Daily News Egypt
http://www.thedailynewsegypt.com/article.asp x?ArticleID=24183
August 30, 2009 Sunday

The fusion of Arabic musical traditions with jazz has become an
established subgenre slowly gaining popularity among both Egyptian
and Arab listeners alike.

The large attendance of Lebanese singer Rima Kcheich's April concert
came as a surprise to many, partially due to the occasional avant-garde
aberrations that distinct this fusion. Two consecutive sold-out
concerts by singer Lena Chamamyan at Al-Azhar Park's El-Geneina
Theater was another surprise not only to this reviewer but to
Chamamyan herself, who was overwhelmed by the warm reception she
received in Cairo.

"It's flattering you know ... to get such good feedback from people who
are keen on listening to this alternative kind of music," Chamamyan,
whose Egyptian debut was in 2007, said prior to the show.

"It's like meeting up with an old friend who is dear to you, and
them being really excited about seeing you again," she told Daily
News Egypt.

The young Syrian/Armenian vocalist enchanted a packed theater with
her engaging voice and free-spirited presence on Friday and Saturday
as part of Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafy's Ramadan's annual program "Hay."

Faced with rapid ticket sales and calls from avid fans requesting
an additional performance, Al-Mawred extended the show to include a
Saturday rerun after it was originally scheduled only for Friday.

Fans swayed to the tunes, others sang along, asking for songs not
included in the line-up. The audiences were simply enamored by the
music, at instances falling into nostalgia and reliving in past times.

After a fascinating solo entrance epitomized in a Sufi number,
Chamamyan sprang to her earlier works, "Ala Mawj Al-Bahr" (On the Sea
Waves) and "Ya Mayla Al-Ghusson" (Swaying Branches), from her first
album "Hal Asmar Ellon" (My Dark-Skinned Love).

The line-up also included tracks from her second album, "Shamat," as
well as crowd-pleasing covers of great Egyptian folk composer Sayed
Darwish such as "El Helwa Di Amet Te'gen Fel Fagreya" (The Beauty is
Baking in the Morning).

In numbers that echoed Lebanese legend Fairuz, Chamamyan constantly
engaged an upbeat audience with her powerful, pure and rich voice,
in effortless manifestations of vocally difficult numbers.

With every song, she journeyed with the viewer through a series of
emotions, and used her body language and vocal meanderings to lead
such transitions. Her music ranges from Syrian muwashahat and inventive
reworking of Andalusian and traditional Armenian tunes to contemporary
jazzy love songs infused with Chamamyan's distinctive oriental touch.

"I feel like I sing Arabic songs in an Armenian way, and this is
what makes me different," said Chamamyan, adding that Armenians are
known to express their long harsh history through musical creations,
which is why their music usually carries a somber element.

She is yet to perform to Armenian audiences, however. "There has
always been this longing to go to Armenia, so when I do I want to do
it right, you know?" Chamamyan said, adding that there might be an
Armenian album in the pipelines.

Accompanied by a bassist, a drummer, a keyboardist and Bassel Rajoub,
talented saxophonist and partner in the project, Chamamyan transported
her audience to different worlds. Throughout the two-hour performance,
she accompanied her listeners to Syria, its coasts and its fields,
Al-Maghreb (North West of Africa), early 20th century Egypt and,
her beloved homeland, Armenia.

It was easy to get lost in her angelic voice. Every once in a while,
a strong instrumental solo pierced the air in a harmonious fusion
with the carefully constructed ambiance Chamamyan orchestrated with
her band members.

Since the inception of the band project in 2006, Chamamyan has
performed in several Arab cities as well as Germany, Austria and
France. "Syrian people are very festive and the audience usually
very energetic... [while European audiences] listen really well but
they are never fully engaged. That's their nature. They could laugh
between the pieces, they could sometimes clap, but that's about it."

After the project got on its feet, Chamamyan witnessed a festive
couple of years. In 2006, Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafy granted the project
a fund to produce their first album which landed them a Monte Carlo
award in 2007 that subsequently laid the ground for the next album,
"Shamat," also produced in 2007, to materialize.

"This prize is what made me think of music as a profession," said
Chamamyan of the grant.

"It is like the first you get from your mother." The Monte Carlo award,
she said, made it easy to flourish as an artist.

Among Chamamyan's idols is renowned opera singer Maria Callas. "She
transformed classical music from having too many rules to being very
simple. She sang very naturally, like it's effortless," she said,
also citing Ella Fitzgerald as another powerful inspiration.

Her third album, "Rasa'el 2009," (2009 Messages) was due to be released
this year.

Chamamyan is planning next to join a music school in Graz, Austria,
where she was recently awarded a scholarship by the ministry of culture
in Austria. At Graz, she will work with jazz musicians from different
parts of the world, with hopes to release an album compiling their
collaborative work.

With a voice as commanding as hers and determination to revive
traditional music in a new form, Chamamyan is surely on the right
track, and we will definitely be seeing her in Egypt again soon.