Yarus” by Mirage
CD Review by Najia

Unlike a desert mirage, seven out of the nine tracks recorded on “Yarus” are substantially Armenian in origin.  The Mirage sound is exceptionally clean and Yarus contains old-fashioned tunes with vocals that are, naturally, sung in the Armenian language with some token Arabic.  An additional selection is Arabic and is titled “Habibi”, (a song with which many belly dancers are familiar).  It is also known as “Habibi, Ya Nour El Ain”. Its inclusion is puzzlingly out of character in this lineup of choices, except that the ever-popular “Amen Aravod” precedes it.  Amen Aravod has previously appeared on many dancers’ routines as a veil dance, being somewhat slower and more romantic than the rest of the selections and will be familiar even though you might not recognize this title.  There is a lovely melding of a kanoun taksim (appealing to dancers’ sensual natures) immediately married to a version of the rambunctious Turkish Song “Rampi Rampi”, a 9/8 Karsilamas

Dancing with this music put me in mind of the days (about twenty years ago or more) when I used to be imported into the Fresno, California area and the area around Shaver Lake, California, to dance.  

There is a high concentration of Armenians and Greeks in that area (or at least, there was at that time), many of whom owned restaurants and clubs that hired us belly dancers in an attempt to lure the rest of the population into their places of business.  These gigs were pleasant and memorable for me, and I always enjoyed working with Armenian musicians because they usually made an effort to support the dancer rather than fight her presence.

There was long-standing bad blood in the history between the Armenians, Kurds, and Greeks on one hand and the Turks on the other.  The belly dance was considered Turkish and, as such, it was not considered to be a real part of the Armenian or Greek heritage.  In 1418 there was an Armenian Holocaust when Armenia ceased to exist and became, essentially, a part of Russia.  I was told early in my dance career, that though I was working in a Greek establishment and employed by Greek/Americans, the belly dance was not Greek but Turkish and came into Greece tradition only through a hated conqueror.

Given this bad beginning, the Armenians (and many Greeks too) still have produced recordings somewhat aimed at the community of belly dancers and belly dance enthusiasts.  The resulting recordings tend to be of the happy party music variety and that, of course, is where belly dance, or Oriental dance is always at its best. 

My very first exposure to belly dancing et al was in a Greek restaurant in California, where the Armenian singer used to dance “belly dance style” in between her choruses of Amen Aravod (Every morning) and Vart Siretzi (I loved a Rose) both of which are included on this recording, sung by Khatchig Jingirian.  In no uncertain terms, a local dance teacher told me that Armenians did not belly dance, and I learned much later, when I traveled to Greece, how grudgingly the belly dancers were included in musical programs because they were considered a Turkish aberration. For those dancers among you who are used to the Armenian sound, it will seem most natural and inviting to be able to dance with music that is both familiar and recorded at a speed that makes dance simple enough for beginners.

Not surprisingly, this CD was recorded and mixed at Pyramid Recording Studios in—(Where else?)—Fresno, California.

The ten selections are:

   1.Acheret Siroon 8/4
   2.Karoun Karoun 4/4
   3.Amen Aravod 8/4
   4.Habibi 4/4
   5.KanounTaksim/Rampi Rampi 9/8
   6.Bobik Choor Mi Era 4/4
   7.Sareri Hovin Mernem 6/8
   8.Kharperti Tamzara 9/8
   9.Vart Siretzi 6/8 

You will have to brush up on your finger cymbal version of the Turkish 9/8 rhythm, and perhaps 6/8, too, but you will be able to dance the repetitive themes easily and will be able to accomplish spontaneous choreography with these selections because each is what it is; unlike most Arabic music, which relies more heavily on its rhythmical, sometimes tricky, complexities rather than repeated choruses and harmonies as do Armenian songs and instrumentals.

The CD insert notes state, “By intertwining modern and popular influences with time-honored standards, Mirage achieves an energetic mix.”  Truthfully, I do not know what this means.  Perhaps it refers to the use of the keyboard and acoustic guitar in the arrangements, but other than that, it sounded exactly like the old recordings of taverna and restaurant music to me--without the scratchy vinyl.

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