It’s rare that I get to experience my dual loves of Armenian folk music and American 70s folk rock in one listening experience. The musician Bedouine, known for her soulful depiction of modern life with a clear voice and sharper pen, does just that.
I had been following Bedouine as a musician for about a year before she announced she was going to tour her latest album Waysides, and I knew I had to go see her in concert. I went to Bedouine’s concert on April 2, 2022 at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia.
Bedouine, a musician who has been profiled in the Armenian Weekly, truly lives up to her name. Heralding from Syria while spending much of her childhood in Saudi Arabia with her Armenian parents, Bedouine ultimately came to America after her family won a green card lottery. This, as well as the fact that she has called Georgia, Texas, Massachusetts and California her homes, gives credence to her chosen moniker of Bedouine, a play on the name of a nomadic desert dweller, Bedouin.
Bedouine is special to me as a listener because she epitomizes an Armenian artist who is able to competently and beautifully branch out to ‘non-Armenian’ styles of art while infusing aspects of her work with her Armenian identity. Though some Armenians question how an artist who sings primarily in English for an American audience can be seen as someone who represents Armenian culture, I respond by asking them to look at the contents and concepts behind her work and see ideas that are shared among those in the Armenian Diaspora present in her music. And this is without mention of her song “Louise,” which is sung entirely in Armenian.
I ended up introducing Bedouine’s music to my non-Armenian friends at college, hoping they’d enjoy her half as much as I do so we could all go see the show together. I described her sound as a 70s folk revival with a sharp pen and enticed them with a ticket price of 22 dollars. They ended up loving her, and we made plans to go to her April performance in Philly, near Villanova where we go to school.
As is a pre-show ritual for me, I spent the whole last week before the concert playing the artists’ discography to get in the zone. Going in, I liked her first album the best, then her second, then third, with my favorite song overall being “Louise,” her sole Armenian song with a clever dual title for those in the know, followed by “Solitary Daughter,” an almost spoken word contemplation on growing in solitude, and “One More Time,” a slow sweet plea off her second record. I was excited to see how Bedouine’s ultra-clear tones translated to a live set.
The day arrived, and we took the septa to 30th Street and walked to the World Live Cafe. The show took place on the third floor of the venue, inside a bar called The Lounge. We arrived just as the opener, Hannah Cohen, began her set at 8:30. Her high-pitched voice floated over intricate lyrics and guitar pickings.
Around 9:20, Bedouine walked on stage wearing a beautiful long-sleeved starched dress with a pattern that would’ve been as at home on an elegant floor rug as it was on her dress and green velvety kitten heels. She sat down on a stool on the left side of the platform that stood for a stage. While checking her guitar and wires and directing things to be placed around the stage, she serenely sipped a glass of red wine. She had also brought with her an electronic candle, one you might buy to place in your windows during the holidays. As she sat down to begin her set, she placed it on a stool beside her, next to her glass of wine. It stayed there the whole performance, a symbol of how the show felt like a late-night chat with your friends—as the drinks flowed and candles dripped low, stories rose to the surface like mist on a lake.
Her live performance was marked by how soft yet clear her voice was—taking up the space of the venue entirely but without being stifling, a warm blanket in which to wrap yourself as your worries wait for the morning to be solved. It’s rare that the sounds of the city fall away completely during a performance, but this was one of those moments. With the pickings of her guitar, Bedouine didn’t transport the audience so much as temporarily ground us all, each of us on a break from our own nomadic journeys.
She began with some of her older songs transitioning to “Solitary Daughter” which got a big round of applause. She closed out with some of her newer tunes off her record Waysides. She had her producer Gus Seyffert play accompaniment for her the whole set, which made the recording room’s magic feel like it was being recreated in the room with the audience. It was also Seyffert’s birthday, so the audience performed its own song of “Happy Birthday” near the end of the show with Bedouine singing along.
The absolute best part of the show for me was when Bedouine played her sole song sung in Armenian…“Louise” (Լուս). She introduced “Louise” by confiding that it was written in Armenian and asked if there were any Armenians in the audience. At this point, I was already grinning because I didn’t think she would play what was only a bonus track song for this primarily American audience. My hand shot up along with two others, as she said she usually only had one Armenian in her crowd so this was a treat. People applauded this and, enthused by the energy, I shouted out, “Abris!” She looked at me and said, “Merci, or should I say Shnoragalootooyn.” Throughout this exchange, my friends looked at me like I’d grown a second, particularly excitable, head. Bedouine continued her introduction, reciting, “Armenians are a resilient people, and that’s what this next song is about.” She then started singing “Louise,” and I sang along to the whole thing, my friends filming me in my moment of rapture. It was such a joyous moment as an American Armenian in the audience.
As the show finally wrapped up and Bedouine said her last goodbye to the Philly crowd, we caught the last train back to campus and the night swept away into morning.