Lav Eli: An Armenian Folk Rock Experience

Lav Eli performs in Watertown, Mass., April 30, 2022 (Photo: Knar Bedian)

In the last year or so, I have been on the search for Armenian bands and artists that not only revamp our traditional songs and melodies, but are inspired to create songs of their own. My search has led me to discover Garabala, Collectif Medz Bazar, The Bambir, Vigen Hovsepyan and others. The most recent, by complete chance, is Lav Eli, who treated our Boston community to two shows on Saturday evening as part of their first-ever east coast tour. 

As a 20 year old, I am a little embarrassed to say that this was my first concert. It didn’t take place at TD Garden or the House of Blues, but I’ll always remember it fondly because it was at the agoump—an intimate and familiar setting for me as an active member of my local Armenian community. I sat close to the band’s setup, anxious for them to start their set. Joining guitarists Gor Mkhitarian and Mher Manukyan was Ara Dabandjian of the Element Band. As they took their seats with their instruments and introduced themselves, I noticed the excitement I felt, reflected in the smiling and attentive faces of the small crowd around me. As they introduced their first song, “Godfather Tom,” I opened my little notebook, ready to jot down my thoughts so I wouldn’t forget them later.

Ara Dabandjian, Watertown, Mass., April 30, 2022 (Photo: Knar Bedian)

But, when the two acoustic guitars and accordion began to play, my mind went blank. I had flashbacks to my childhood, listening to Element Band and traditional songs by artists I was too young to remember. What surprised me, though, was that my mind also recalled music by The Beatles, which my father made me listen to as a young girl and I now listen to of my own accord. I couldn’t keep the smile off my face.

Mher Manukyan, Watertown, Mass., April 30, 2022 (Photo: Knar Bedian)

Seeing the passion and joy on the faces of the band, even through their more melancholy songs, showed me just how much they love their music. In an interview after the show, I sat down with Gor and Mher and asked them about what Armenian music meant to them alongside its cultural ties. Mher answered, “If your soul resonates to the music, then it is your music […] you feel it in yourself, it’s yours, it’s a part of you, and you are a part of that music.” 

John Berberian, Watertown, Mass., April 30, 2022 (Photo: Knar Bedian)

Throughout the concert, the band joked with the audience, commenting on how shy the crowd seemed to clap along to the music. They even encouraged the audience to sing along to their songs. An unexpected appearance by John Berberian, a longtime friend of Gor, delighted community members. The local legend accompanied the three-man band on the oud for two songs: “Yeraz (Dream)” and “Voch Me Ban (Not One Thing).” The audience was captivated by their seamless performance. Every song was a comfort to my soul. I was nostalgic for my Armenian school days when I was enveloped by my culture and language.

I was fascinated by the blend of Armenian folk music and soft rock. “We have so many different genres, so it’s really hard to categorize with one genre,” Gor told me. “But because we understand it has to be somehow categorized […] that’s why we call it Armenian alternative folk rock.”

Gor Mkhitarian, Watertown, Mass., April 30, 2022 (Photo: Knar Bedian)

Armenian, alternative, folk and rock: four genres of music I never thought in my wildest dreams could be blended together. So I did some exploring. I played their 2006 album “Lav Eli” on my car stereo and listened to some of the songs they had played that night on my drive back home. On Sunday afternoon, as I sat down to begin writing this article, I played their 1997 album “First Lav Album” and heard the influence of the early Beatles music. I marveled at the fact that I was hearing electric guitar and Armenian words together. Even my dad, who grew up listening to The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Queen, got “The Train” stuck in his head when I played it for him. Lav Eli’s members say they were inspired by a few of these bands, but told me that they like to keep an open mind when it comes to music.

I cannot recommend Lav Eli enough. After hearing them perform and speaking with them, my need to find more Armenian musicians and my love for Armenian music have only grown stronger. Lav Eli has shown me that Armenian music is more than traditional songs and melodies. Of course, the history embedded in Armenian music is one of the most important aspects of our culture, but we can’t forget that someday our present will be our history, and I believe Lav Eli is one of the groups capturing our present beautifully, with a little flair for Armenian rock n’ roll, in their repertoire.

Beiyna Chaparian

Beiyna Chaparian

Beiyna Chaparian is a local vocalist and student at Clark University. She is an active member of the AYF Greater Boston "Nejdeh" Chapter.
Beiyna Chaparian

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