bourdjian
On the 3rd of November 1986 Arthur and Naira Asatryan's life had changed for better. Their hearts felt nothing but joy and happiness for the birth of a baby girl, Emma. No one at that time realized or even predicted that the newborn little princess could later become one of the prominent Armenian jazz vocalists. The same day after 24 years Emma released her first double album titled “24”.
I heard Emma Asatryan for the first time when she was singing “Qo apagan (Yek yerazenq)” by Arthur Grigoryan in 2001. But it didn?t impress me. She sounded a bit childish compared to the meaning of the lyrics. Besides, the rhythm was faster from the original performance by Dikran and Shushan Bedrossian who made it a Cinderella type magic duet at that time.
Emma surprised me with her duet with Arthur Grigoryan and later with her different jazz performances through the years. Today she is one of the few vocalists who can make people listen and feel what's inside them just by hearing her voice. She has the gift of being able to take a standard tune and make it her own without being overbearing or understated. Of course that's the difference between a good singer and a great one. In my opinion, Miss Asatryan is the latter. She is unlike many contemporary artists; it is difficult to foist her into a genre.
I admit that I have tremendously enjoyed all her recordings. But the pleasure is doubled every time I hear “Leylo”, the most surprising and beautiful interpretation of a song I have ever heard. It shows Emma?s growth not only as a singer but also as a songwriter. Her emotional interpretation added intellectual understanding, a real attribute for a musician.
Her double album “24” is a strange mix of pop, soul, funk, and jazz coming through the Armenian singer's creamy and elegant vocals.
If the first CD comprises Armenian contemporary pop music then the second one is a beautiful jazz standards bouquet. There?s probably something for everyone, but it may struggle to sustain jazz fans' interest.
What I like about “24” is its consistent elegance and beautiful simplicity with Emma?s voice providing depth and wisdom beyond her age. She is now recognized because of simplicity: simple talent. This is a standout CD because she attempts to remain true to herself.
“24” is satisfying and a good buy for anyone who appreciates new insights into music. It could possibly open up new areas of musical interests.
Facebook helped me get together with Emma Asatryan. Later I met her at the place she adores the most; The State Song Theatre, where I made this exclusive interview for you to enjoy.
Being part of today?s show business, was this a dream you had in the past or did it happen after everybody noticed the talent you have? Do you recall any of your childhood memories like holding a microphone and singing all the time?
Like other artists, becoming a big star has been my biggest dream since I was a little child. To me the microphone has meant life. So I tried to transform every single toy into a microphone (Laughing).
Lately I found an old school book where I used to write all my essays. Even in one of them I mentioned my dream was to become a big star unlike the rest of the students who dreamt of becoming a doctor, engineer or a sport champion.
Of course there was a talent, but the trend had always changed while growing up. During my teenage years I wanted to become a well known pop star, but later I realized that being famous within a short time by releasing a couple of songs and a few video clips was not exactly the right choice especially that after 3-4 months people will forget about you. I asked for more and wanted to get something serious. Therefore I left for Austria to get professional help and realized that there were other issues to be worried about; quality. I strongly emphasize that whatever music genre I will represent; it should be in high quality especially jazz performances.
Your early appearances for the public were via television during concerts of State Theatre of Song headed by Arthur Grigoryan. Please tell us about this period and how all this started?
With television everything started in 2001 when I participated in the Slavinsky Bazar Song Contest in Ukraine and won the first place. At that time I was only fourteen. But I can say that my history with the State Theatre of Song began when I was only three years old. I grew up in this theatre among big stars and I couldn?t imagine I would become anything else but a singer. There was a time when I wanted to become a painter but without quitting singing. Even Arthur Grigoryan, didn?t know about my talent. One day he accidentally noticed that I was murmuring some notes in a low voice and said: “What a naughty girl, it looks like you know exactly how to sing”. After hearing me well he decided I will participate in the next concert few days later as a solo performer.
Later, I took professional theatre classes for 2 years. During that time I participated in several performances Arthur Grigoryan used to organize. A year later I received the award of Best Newcomer in “Krunk” (The Crane) Song Festival.
Before leaving for Austria, Arthur Grigoryan suggested singing a duet with him. We recorded “Horinvats Tun” together and even shoot a video for it.
