Archive for December, 2012

The Magic Ark of Ara and Eleftheria

December 22, 2012


Classical music was my primary musical love for most of my life. I am closely acquainted with many of the classical works. In the year 2000 and the three years that followed, my interest focused on Italian Opera, but in 2003 I felt that I needed something new, musically speaking. So I began to listen to more Jazz and World music alongside the classical.

At the same time my wife Anat began to collect Greek music for some reason. I listened to the albums… and I liked them. One day she went to a music shop, (which were still very active at that time) and asked the seller for which album it would be a “crime” to leave on the shelf. The seller offered her “Eleftheria Arvanitaki, The Very Best of 1989-1998”. She listened to the first song for only one minute and decisively bought it.

Naturally the album came to my ears as well. I listened and I felt that new sounds were coming to me. It was “something new”, that was refreshing, and something I was wishing for! I liked it so much, and what especially caught me were songs that were created from the collaboration between Eleftheria Arvanitaki and Ara Dinkjian, a composer and oud player of Armenian origin.

We dedicate this post to Ara and his collaboration with Eleftheria,  First why wouldn’t we listen to the famous song “Dinata”(Δυνατά), (It’s possible!) which Anat loved at first hearing?  Ara named the original orchestral piece “Home coming” and the lyrics are by Lina Nikolakopoulou. After the first famous version which is untranslated (1995), we have a video with subtitles from 2010.



Ara Dinkjian-a biography

images (2)

This modest man’s career is decorated with milestones of daring and pioneering.

Ara was not born in the Armenia region, nor were his parents. He was born in New Jersey in 1958 and his parents were from France. Only their parents were from eastern Turkey. Armenia was not a free country that time, and the Armenian people carried their national identity with them to wherever they happened to be. “Wherever we live in the world we are Armenians…keeping our culture and soul”.

His father (“my idol”) is Onnik Dinkjian a renowned folk and liturgical singer, who at 83 sings now “better than ever before”, as Ara puts it. Ara’s professional career started as early as he was five, at his father’s band with one darbuka (the goblet drum). He grew up a little and “once, my father put me in the car – I was 11 or 12 years old – and he told me that he goes to a musical instruments store. It was very nice, but I did not understand why. He disclosed that ‘we’re going to buy you an electric guitar’, simply because the band was in need of guitarist! So I found myself with an electric guitar in my hands…” and he was playing the guitar on stage.

At 18 he enrolled at the Hartt music school in Hartford, Connecticut and “while others flashed Chopin Etudes or Sonatas by Beethoven, Ara walked in and performed on the oud, eventually creating a curriculum and graduating with the only ‘oud degree’ in the country at the time.”

In the beginning of the 1980s Ara was in his early 20s and a member of a musical band which was hanging around hotels bars in the Montreux Jazz Festival (Switzerland), playing successfully in the informal circles of the festival. Somehow they managed to attend a party organized by the founder and the general manager of the festival, Claude Nobs, and there, an inspiration of the moment by Ara launched a whole career. “I did something I never had done up until then, and never have done since,” he says. He went up to Claude Nobs and said, “If you don’t have us play as an opening act, you would be missing out on something special!” And he made it!

1986 was the year of founding the great band “Night Ark”, which stands for Noah’s ark that saves Armenian music, and lands on the AraratMountain, an Armenian symbol. Their first album “Pictures” was a pioneering compound of the Armenian tradition and Jazz and Rock, and became a classic and inspiration to other musicians.

From then on he performed and recorded in many places in Europe and especially in Greece, Turkey and Israel. He is less known in his birth country USA, and in Armenia he performed only once. It aroused a strange feeling in him to come from America to play for his people: “I do not know how to describe the strange beauty of this emotion. This is Armenia for me, but then again, it is always inside me wherever I go.”

Here is one of Ara’s and Eleftheria masterpieces. “Meno Ektos”, I remain an outcast, where the loss of love and the loss of homeland unite. Nowadays, Eleftheria in her concerts dedicates this song to the displaced and the oppressed people of the world.

This music of Ara’s was discovered in 1987 by the singer Dimitra Galani who felt that it is perfect for Eleftheria’s voice. Lina Nikolakopoulou wrote the lyrics and it was released in 1991.

For those who can’t watch the video here is an audio of the first version,  a translation in the appendix at end of the post.



Armenian and Greeks

Let’s say just few words about the connection between these people.

Maybe the oud, “my primary expressive medium” as Ara says, resembles a very ancient common to Greeks and Armenian. The first documentation of this instrument goes as far as to the 3rd MillenniumBC from Mesopotamia as it117_a5 appeared on a seal depicting a girl playing it. From that time, more than 4000 years ago the “king of instruments” had spread all over the eastern world, From Persia to Anatolia, Arabia and the Balkans, including the ancient civilizations of the Greeks and the Armenians.

The oud is only one connection. Even more importantly, references from ancient time show a close relation of ancestral and language origin; one of the ancient historians, Strabo, even asserted that the Armenian, or their ruling class, originated in some valley in Greece.

During the Byzantine period, with the Seljuk and the Ottoman empires, these two people coexisted in relative peace, both people being Christian.

The urbanization of the 18th and the 19th centuries gave another dimension to their relations. Greeks, Ottomans, Jews, Armenians and Europeans coexisted in multinational cities as Constantinople, Thessaloniki, Loannina, and Smyrna. The music, like other arts, was influenced by all these different people coming together. “Here music is not dominated only by tone; here all the voices of the world sound.”



