The popular Ethiopian song form, “Tezeta,” shares the name of Aramazt Kalayjian’s documentary on the Ethio-Armenian contributions to the musical culture of Ethiopia. The documentary features interviews with Ethiopian-Armenians and ethnic Ethiopians alike, concert footages, and archival footage and photographs. Kalayjian aims to bring the story of the Ethiopian-Armenians to a wide audience, using the universal language of music. Tezeta (meaning nostalgia or ‘garodes’ in Armenian) has a “beautiful, haunting, and addictive quality that touches the heart and soul in a very unique way,” explains the filmmaker.
With the project nearing its final stages—and a slated release for next year—the means for funding has become more difficult. Kalayjian is raising money on the documentary’s Indigogo site through Mon., March 11.
Kalayjian spoke with the Armenian Weekly in a follow-up interview about the documentary, its progress, and what’s to come.
Lilly Torosyan: You have been very passionate about this project from the beginning, when we first interviewed you in August 2012. But what about the process of making “Tezeta” has motivated you the most?
Aramazt Kalayjian: The most motivating part of our production was witnessing the Addis Acoustic Project, a tremendous multi-generational band of Ethiopian musicians, play a piece that was originally arranged by and dedicated to the late Nerses Nalbandian, who is considered the father of Ethiopian modern music. This song moved me from the heart and the soul. Being present to see the singer, Germa Negash, a famous Ethiopian singer and a former student of Nerses Nalbandian, perform a song dedicated to his teacher was truly quite moving.
This moment exemplified for me the essence of what I aim to accomplish through my film. I seek to inspire others to listen to Ethiopian music, while simultaneously sparking interest in its cross-cultural history and evoking the global potential that Armenians, once unified, can share in. As it is now, Armenian society is spread out all over the world. We need to celebrate facets of our culture that can help focus and unify our interests.
This is not just a unique story; it’s also a way to activate the Armenian Diaspora. Our diaspora has the memory of a homeland of long ago, a memory of destitution, struggle, and sorrow. However, we lack full knowledge of the multi-layered and multi-disciplinary accomplishments we have achieved as a globalized society.
LT: How do you assess the impact the documentary is having on the Armenian community in Ethiopia?
AK: I have been accepted and treated as a member of the Ethiopian-Armenian family, and I feel very grateful for the graciousness and generosity the Armenian community of Ethiopia has extended to me. The Aslanians, Baghdasarians, Bilemjians, Ebeyans, Gleyzes, Jerrahians, Karibians, Kevorkians, Keurajians, Khatchadurians, Matouchians, Nalbandians, Parseghians, Sarkissians, Tilbians, and Vorperians have all treated me with utmost hospitality, respect, and warmth. They have shared their stories that otherwise may not be told or heard, which is a great honor and a gift. My hope is that my film does justice to these stories and brings them to wide audiences.
LT: In what ways has the Ethiopian community shown interest in the film and its aims?
AK: There have been numerous times throughout the production of the film when people have recounted their own experiences and encounters with Armenians. Usually, the elders of the community hold a more intimate experience and memory of Armenians in Ethiopia. This is, in part, owing to their age, because they experienced life before the communist Derg regime came to power and removed any mention of imperial history achievements of the royal families in exchange with socialist propaganda. This, in effect, also erased much of Armenian history in Ethiopia as well, because Armenians were given favored status under Emperors Menelik II and Haile Selassie I. Only now have Armenians’ contributions to Ethiopia started to become a topic of interest, and celebrated.
We have now famous Ethiopian musicians interested in performing in Armenia and we are coordinating the release of the film with an Armenian-Ethiopian jazz concert in Armenia.
LT: Tell us your future plans, in regards to this project and the Ethiopian-Armenian community. Is there more to come?
AK: To quote Luys Foundation Executive Director Jacqueline Kaaraslanian, “Armenians were forced by history to build models for a new world-citizenship that is a very strong and powerful contribution to the present knowledge economy. Our modern world needs a frame work to enhance and support cultures to come together to co-create and co-produce.” In line with this way of thinking, our hope is to invite Ethiopians, Ethiopian-Armenians, and others to share music, art, stories, and research in Armenia to spur creative and educational programs. These programs will be designed as a model for all Armenian Diasporan communities to have a venue and audience in Armenia, and to experiment and collaborate with local Armenians in creating beauty and teaching through experience.
For more information about “Tezeta,” including the fundraising campaign currently under way, visit www.indiegogo.com/tezeta. The documentary is slated for release next year.