Tag Archives: world music

“There’s no borders”: A chat with Syrian-Armenian singer Lena Chamamyan

One of today’s foremost female singer-songwriters, Lena Chamamyan is in many ways a true embodiment of diversity. And that’s no accident: born in Damascus to a family with Armenian roots, Lena grew up in a house listening to Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong (her father was a trumpet and saxophone player), along with Armenian folk tunes and oriental Arab music – her grandmother wanted her to sing like Asmahan.

Having studied music and classical singing, Lena has since experimented with various styles and genres, expanding her musical vocabulary and incorporating various different influences into her songwriting and performing. Currently based in Paris, she writes and produces her own music, has already released 4 solo albums, and is busy touring, performing and recording new songs.

It was on a summer afternoon in Paris that my friend Nikos met with Lena and asked her a few questions in order to share her responses with the readers of this blog. Here’s what she told us…

Constantly curious and eager to further develop artistically, Lena enjoys listening to various different musical styles including fado, flamenco, as well as contemporary Sufi and Indian classical music (she has a soft spot for Dulce Pontes, and has cited the Shakti album with John McLaughlin as a personal favorite).

A unique blend of jazz, traditional Eastern music, Armenian folk and Western harmonies, Lena’s music has an ethereal quality colored by her distinctive, soulful voice. It is characterized by an air of melancholy and heartfelt compassion, and in a way reflects her own generous spirit and warm personality, as well as her passion for creativity and communication.

Lena Chamamyan / Photo: Nikos Ziogas

For Lena, the power of music lies in the chance it offers us to create something new every day, and also transcend language or physical barriers. “There’s no borders”, she says, “we don’t need to understand the language in order to feel the music.”

She would also like to perform in Greece one day and meet the Syrians who are living there. In her own words: “I believe they feel lonely and they feel afraid – we all feel the same, it’s just that we are living in different places… I would really like us to be together, so that we feel a bit less lonely.”

Roots Open Air (Java Island, Amsterdam)

A festival with strong roots

Throughout its long and interesting history, Roots Festival has been introducing Amsterdam crowds to exciting new sounds and great artists, many of whom (e.g. Fela Kuti, Salif Keita, Manu Dibangowho) were already hugely popular in their home countries before becoming part of the everyday vocabulary among the circles of local music aficionados.

New edition, new location

This year’s edition marked a big change as Roots Open Air, the outdoor event which concluded the festival, moved for the first time from Oosterpark to a new location: the Java Island in Amsterdam’s Eastern Docklands area. Thus, On 6 July, Java Island’s Kop van Java became host to a unique blend of musical styles ranging from non-Western pop and Afro-Caribbean to funk, psychedelic and electronic music.

Roots Festival (Kop van Java, Amsterdam)

Roots Open Air 2014 (Java Island, Amsterdam)

Singing in the rain

Despite the rain showers that persisted throughout most of the evening, the diversity and quality of music on offer were more than enough to make up for the lousy weather.

I first had the chance to watch Garifuna Collective, who presented the soulful melodies and powerful rhythms of their native region in Central America. After the beautiful tunes of the Garifuna people, the volume was raised for the Colombian Bomba Estereo and their dynamic ‘psychedelic cumbia’ sound.

Still, the highlight of this year’s festival was surely the closing performance by Youssou N’Dour. The Senegalese singer and composer performed both new and old songs (including 7 Seconds), as well as covers from such classics as Bob Marley’s Redemption Song.

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The best conclusion to the event (and certainly one of the day’s extra-musical highlights) was coming out of the main stage after the rain was over to watch an incredible evening skyline…