News > Pan-Armenian News (Music) > Interview with Sonya Varoujian
Azad-Hye: Sonya Varoujian
has been involved in music from a very early age. Born to parents who both enjoy singing and performing, her memories of childhood have always included music. Sonya plays guitar, sings, and composes her own music and lyrics in both Armenian and English. Her music is an expression of the soul – a celebration of life, love, and homeland. She believes music is a gateway that allows people to share and experience truth and emotions that are normally left untapped.
During her formative years Sonya achieved numerous awards and recognition for her singing. In April 2006 Sonya went to Armenia and record her 4th CD entitled “Janapar” which composes of 12 original Armenian songs. Composer Narine Zarifyan wrote arrangements for her songs and Sonya collaborated with some of Armenia’s most talented musicians such as Hagop Jaghaspanyan (Guitar), Levon Tevanyan (Shvi), Armen Grigoryan (Duduk), Eduard Hartunyan (Percussion), Artyom Manukyan (Cello), Nelly Manoukyan (Flute), Linos String Quartet, Mary Vardanyan (Qanun) and others…
The result spectacularly brings together her European roots and Armenian descent as Celtic-like haunting melodies together with the Armenian spirit merge into something truly beautiful. Her songs are about life, love, the village in which she volunteered in in Armenia in 2005, Armenia, and her return to her ancestral homeland. Sonya has since performed at the Golden Guitar Music Festival in July 2006 in Yerevan and has also given 3 solo concerts in Yerevan (1 in July 2006 and 2 in October 2006) in which she has performed both her Armenian and English songs. Her concerts have all sold out and as a result she has been invited to numerous television interviews and programs and has had many write-ups in journals like “Afisha”, Armenia Now, and Yerevan Weekly. Her music also gets regular airplay on Yerevan radio stations.
Since October 2006, Sonya has been invited to perform further concerts in London, Australia, Canada and the USA.
Azad-Hye interviewed Sonya Varoujian:
You have born to parents who both enjoy singing and performing. How has this shaped your childhood and in what degree affected also your future course?
I think that children are definitely influenced by their environment. If I think back to my childhood one of the most prominent memories I have about my parents is that they used to sing duets with one another. That sharing of music and their enjoyment at singing created a warm surrounding of love and happiness. I also remember them performing in "barahantes" environments or family parties and it was all so exciting for us to watch. Also I remember my father playing our electric organ, the recorder, the harmonica, or anything else he could get a sound out of. I soon followed in his footsteps. All my feelings in regard to music make a connection to a place of happiness, a place of expression, and a place of freedom.
You learned to play the guitar at the age of 15. Why you were late to be introduced to this instrument? What is the position guitar now occupies in your musical life?
Learning to play the guitar simply happened by chance. One day my uncle came to our house with his guitar and started to play a few very basic songs. I was fascinated with the instrument. I asked if I could please play on it and I awkwardly began to fumble with it. When he saw my excitement, he then said I could hang on to it for the week if I wanted to. When he returned one week later I was singing and playing a Joan Baez version of "House of the Rising Sun" . He took one look at me and said that I should keep the guitar. It was only then I realised I had a powerful tool to accompany my singing. To this day I write most of my melodies on the guitar although I have also written on piano and vocally. It is a wonderful instrument because it is easily portable unlike the piano. I am also studying oud with Ahmed Mukhtar now in hope to introduce more of a middle-eastern flavour into my music.
Could you tell us more about the circumstances related to the formation of your first band (named “Raindance”) in London in 1993? Since then how many bands you were involved with?
