July 28, 2014

Hitting the Right Notes

You might think that for those caught up in the Syrian conflict there wouldn't be much to sing about. But Lena Chamamyan, a Syrian-Armenian performer is turning her experience of exile into music and achieving international success.

Part of Chamamyan’s appeal is the way in which she defies convention with her music. She fuses jazz with eastern melodies, combines Armenian and Arabic musical structures, and writes, composes, plays and performs her own music, something few Eastern female singers do.

Her music speaks to the haunting loss experienced by an exile, watching her country torn apart by conflict and her people killed from miles away. Considered one of the best voices of her generation, she now performs in concert halls in London, Paris, Istanbul, Beirut, and Cairo.

Refusing to be drawn into the divisive political intricacies of Syria, Chamamyan prefers to remain outside the battle lines. “I have no faith in politics as long as there is one drop of blood on the ground and one Syrian refugee who no one cares about, and here I mean both sides. I decided to stay politically neutral.”

Chamamyan finds that her Armenian identity helps her process the news from Syria. “Armenian culture is based on the idea of diaspora, survival,” she says. “If I didn’t know the art of survival from Armenian culture it would have been very difficult for me to comprehend what is happening in Syria.”

While she now lives in Paris, the singer belongs to the significant Syrian-Armenian minority that trace their heritage to refugees who arrived in Syria in the early twentieth century fleeing war and persecution.

You can listen to Chamamyan’s new album Cotton Candy (Ghazl El Banat) on Soundcloud: