Ensemble Karot
Traditional Songs of Armenia, Vol. I
(Face Music Switzerland, 2000)

Emerging out of the ruins of the Soviet empire, Armenia was once again restored as an independent nation-state in the 1990s, an event that also heralded a cultural revival. Located in the Caucasus, one of those vague frontiers of Europe and Asia tugged in between the Black and Caspian seas, Armenia is on a crossroads between cultures and empires; it has been exposed to Persian, Greek, Byzantine, Turkish and Russian influences. But the last century or so was decidedly one of the unhappiest in this proud people's history that goes back a few millennia. After the 1915 genocide at the hands of a collapsing Ottoman empire, the Armenians' days seemed to be numbered and many fled their ancestral lands.

One group involved in reviving Armenian folk music is Ensemble Karot, and the outcome of their salvage operation can be heard on Vol. 1. Ensemble Karot -- the name aptly means "nostalgia" -- is a family project and was initiated in 1999 by Aleksan Harutyunyan, a musician with solid credentials obtained at both state conservatory and the university in the capital Yerevan. He is joined by his wife Noune, daughter Lilit and niece Anoosh, plus Hasmik Harutyunyan. Their concerted efforts have resulted in a fine testimonial of Armenia's vocal tradition.

After nearly one-and-a-half hours of playing more than 30 tracks, the listener has a fairly complete overview of the traditional Armenian art of singing. The album's collection can be divided in various categories. They include ceremonial music performed at weddings, funerals and the like, plus dance songs, lullabies and love songs. In addition to that there are epic songs dedicated to both mythological and heroic themes, historical songs covering important episodes from the Armenian heritage and migrant songs dealing with the tragedies surrounding persecution and emigration. It is in this last category that we find the name of Ensemble Karot best reflected. Apart from these themes that may weigh heavily on the mood, the group has also included some light-hearted, humorous songs.

Ensemble Karot bears witness of the cultural legacy of a people known for their will to survival and artistic genius. As migrants they have fared well all over the world -- artists like French chansonnier Charles Aznavour and popstar Cher can both claim Armenian ancestry. It is good that we can now become acquainted with music that is more directly connected to the Armenian soil.

- Rambles
written by Carool Kersten
published 12 March 2005