Carahunge: Giving life to shadows of the past


Achod Papasian | Music of Armenia, Yerevan

Achod Papasian recently met with the members of Carahunge, a folk-rock quartet which has been growing for the past year and spreading traditional Armenian melodies in numerous concert halls of Yerevan. The band consists of Anna Hovhannisyan (blul), Tigran Kuchatyan (guitar, vocal), Harut Panosyan (percussion) and Sirun Shekoyan (vocal).

Tell me about the creation of the band. How did you meet each other? 
Tigran: For a long time I wanted to form a band. I was organizing guitar evenings with local musicians, and during one of them, I met Anna. During the guitar evenings, she was mostly singing, but once I heard her play the beloul, I convinced her to join me to play with some other musicians. Sirun also came to these evenings, so we ended up forming a trio, experimenting with different styles, such as, Russian Estrada, gothic folk. I met Harout, the percussion player, completely by chance, online. I had answered a question of his on the Bicycle NGO Facebook page, and somehow we ended up talking about a mutual interest, which was music! We performed our first concert with this lineup in December 2012, in the Bell pub.

How many concerts have you performed since you started playing together? 
Tigran: I would say about twenty. We have played in Music Factory, Calumet, Naregatsi Art Institute, but mostly in 80’s bar, where we also had the opportunity to rehearse very often. One day, we also had a concert in the village of Oushi, near Ashtarak, for the annual party in Centaur Hippotherapy Center. The stage and the seats were all handmade, which was quite exotic! We also collaborated several times with an intercultural centre, ICIRLD*, which organizes international programs, and invited us for the evenings dedicated to Armenia.

What kind of challenges or difficulties did you face while developing your band?
Tigran: Well, we had set up a project with three other folk Armenian bands to participate in the Edinburgh Fringe festival. We applied to the Ministry of Culture to finance the project, but nothing came out of that. It is unfortunate that the Ministry does not encourage young bands to grow.
Anna: I think one of the main challenges we had was to decide which direction the band should take. It was important for us to gather around a common idea, and to define the question, “What is the purpose of our band?”

And did you find an answer to this question?
Tigran: Somehow I had this idea from the beginning. I love our past, our traditions, and I have always been interested in the mystic secrets from the past, hidden in different spheres. I think that music is a good method to bring the shadows out of this lost culture and to present them.
Anna: We try to give the listener what they need. People, psychologically, have a need to hear their culture’s traditional music. People in Armenia mostly listen to rabbiz, probably because it is one the most played genres on some radio stations. But subconsciously, they are perhaps listening to it, since this type of music tends to actually include traditional music – if only slightly. They seem to find the familiarity that they are looking for. God gave us the sensibility to understand this traditional music. We are just trying to play and present it sincerely.

What do you think about Armenia’s musical scene?
Sirun: Within the media, all the attention is focused on one musical style. In reality, the underground scene is very active but unfortunately, it does not get any coverage.
Tigran: Sometimes, a singer will interpret a folk song on television, but you can feel that there is no idea behind it. TV mostly plays foreign or Armenian pop music, which is quite simplistic compared to the richness of our musical panorama.

Are there any Armenian folk bands that you like in particular?
Anna: Yes, there are the great traditional bands like Karin, Sassun, and Nubar. Akunq is also an emblematic band specialising in traditional folk music.
Tigran: These traditional bands play within the rules of their genre, which makes them authentic but can also be a little limiting. What we are trying to do with Carahunge is to open that style, by changing the restrictions of the format, in order to take it in a more modern direction. We like to merge folk melodies with rock rhythms, for example. Often, people tell us that they were surprised by our interpretation of a song.

How do you picture the future of the band? Do you plan on making it your full-time profession?
Sirun: For me, it should always be something that we do for pleasure.
Tigran: Yes, but we also work on the quality of what we produce. Even if we are not considered “professionals”, we try our best to focus on the sincerity of the emotions that we express. We should always focus on this approach, whether we are professionals or not.
Anna: We would really like to record an album. Everybody keeps asking us to do so, so in the near future it will become quite necessary. But we are not yet ready financially; we need financing and/or a sponsor. We plan on hiring a manager to address these concerns in the near future.

What would you say distinguishes you from other folk bands?
Sirun: A lot of people have told me that we sound very authentic.
Anna: As a band, all we do is perform these songs. Sometimes, people come up to us and ask us to play this or that song. Therefore, in a way, we are gathering songs from the people to play it to them. Our four personalities and sensibilities mix together, and the originality of our interpretation comes from it.
Tigran: I think that our approach, whether our members are academically trained in music or not, gives us more freedom. If we were playing according to academic rules, I would feel that I would not allow myself to experiment in other perspectives.
Sirun: True, but in order to have the right approach, you also need to have the basic understanding: the academic approach gives you the key to interpret the songs.
Tigran: Certain bands have set a goal for themselves to preserve old songs from perishing, with the intention of protecting the culture. Grigor Arakelyan from the Oshakan Quintet said something very true: “Our music does not need to be preserved, it needs to be performed.” Our goal is not to play the songs just like the originals. We should not repeat ourselves. What we want is to give a new breath to the songs.

*International Center for Intercultural Research, Learning and Dialogue