It all started in the early 1950s on the porches of the multi-level homes in the geography of Worcester’s Little Armenia: Chandler Street, Park Avenue, Austin Street and Belmont Street.
Reminiscing, Eddie Varteresian would say with a chuckle, “As kids, we used to play Armenian music on our porches, and the neighbors—whether Armenian or not—would love it in our little Armenia. We taught ourselves how to play.”
That was the start of what was to ultimately be the Aramites or Worcester Aramites band—named after the Worcester AYF chapter, the first in the US.
Kapriel “Kap” Kaprielian (clarinet and sax) started the band which ultimately included Varty Vartanian on dumbeg/bongos; Mal Soghomonian, oud; Nori Soghomonian, dumbeg; Jack Shemligian, sax; Larry Mardirosian, clarinet/sax; and Eddie Arvanigian on tricolor tambourine and vocals.
Following the Aramites, but virtually at the same time, was a younger group called the Gaidzags who ultimately joined the Aramites because Aramite members were drafted into military service.
Ultimately, Carnig Mikitarian, Levon Barsamian, Ed Varteresian and Pete Harootunian joined the Aramites and became one large musical spirit that played at dances, picnics, weddings and Olympics in the eastern region.
Gary Arvanigian (Eddie’s nephew) once observed, “The Aramites were the Rolling Stones of the 50s, early 60s. They played all over, beginning in Worcester, then New England, Mid-West, Canada and three Olympics in the 50s. They had fun as a band, and the many who attended their events over an approximately 10-year span had a ball. They were a much sought after band…the all stars of that time.”
Eddie would later provide vocals on Hachig Kazarian albums.
Barsamian still exudes the spirit and feeling of the time: “We were self-taught AYFers. Armenian music was in our souls. We were like brothers. We loved our experiences in many communities. Eddie’s tricolored tambourine reflected who we were as well as our name reflecting our Worcester chapter.”
Over time, the Aramites recorded the LP “Hot Sands,” as well as individual 78 rpms “Meg Nyvatskov,” “Laz Bar” and “Aramite Bar.”
Barsamian started off playing dumbeg and then taught himself how to play an oud that his father bought him. After the Aramites, he was in demand to play with Mike and Buddy Sarkisian, as well as others in various New England clubs, weddings and dances.
Mikitarian (clarinet and saxophone) gained his musical interest from his father.
He took clarinet lessons, and by the age of 15 became a member of the Gaidzaigs and then joined the Aramites with Barsamian.
Thereafter, his soulful tones and fun personality were in demand playing with the likes of Harry Minassian, Bobby Sohigian, Zaven Donabedian, Leo Arzoomanian, Onnik Dinkjian, John Berberian and Kazarian.
With some 63 years of friendship, Kazarian notes of Mikitarian: “Carnig was a gracious partner in music. He brought fun to the gig. I enjoyed working with him countless times over the years.”
The signal song of the Aramites was “Zungalo,” a lively number sung only by Ed Arvanigian and no other vocalist of any band; it was the Ooster song, not like “Kale-Kale” or “Meg Nyvastkov.”
Gary Arvanigian explained the origin.
“My grandmother Nevart, along with Norair and Mal Soghomonian’s mom, created the lyrics about a young boy who loved Armenian music and good times. It was a portrait of their sons, the band members, if you will. My uncle Ed was the perfect one to sing it as he played his tricolor tambourine and sang his mom’s words. Talk about fun.”
Self-taught AYFers, hook-ups on porches, a tricolored tambourine—there was more than a decade of our music that played through the eastern region of the US. We remember. A great portion of the Worcester AYF and so many in many communities grew up with the sounds of the Aramites. Thanks, guys, for a lifetime of memories.
The Aramites were the sounds and spirit of Worcester, not to be forgotten.
Author’s Note: Hachig Kazarian’s forthcoming must-have book, Western Armenian Music from Asia Minor to the United States, carries a great deal of detail about the Aramites, as well as other bands who have played in the United States. Some of the pictures with this article are also in the book.