Lena Chamamyan: Rituals, backgrounds and forgotten ideas

Damascus april 21, 2006 

Just landed yesterday near the gate of the East but had a great feeling of coming home because Lena seems to have the Blues and her audience too. We’re in Mostafa Ali Gallery

Besides a genuine feeling blue with Lena Chamamyan and her band (Piano, Counterbass, Trumpet, Citar, Sax) there was strong musicality where east met west: original Arab blue notes nicely fitting in diatonic scales and chords, the sound of ancient hymns implemented into Jazzy kinds of arranges.

Crossing over with jazz
Western listeners might have had some reminiscences of Om Khalsoum… (1904 – 1975) one of the most tremendous female voices of the near Orient last century. At least Lena Chamamyan could compare well to Khalsoum in some respects, en face to tradition, representing however a modern generation.

Lena’s got the luck to work together with Basel Rajoub (Aleppo Conservatory Graduated, just like Lena) who arranged the songs to a contemporary form. “Ala Mowj elbahr”  had a soft Tango instrumental part with chordeon whereas “Hal Esmar Ellon”  came out with piano phrases as if it were in a Jazz club no matter where.

Syrian of Armenic descent
But still the play was authentic. Crossing over to Atlantic or Global ingredients of music doesn’t take away Lena’s identity: Syrian of Armenian descent, she devotes to a comprehension of what she calls “rituals, backgrounds and forgotten ideas”  of her culture. At Aleppo she got specialized in Oriental Classic

Sometimes she does not really have a fysical swing into her her musicians’ solos I’d say, eg. When the trumpet takes over in “Youma lala”  (which has a nice swing indeed) it looks as if the Band – Lena her self included – is somewhat over concentrated. But in spite of this her presence still is there…  She’s got vocal swiftness and a subtle sense of rhythm.

A young guy in the audience tells me later on that since he started listening to this music, he’s proud again to be a Syrian. His mates agree. On of them says it’s his first time being on a concert of Lena’s.  He’s sure to come back. Of course the fact that she is a beautiful woman also matters, he finally admits with some shyness..

It may not be my last visit either. Just had a great time. Lena Chamamyan and Basel Rajoub make a strong team in music for sure.

Keith Lane Chester