One more thing; before getting music education at The Song Theatre, I went to Do-Re-Mi music school; a project held by Nadezhda Sargsyan.
Being still a teenager you already had performed serious songs such as Robert Amirkhanyan?s “Du im yergn es” (You are my song), Arthur Grigoryan?s “Qo abaqan” (Your future), the duet with him as well and later the duet with Forsh. Who were the idols of Emma Asatryan at that time?
Having a musician father (Arthur Asatryan), who used to listen to big legends in Jazz music made me fall in love with those artists at an early age. While most children used to sleep listening to lullabies like “Oror im balas” (sleep my baby) or “Twinkle twinkle little star”, Chick Corea kept playing every night so I could sleep well and never give up my dream of becoming a Jazz singer. I can say that Chick Corea and Earth, Wind and Fire were my idols. During teenage years I liked listening to Christina Aguilera a lot, but now, after moving deeper into world of jazz, I like listening to Dianne Reeves, Fay Claassen, Tania Maria and Kurt Elling. From instrumental world; smooth Jazz and Be-Bob are what really fascinate me. So besides my love to Charlie Parker, Chet Baker, Chick Corea, Kenny Garrett and Miles Davis I like Brazilian music as well.
You mentioned that you went to Austria for some time. Have you attended master classes and specialized in Jazz music or did you want to get a professional music education which was not available in any music school in Yerevan at that time?
I was sixteen years old when I chose to get a serious education in Austria instead of staying here to enjoy fame and appear in different TV channels or magazines. Now I?m glad that I made that choice at a time when lots of temptations could have affected any young girl?s dream.
The Conservatory in Klagenfurt “Austria -K?rntner Landeskonservatorium Klagenfurt” gave me exactly what I need to learn and unfortunately what any other music school in Armenia couldn?t provide. I don?t want to disrespect our conservatory, but the Jazz class is still unable to justify itself quite enough. I noticed this when I went and graduated from Komitas Conservatory in Yerevan after I returned from Austria.
The complete music education in Klagenfurt?s conservatory is six years. You graduate each year after finishing a class. I had the chance to attend different master classes with people specialized in Jazz music, and after three years stay I returned to Yerevan holding both Jazz Vocal Diploma and a teaching license at any conservatory in Austria, but of course after finishing the remaining three years.
And do you think of going back?
People always ask me this question: “Why did you come back? You could stay and work there”, but living in Europe was not easy and I kept missing everything here. Instead, I thought we could improve our conservatory in Yerevan by taking the Jazz class few steps forward if we seriously act and invest some money with the right choice of people. And I believe we will make this happen very soon.
Now, I teach at the music school of Alexander Spendiaryan. I?m responsible for both classes of Jazz improvisation and Jazz Vocal at the State Theatre of Song.
What about teaching at the Conservatory?
Nobody is authorized to become a teacher at Komitas State Conservatory without passing the “Aspirantura” (Master) exam and getting the PHD degree. Actually I did this too (laughing). My concert that took place the night after launching my album “24” in November 2010 was the PHD exam and I already passed. So I?m ready to teach at the conservatory, but at the right time.
After your return to Yerevan you have participated in few concerts such as performances with the Armenian Jazz Band lately conducted by Armen Hyusnunts. Have you appeared in such concerts during your study in Austria?
Yes for sure! Since such performances were part of the education and we had to sing in some Jazz Clubs. Besides my brother Karen Asatryan, who besides being a brilliant pianist, teaches Jazz Piano at conservatories of both Vienna and Klagenfurt. Karen had his own band and I used to perform with them from time to time. Karen had also graduated from Komitas State Conservatory of Yerevan, class of Violin. Now he has been living in Vienna for five years.
By the way he is as well the author of my duet “Horinvats Tun” with Arthur Grigoryan.
Before launching your first album you have released the video clip of the song “Leylo” in 2009 directed by Hrant Movsisyan. People liked “Leylo” though it didn?t have lyrics. Whose idea was the improvisation singing?
