Armenia Dispatch: 9 Bambir

Well, it’s after 2 am and I am beat. These nights blaze by. I ended up tonight with a large group of local Armenians and some Diasporans at a restaurant high above the city in an area called the Cascade. The Cascade is this monstrous Soviet-looking cement staircase that goes on and on. And while I feel compelled to say it is ugly, like a lot of the places and monuments here…there is an extremely cool kind of retro, kitschiness to it that I really liked. They’re now building big flower beds around and in it, and there are fountains and they are sprucing it up, and I have to say, it is a very cool part of town. And of course, doing shots of vodka and gazing over much of Yerevan was also exhilarating and helped my mood immensely.

This morning, I took a long walk around the city today with a couple of friends, two Armenian American brothers who also happen to be visiting at this time and whom I’ve known for a long long time. Each of them has lived here before, and so it was nice to get their perspective on how much things have changed here. Things have changed a lot. Ten years ago, they explained, a blockade of Armenia by Azerbaijan left the country without fuel for much of the year, so the city was often in a near permanent black-out state at night and heating one’s home was pretty much impossible. The residents in the city and the countryside suffered terribly. And yet they held things together, built or rebuilt, and today you would never have guessed that it was so bad back then. The square where my hotel sits is this elegant, beautifully lit square where a large, stadium TV sits now, showing ads at all hours. People are out walking and coming home from a night on the town. Ten years ago, at this time of night, it was a gaping black space. Amazing.

Early afternoon, I went with one of my friends to the office of a record producer who works with an Armenian band called Bambir. This is another story I’m working on…the whole Armenian rock scene. And so he was a great connection. I spent most of the morning at his office, which was on the other side of town in a kind of grungy, but happening, space. There was recording equipment and instruments were strewn everywhere. A Jimmy Hendrix poster on the wall. CDs scattered across the desk. He is an older guy, but does a lot of work with up and coming groups. It was interesting to hear him talk about the old Soviet days when, he said, the one thing that made them happy, that gave him hope, was rock and roll. How cool is that?? I’m heading (hopefully) to a Bambir concert this week.

Anyway, we talked a bit about the popularity of rock here, how the scene is exploding with all sorts of bands making names for themselves. One band in particular, while not formally from Armenia, but of Armenian heritage, is called System of the Down and they’re making a big splash in the states and here as well. Bambir is kind of like a young Jethro Tull. They come from a city called Gyumri (sp?) where the earthquake hit the country hardest, and while they were pretty young when it happened, they write about this in some of their songs (in fact, I think their first album was called Quake…though I’ll have to confirm that). I got their recent CD and ripped it into my Powerbook. quite liked it. Eager to hear the concert soon.

So it’s late now and I’m hitting the sack. More from Yerevan and the Armenian hinterlands coming soon.