"Raindance" also was a chance happening. At the time I was attending Art School in London and I often played the guitar as a hobby. Basically a friend of a friend said that they were looking for a girl who could sing. I went for an audition and the rest was history. They were two twin brothers from Thailand who were incredible guitarists, a bass player from Portugal, and a drummer from Portugal. At the time we took a lot of my material and rehashed it and also wrote some more songs that I recorded later. Since "Raindance", I fronted a band called "Seven" in New York City which developed a strong following. Upon relocation to London in 2001 I took a 5 year break from the music scene but a trip to Armenia in 2005 re-inspired me to begin writing again - and this time in Armenian. Currently I do not have a "band" but I work with 13 musicians from Yerevan Armenia who are all extremely talented. I also collaborated with Ruben Hakhvertyan, Armen Movsisyan, and Levon Blbulyan( poet) for some of the text in my songs. Narine Zarifyan, who is most recognised for arranging Hakhvertyan's music helped to write the arrangements.
The Armenian American Music Festival in Long Island provided you with the opportunity for fusing your English band with authentic Middle Eastern instruments. Are the influences resulting from this fustion still visible in your music?
Most definitely. I think that it is important to re-invent, to re-create and most of all to be honest with music. It is impossible for me to express myself for instance in Chinese traditional music. Armenian music along with Western music has been a very large part of my life. On the "Janapar" album, most of the CD reviews have commented how it seems to be a fusion of Irish/Celtic and Armenian sound. My folk guitar background and my love for traditional Armenian instruments such as qanun, shvi, and duduk created this sound. As I mentioned, I hope that the oud will also make its way into my music in the next year or so. I think that the combination is exciting and fresh. Some of my favourite musicians in Armenia such as the Armenian Navy Band have taken this approach and are a great inspiration to me.
Your discography shows 4 albums in a period of 15 years. Do you think that you could have produced more albums during the same period?
Producing albums for me have been a form of expression, self-discovery, and experimentation. When listening to the four albums one can almost here the evolution and development of sound. However, I feel that the first album - although it is raw with just guitar and keyboard has as much impact as the others. I always say that I cannot live without music and that it is the universal language. Often the words are not as important as the emotion that the entire sound or performance conveys. For example, I was extremely pleased that a Korean in Korea bought my album recently. The concept of a Korean listening to Armenian folk is a strange one but then again my music collection consists of African, Arabic, Algerian, Spanish, English, etc... so perhaps it should not be so surprising. Perhaps I could have produced more albums in 15 years. There was a transitional phase in my life from where I thought it was something I could live without to realising it is one of the most relevant parts of my life.
You mentioned you had a 5 year break in your music and that a trip to Armenia inspired you to start writing again. Can you elaborate on that experience?
I went to Armenia as a volunteer with a non-profit organisation called DAC (Diasporan Armenian Connection). It was a last minute decision and I was very fortunate to be accepted onto the trip. We ended up in a very remote village called Marts in the Lori Region of Armenia. There we held a summer camp for the children for two weeks where we did arts&crafts, music and dance. The landscape was so beautiful and the people were so warm I was emotionally overwhelmed by the entire experience. I felt incredibly connected to Armenia and I wanted to give something back. Almost without choice I began to compose and the words came in Armenian this time. One of the songs on "Janapar" is actually called Marts and is about the village. I also spent between 2005 & 2006 collecting money to refurbish the school floor in Marts. Currently the renovation work is being carried out thanks to many friends and family who contributed.
Are you interested to perform in front of Middle East audience?
I am definitely interested to perform in front of a Middle Eastern audience. My parents have grown up in Lebanon for instance but I have never actually been there or to any country in the Middle East. I would imagine that I am largely influenced by the traditions and culture in the Middle East as I am a product of my parents so it will be very interesting for me to connect with that part of the world. I am also a great admirer of Middle Eastern music.
What are your hobbies and general interests?
My favourite thing to do is to see live music. Music is a powerful tool but to see someone live and breathe and feel that creation during a performance is something that always stays with me. I also enjoy nature. I love to travel and to see the world, to meet people and share life experiences with them. I believe that people should live without a certain element of fear, that they should explore life's possibilities, and enjoy the basic things in life such as family, food, friendships, art, culture, literature, sport and music. I love to scuba dive because for me it is like going to a different world. I also enjoy astrology. I was absolutely fascinated to see my first lunar eclipse last weekend.
Hear 2 complete tracks of her songs here.