Actually the improvised singing or what is called scat singing is worldwide acceptable especially in Jazz. To be honest, “Leylo” was not supposed to be scatted. I wrote the music but couldn?t write any lyrics for it. Each time I tried to write a line I ended up with nothing. So the music remained without lyrics but I kept singing it in my head and sometimes murmuring in a low voice using the word Leylo without any specific reason. I made a demo for the melody so that Martin Mirzoyan could arrange it. And when he knew about the lyrics he suggested leaving it as it was, lyric-less (laughing). The song was first called “Life is so beautiful”, the sentence that I repeat it few times at the end of the song, but then it was changed to “Leylo”.
Sometimes I believe if we have a good music with a rich melody and the proper harmonies, then we don?t need any lyrics for people to get the message of the song itself.
And what is your comment that after “Leylo” became popular other pop singers began lately to scat?
I guess we previously had the scat experience in our Armenian popular songs like “Shalakho” and “Armenian Sketches” that Varduhi Vardanyan used to sing it, but I?ll be glad if “Leylo” really made it with others (laughing).
Carlos Jose Bourdjian with Emma Asatryan after Nino Katamadze concert
Have you composed to other artists?
Carlos Jose Bourdjian with Emma Asatryan after Nino Katamadze concert
Actually I wrote a song and dedicated it to Anahit Shahbazyan. I guess she will record it very soon. But I?ll be glad if I was asked to. Why not? I?ll do it of course with a pleasure.
Why was your first album called “24” and released in a double disc format?
I became 24 years old the same day the album was launched on November the 3rd 2010. So “24” represents the story of my life for the past 24 years. Certain songs have stories related to them, especially that not all the songs were recorded at the same period of time.
We made it double album because too much information in different genres was impossible to fit in one place especially the jazz performances which were separately released. Even the cover has two photos; each shows Emma Asatryan in a different image.
And tell us about the people you have worked in making this album.
I must say that the whole idea and concept of releasing such album came from the company “Sharm” who released both the album and later the second video clip “Yelak” (Strawberry) as well.
And I had the chance and honor to work with the best Armenian musicians ever. Artists like Armen Hyusnunts, Vahagn Hayrapetyan, Armen Martirosyan, Martin Mirzoyan, Ara Torossian, Forsh, Arthur Grigoryan, Anita Hakhvertyan and others. Actually the list is too long that sometimes I?m afraid to forget anyone to thank for.
Will there be a solo concert for Emma Asatryan soon? And what about future plans?
I always skip from mentioning future plans because everything you plan is not 100% guaranteed to make it happen. Besides, I like to give time to everything and see how people react and let them appreciate in return. How silly and stupid is when people congratulate you the day you launch your album asking: “When are you planning to release your next album?”
So it is better to stay quiet with small plans. I?m sure there are no plans for big concerts in big halls. I prefer everything small and cozy like my music. Even last year?s concert, it was very simple, cozy but in quality. I guess there will be a small concert on my lucky day November the 3rd at the theatre of song, the place I like the most.
Is there any artist that you wish to work with?
There are lots of musicians dream to collaborate with. But I think Nino Katamadze is the first on my list. I had the chance to know her very close during her visit to Yerevan 2 years ago. We have a lot in common especially music taste and genre. So I guess a duet with her will be great.
What is your opinion regarding the Eurovision Song Contest since you had the experience to perform in different countries on different stages? How much does it interest you? And will you agree to participate in such contest especially that your English accent is incomparable?
(Laughing) The Eurovision is the only contest that evaluates everything but the music. In 2009 I had the chance to accompany the sisters Inga and Anush Arshakyan and be part of their Eurovision experience held in Moscow at that time. Their performance was more than great but the evaluation standards were far from the quality of art they presented. Generally I?m not interested that much in song contests and especially in Eurovision which is not a big issue even worldwide, but in Armenia it captured more attention than it really deserves because it is still a brand new experience for us aiming to become internationally famous. It is worth mentioning Tatevik Hovanessyan's experience regarding this issue; she doesn?t a have a single video clip and is not very much known, but her limited audience and the quality of music she presents are incomparable.
Thank you Emma. I enjoyed being part of this nice conversation. And as a part of Azad-Hye team I wish you nothing but all the best in your future plans and your career. Hope one day your name will shine in world of Jazz Music all around the world.
Photos by Zaven Khachikian, Hayk Manvelyan and Carlos Jose Bourdjian