BOSTON, Mass.—It’s not everyday a young musician gets to perform before an audience made up of Grammy award winning artists, the likes of which include Hamilton’s Alex Lacamoire, rapper Missy Elliott and singer-songwriter Justin Timberlake.
On Friday night at Agganis Arena, that far-flung dream became a reality for vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Inna Dudukina, who was hand-picked by her alma mater Berklee College of Music to perform with the duduk for the honorary doctorate recipients ahead of the 2019 commencement ceremony. The concert featured over 260 vocalists, musicians well-versed in a variety of world instruments, dancers and disc-jockeys paying tribute to the famous honorees.
Dudukina, whose connection to the traditional Armenian instrument was inspired by her surname, put an unconventional twist on the duduk during a medley performance of Timberlake’s “Say Something” (2018) and “Señorita” (2003). (Dudukina appears at 10:16 in the YouTube video below.)
“This instrument is usually not a part of this style,” explained Dudukina in an interview with the Armenian Weekly. “I want to do justice to the song. But I also want to do justice to the instrument,” she added, emphasizing the importance of maintaining the integrity of the complex and eloquent woodwind, while exploring its potential in rather unusual musical scenarios. “To hear the sound of duduk combined with a full band, strings and horns section, choir and harmonica was absolutely astounding.”
After the concert, Dudukina says she was fortunate enough to meet Timberlake, who approached her backstage. “Justin told me he absolutely loved the sound of [my duduk] in his song. He loved my instrument,” she said. “He was very moved by the entire show.”
A Russian native, Dudukina picked up the ancient double reed instrument only four years ago while researching the origins of her surname. “I’m not Armenian,” she said. “I’m not part of the tradition. But I felt that it was in a way liberating. Since I’m so wrong for it anyway, I might as well just have fun.”
Indeed a rare talent, Dudukina is breaking gender stereotypes as one of only a few females in the world who play the duduk. “Duduk traditionally is not played by women, but there are traditions that we don’t question until they’re broken,” she said.
Dudukina says she has been very fortunate throughout this journey with her instrument. It’s nearly impossible, she said, to find one online that’s in tune. So she entrusted friends of hers to visit Armenia on her behalf and find a suitable match since she was still studying at Berklee at the time.
She eventually also found a teacher in Arsen Petrosyan, a well-known duduk player in Armenia with whom she practices remotely via Skype. In 2017, Dudukina debuted her newfound talent while sharing the stage with renowned pianist Tigran Hamasyan, an experience that inspired her to blend the wind instrument with modern jazz and compelled her to take more risks.
Dudukina is also a classical pianist and a jazz/world vocalist. In addition to the duduk, she plays the bansuri, the darbuka and two other Armenian instruments—shvi and blul. She says she hopes to visit Armenia sometime in the near future.