“She lived on an alley, so there’s some foot traffic on the major streets, and there would be donkeys selling gasoline so you’d hear hooves. And men playing backgammon, and porcelain sounds of teacups, and indecipherable chatter…” Armenian singer-songwriter Bedouine is calling me from Ireland, but the scene she’s describing isn’t the one outside her window; it’s from her memories of her grandmother’s home back in Syria. All of these sounds are captured at the end of “Summer Cold,” off her self-titled debut which was recently named one of Rough Trade’s 20 Best Records of 2017.

Despite the free-spirited characteristics one would associate with a name like Bedouine, there’s something very intentional and thoughtful about the way Azniv Korkejian speaks: she often pauses before answering questions or in between words as she tries to conjure up a way to say what she means.

As careful as she is when speaking in English, she’s even more aware of language when speaking Armenian. “It’s sort of broken. I never learned it formally, I just picked it up around the house,” Bedouine tells me. Both her parents are Armenians who were born and raised in Syria, so she speaks the Western Armenian dialect. (Two main dialects evolved for historical reasons; as Armenian lands came under the rule of both the Ottoman Empire and Russian Empire, the separation between the two world powers led to the evolution of two distinct dialects.)

She finds Western Armenian to more of an obstacle in L.A., despite the city being home to the largest Armenian population outside of Armenia. “A lot of people speak Russian or Armenian Armenian” she says, referring to the Eastern dialect and Russian influences that have yet to leave the language of the Armenians living in the home country. “I just usually feel like a bad Armenian because in California people will just start speaking to you, and I just do that thing where I reply in English because, as I’m sure you know, the dialect is just so different,” she explains. (That’s not to say there’s a lack of Western Armenian speakers in California, or in the United States.)

Touring has provided Korkejian with a few cherished opportunities to chat with fellow Armenians who speak the Western Dialect, and she tells me that she’ll soon be releasing a bonus track that will be in Armenian: “լոյս” or “louys,” which directly translates to “light,” but also contains connotations of hope.

Armenian artists who don’t sing regularly in the language will often opt to record a cover instead of writing originals. System of A Down, for example, has performed a number of traditional Armenian songs in concert, and “Arto” off of Toxicity is actually a tribal-sounding take on a song sang in church.

Yet Bedouine wrote “Լոյս” herself: “I was pretty shy about it because, like I said, my Armenian is kind of broken. But, I ran it by my cousin and kind of had his green light, and I got to a point where I just thought, even if it’s not perfect it’s okay because it’s still my experience.”

It’s nearly impossible to read an interview with Bedouine without hearing mention of the many places she’s lived: Saudi Arabia, Houston, Syria, Boston. (Living a “nomadic” lifestyle, as one publication called it.) I was curious to hear whether her constant uprooting helped her adapt to the touring life: “I think some of that moving around has helped me facilitate that emotionally, logistically,” she says. “Touring can be really challenging but… it’s felt pretty incredible to be going from city to city. It’s felt really like a dream. I just remember as a kid I always wanted to do something or be in a profession that allowed me to travel, so I just keep thinking back to that. I kind of can’t believe that I’m getting to do that!”

The name “Bedouine” was partly inspired by the simplistic lifestyle she leads. “The song Mind’s Eye touches on consumer culture and the complications of capitalism, and how we’re encourage to spend money on things we don’t need,” she shares. She admits it’s tough not to partake in consumerism, but loves thrifting and buys mostly used clothes. I ask her what possessions she’d grab if she had to leave her house with only five things, but she has trouble coming up with more than two: “My dog and my guitar… If everything just disappeared without me having to pick I probably wouldn’t notice.”

Earlier in the conversation I had asked her to imagine her music if it were a room in a home. “It would be minimalistic, with a few antiques,” she had decided—a description that not only accurately depicts her 60s-folk-inspired and country-influenced music but apparently her lifestyle as well.

Korkejian told me how the smells of Saudi Arabia strongly remind her of the holidays and family, and as we discussed the transporting power of scent I couldn’t help but wonder; what would be the smell inside that minimalistic room she described when she imagined her album as a space? Probably an old Persian rug.

Not a Persian rug that is old like the stale dustiness of the pieces of illustrated history trapped in an antique map shop. But old in a way that shows wear and love: trodden by the feet of a hundred visiting relatives and friends, or seeped with the fumes of a dozen pots of hearty winter stew. In other words, ragged with the same kind of nostalgia induced by the bareness of her delicate vocals and guitar—one that calls back to simpler times.

Her album art, too, reflects that simplicity. A photograph surrounded by a frame of darkness features Bedouine on the black-and-white tiled floor of the console room outside Gus Seyffert’s studio, where she recorded the album. The only text on the cover is her moniker, written in a custom font. I tell Korkejian it felt the script had a hint of Aladdin and Genie. “Totally, yeah,” she says with a laugh. “I mean, it has this kind of psychedelic flair, and it does touch on the name being Middle Eastern. I think it’s perfect. I just love it, I’m so happy with it.”

You can hear Bedouine perform live at Great Scott on Saturday, November 18.

One Response

  1. CJ Rooney

    Nice interview! I like the imagery associated with the interview: a minimalistic room with antiques, a persian rug, etc. Excellent, talented artist, too!

    Reply

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