Ara on music and Greece


Being an Armenian-American, together with his great talent placed Ara’s music in a special place. It has ancient and modern roots, and of different places, eastern and western. “I might have been born in the United States, but I can never forget my history. So that explains the Armenian-Anatolian elements in my music. But at the same time, I cannot ignore the fact that I’m in America. That freedom of expression comes into my music, too. And in varying amounts, you’ll hear some Eastern and some Western elements in my compositions. It’s just who I am and what I am.”

So, through these rich compounds of eastern and western harmonies his music got popularity which crosses borders even of political, military or cultural enemies and is being sung in 13 languages. “It’s the music itself that unites not only cultures but the people themselves. It makes us feel people…cry and laugh out loud, this means that we live and feels like humans.”

The connection with the Greeks is special. The common paths that the Armenian and the Greeks had passed through history opened widely the Greek gates to his music.

“Years ago, we were in New York and recorded with “Night Ark” in a studio. You may not realize especially at a young age as I was then…how far can one album can get, how many people can be touched. A year, then, before I arrived in Greece with “Night Ark”,  I experienced the meeting with Eleftheria Arvanitaki and this acquaintance opened a big chapter of my life. When I eventually came to play in Greece… I was shocked that the audience knew the songs. I wondered “how can these  happen?” Immediately, I felt that I found a home and say to myself the bitter truth that I felt more welcome as a musician in Greece than in America.”

Eleftheria and Ara in “Like a rain (Σαν βροχή), which I think is a good example of Ara’s combination of eastern music and Jazz. Lyrics: Michlis Ganas.



Eleftheria on Ara

It looks Eleftheria Arvanitaki herself passed through a revealing experience of Ara’s music (like me..). She  writes in the booklet of their common album “The bodies and the knives” (Τα κορμιά και τα μαχαίρια,1994)

“I had a unique experience when I listened to the music of the Night ARK three years ago. It was like an old world coming back to life, having no place to live.  Yet this music belonged to the modern world, my world. I was sure that with Dimitris Papadimitriu’s arrangements these two worlds would find their own place of co-existence.”

A piece of this album is a combination of two Armenian traditional songs called “Grievance-Exile” (παράπονο- ξενιτιά in Greek, Yar Ko Parag-Bingeol in Armenian). The songs were adapted by Ara Dinkjian, and the lyrics of  Lina Nikolakopoulou are in a traditional style.

Eleftheria considers this piece (along with “Meno Ektos” and “Dinata”) as most important. In all her performances that I have attended from 2004, she performed all these songs.

For those who can’t watch the video here is an audio of the first version,  a translation in the appendix at end of the post.

Orchestral version of  “Homecoming” (Dinata) by Ara and his band:
 Interview in Greek;jsessionid=D796505497BA9CD4DB01DAB548C71199?newsId=188113
The translations in this post are partly based on the translations in Eleftheria Arvanitaki’s official site . Nata  Ostria made the translations and the research.
We thank also to Katerina Siapanda , Shahaf Ifhar and Danny Matz.
Lyrics translations:
Like a woman on Earth

night gives birth to the morning

and all stand strong again

and becomes life


What ancient ark

through the arcades of time

still brings forth to the light

breaths in couples


It’s possible, it’s possible

Have become possible

all the impossible things

It’s possible, it’s possible

in a spectacle in common

It’s possible, it’s possible

and as the dance steps lead me

with the hands wide open

I contempt all these


And yet like a woman on Earth

night gives birth to the morning

and all stand strong again

and become life

What ancient ark

through the arcades of time

still brings forth to the light

breaths in couples


It’s possible, it’s possible

Have become possible

All the impossible things

and a lit match

throws Earth to heaven


It’s possible, it’s possible

and as the dance steps lead me

with the hands wide open

I contempt all these


And I always say something


I weep for some love

and all the time I am grieving about the ruins inside me

along with my years,

in my sheets,

like ghosts


There aren’t many things

that we can hope for together

Look, look up high

And another century is full of life


Meno Ektos

I remain an outcast

I change names
I run at the speed of light

I remain an outcast

like some mouths

that a lotus drove out of the world
In my bachelor evenings

I sing Armenian songs

I want to go back

but my Paradise is closed
In my bachelor evenings

I sing Armenian songs

I want to speak

but my homeland is erased

I remain an outcast

I speak through vibrating chords

I’m hovering in silence like an eagle
I remain an outcast

Like some shapes

that a believer formed in the sand


Parapono Ksenitia

Heavy bracelets are the sorrows

you haven’t said that you love me

I have got this grievance, my beloved one, my mouth

even if my body was dying


I don’t want, my darling people around,

I have got mint on my lips

I have got this grievance, take from me, ask me,

my arrow of oblivion.


I am sending you with a letter

the moon’s blade

Take it and turn it against me, my beloved one, my madness

and if your soul is weeping, smile at me


High mountains and you, the looks of the stars

Misty rivers, fir trees, laurels, myrtles


Oh my fire, whoever sees my sweetheart

to tell him to come back to me, not to be late

Exile of mine, my love, light and dawn

before the whole world cracks

from my longing


Wet canyons and you caves of the dragons
Eagles’ wings and black nests of the winds


Oh my fire…


You nightingale and you seducing ash,

that you are still burning,

tell me, which wine brings drunkenness to his eyes?


Oh my fire…


%d bloggers like this: