With a music scene dominated by recycled pop music and digital voice enhancers, it is a challenging feat to turn on the radio and hear a song that is unique yet appealing to the listener. The band, Viza, however, has achieved just that, fusing rock, metal, and Middle Eastern music to create a one-of-a-kind sound. The Los Angeles-based group will perform for the first time in New York City at the Knitting Factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on Fri., May 21 at 9 p.m. and in Philadelphia at the Northstar on Sat., May 22 at 9 p.m.
Viza, which is managed by System of a Down lead singer Serj Tankian’s label Serjical Strike, was initially formed years ago in New York City by vocalist K’noup and developed further in Los Angeles into a nine-member band. Each of its nine members—which includes K’noup (vocals and 12-string guitar); Jivan Gasparyan Jr., the grandson of the legendary Armenian duduk master of the same name, (duduk and zurna); Orbel Babayan (electric guitar, tar, saz, vox); Shant Bismejian (electric guitar); Andrew Kzirian (oud); Alex Khatcherian (bass); Suguru Onaka (keyboards, accordian); Chris Daniel (percussion); and Hiram Rosario (drums)—is talented in their own right.
Viza’s brand of international rock music is influenced by Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Eastern European, and Latin cultures, and each of their songs is more eclectic and different than the next. The hard-working group, which has played in many venerable rock venues including the Troubadour, Key Club, Roxy, Derby, and Viper Room, has put out an album a year since its formation, including “Eros,” “De Facto,” “Maktub,” and “Visa E.P.” They are currently working on their newest album titled “Made in Chernobyl,” which features Serj Tankian on the track “Viktor.”
Aside from creating innovative music, Viza is a socially conscious band and has been covered in the Los Angeles Times for their activism on human rights and social justice work. Of the band’s nine members, six are Armenian and one is Greek, so “the band is well aware of the history of Anatolia through the years,” said band member Andrew Kzirian, noting that many of their families were impacted by Ottoman policies against minorities and the persecution of certain ethnic groups. Because of this, “the band has taken on a strong human rights awareness approach in its advocacy and shows.”
The group has organized benefit concerts to promote understanding of the Armenian Genocide and human rights as well as to raise funds for the Armenian Relief Society’s Armenia-Artsakh Orphan Project and the Bird’s Nest Orphanage in Lebanon. “Silence the Lies, Rock the Truth” on April 24 at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles enabled Viza to work with community organizations such as the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF), Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), and the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), as well as social justice groups regarding human rights. The group also organized a “Feed the Need” show on Thanksgiving Eve last year, held at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. Portions of the ticket sales of each show went to Armenian orphanages and the Los Angeles Mission to Help Feed the Needy, reflecting the band members’ awareness and passion about their surroundings in Los Angeles and the need to speak out against genocide.
“I feel that music and artistic expression is a fresh and appealing medium for educating our youth, some of whom will inevitably serve as our leaders of tomorrow,” said Kzirian. “It is an effective supplement to more conventional approaches to societal change and informing the audience about what is going on the world.”
The band’s diverse backgrounds also help contribute to the originality of Viza’s music. Aside from the six Armenian members, vocalist Knoup is Greek, drummer Hiram Rosario is Puerto Rican, and keyboard and accordionist Suguru Onaka is from Japan.
“Viza is a celebration of life, world cultures, and music, and is a representation of the individuality of the band,” said Kzirian, a Philadelphia native who was influenced by the Armenian American oud tradition on the East Coast and started learning the instrument at a young age. He said his generation has the opportunity to “help revive and sustain the tradition of the oud through a new prism,” which Kzirian expresses through his music with Viza.
As some of the band members have roots in New York and on the East Coast, both the musicians and fans are looking forward to Viza’s upcoming concerts in two of the most revered rock venues in New York City and Philadelphia.
Said Kzirian, “It’s exciting for us to connect with new fans and demonstrate our creativity in new venues.”
For more information about Viza and information on purchasing tickets, visit http://www.experienceviza.com.