“We were born to play music and we are guided by music”
Interview with members of the jazz band Mikayel and Friends.
The jazz band Mikayel and Friends was formed only a year ago and was recently recognized as the best band of the year at the Number Van Awards. Mikayel and Friends is different from other jazz bands in that they have introduced the tar, which is an Armenian folk instrument. The band is participating in the Made in New York jazz competition, and the 2nd stage of the online vote is in progress. You can vote for the Armenian jazz band by visiting` http://madeinnyjazz.com/miqayel_voskanyan_friends_band/. Two of the band members, Mikayel and David are participating in the jazz improvising competition in Odessa, and you can vote for them by visiting the following websites: http://master-jam.com/en/participant-miqayel-voskanyan-tar-armenia/ եւ http://master-jam.com/en/participant-david-melkonyan-sax-armenia/. “Any festival or competition abroad is important because it helps a band become recognized, establish contacts and gain experience. You get to know the musical culture abroad and present yours at the same time,” says Mikayel. Eritasard.am’s correspondent sat down for an interview with all five members of the band, including Mikayel (tar), Arman (keyboard), Gurgen (bass guitar), David (saxophone) and Movses (percussions). Eritasard.am: When was the band created? How did you meet each other? Mikayel: I gave a solo concert at Cafesjian Center for the Arts last year. My friends also participated in the concert and we named our band “Mikayel Voskanyan and Friends”. Later, it turned into a project, and then a band. For now, the name is the same, but it might change later. Eritasard.am: Are you all musicians? David: Yes, all of us have received a musical education and we all live for music. We were born to play music and we are guided by music. None of us has a job on the side and it’s not like we are amateurs. Eritasard.am: So, you’re on your way to earning a living by playing music? Movses: We have been doing that for a long time now. We literally earn a living by playing music. Eritasard.am: Was your first concert an ethno-jazz concert as well, or did the developments lead you to this format? Mikayel: We started with this format in the beginning. It’s not just ethno jazz. It’s a mix of different genres. We play our music with love and with our knowledge of music. David: Even though we knew each other, Mikayel was the one who formed the band. He had a program that included his songs. True, we adapted and added other songs during rehearsals, but the majority of the songs were Mikayel’s songs in that style, and the style was a synthesis of jazz and folk music. Eritasard.am: Jazz and folk music are not very much alike. What were the reactions from people who listen to jazz and people who prefer to listen to folk music? David: Whoever comes to listen to jazz definitely won’t only be listening to jazz, and the same goes for whoever comes to listen to folk music. This is a mix for anyone who likes to listen to a mix of genres. We mainly have a young audience, but there are also older people who come to hear us play. Eritasard.am: Some say Armenian youth don’t listen to Armenian folk music very much. Mikayel: People not only started listening to folk music, but many were also introduced to the tar instrument. It’s nice to see that this national instrument sparked interest among the people. The tar is heard with other instruments that the youth already know. Movses: There are people who already know how each instrument sounds. Eritasard.am: Mikayel has been playing the tar since he was a child, while the rest of you don’t play folk music and instruments. Was it easy or difficult to play this kind of music? Movses: We’re all Armenian. We have had many contacts with folk musicians in the past, and that’s why this didn’t come as a surprise to us. Gurgen: It was more interesting. Even during the rehearsals we would be motivated and create something new, like play the tar in the swing or bop genres. What we play now comes from that. Arman: I have performed a song with the accompaniment of the tar for national instruments, but I played the tar in this genre for the first time. David: We’re Armenians, and no matter what kind of music we play, we always remember folk music. Playing with the tar was not extraordinary, but rather, it was an interesting experiment. Eritasard.am: The band is becoming more and more popular. Where do you mainly perform? Mikayel: Currently, we perform at almost all live music clubs in Yerevan and give a couple of concerts every month. We haven’t performed at the large concert hall in Yerevan yet, but we will. We’re not rushing. The best feeling is that the audience accepts us, even those who come to this or that club just to hear us play. The only thing left is to establish ties with musicians abroad and perform for foreigners. Eritasard.am: What is the band’ s major goal at this moment? Mikayel: We’re currently focused on competitions. We’re also working on adding more songs. We’re still in the period when we’re getting to know our audience and vice versa. Eritasard.am: Do you perform with other bands or musicians? Gurgen: Yes, we collaborate with all bands and musicians, but in the genres that we are familiar with (jazz, blues, funk, etc.). However, our band comes first. We perform our favorite songs by other bands and musicians elsewhere, but this is ours. This is our idea. We don’t play someone else’s music good or bad. We play our music. Eritasard.am: Do you have a song that you love playing during your concerts? Gurgen: All our songs are based on our ideas. Mikayel composes the song, but we all work on the song together. Every one of us likes a particular part of the song, but in the end, it turns out that we all like it. Eritasard.am: You are all close friends. Doesn’t that stand in the way when you compose a song? David: It only helps us. It’s more effective when you’re friends because nobody is restraint when it comes time to express opinions and nobody thinks about offending the other person with his advice. Gallery: The jazz band Mikayel and Friends Tsovinar Karapetyan