Panorama Yerevan

Interview with Lucia Kagramanyan

Panorama Yerevan by Lucia Kagramanyan

You may have heard Lucia Kagramanyan’s excellent NTS Radio series Panorama Yerevan, in which she introduces the thriving music scenes of Armenia’s capital. Her new documentary series of the same name aims to add a visual dimension to her extensively researched radio shows. The inaugural Rock Edition tells a story of the development of Armenia's rock scene from the Soviet time, the censorship obstacles it endured and the nostalgia behind it, featuring interviews with the most renowned bands and scene representatives of that time.

Lucia Kagramanyan

Lucia Kagramanyan by Maria Vartanova

Can you tell us about your background? You are currently based in Vienna where you study, but as far as I know music runs deep in your family.

I currently study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna but I was doing a bunch of things before…Unfortunately, not all of them are related to music. Music has constantly been at the forefront in my life. But I'm far less prolific and musical than my family members. My great grandfather was one of the founders of Armenian jazz and played trumpet himself, my grandfather is a composer and did a vast number of film scores and theatre music and my mom is a jazz singer.

You have been running a radio show on NTS Radio called Panorama Yerevan for a while now, dedicated to various genres and styles of Armenian music. (the recent Rabiz special is a treat!). What motivated you to dig deep and present it?

One summer, I was digging through the archives of Armenian public radio where I partly helped to digitise stuff on a voluntary basis. I met Arthur Ispiryan, who is now the head of the digitisation program at the radio, and I really owe him a big portion of the inspiration and that the archives are now securely preserved in a way. I thought that there is a need to put the material out in a curated way and for a wider audience, especially for the music enthusiasts, and thought of my favourite radio station and pitched them the idea of having Armenian music shows old and new. I was digging through my grandfather’s music at first, and then opened up a whole new universe of tunes I hadn’t heard before. Especially music for cinema, folk and opera pieces. Then later in the show series, I decided to also showcase genres different from the classics and started doing specials. Finding the right methodology is hard, to be honest, but I try my best haha.


Panorama Yerevan by Lucia Kagramanyan

What led you to add a visual/cinematographic side to the presentation of this music?

I always pay a lot of attention to the flyer and how radio shows look like. It’s a big part of what it sounds like, especially when you present something new. So to make it memorable as I also do voiceovers and talk about the music the audience hears almost in every show, I start with pictures of me in different settings that vibe with the themes of the shows. And my photographer friend Maria Vartanova does the magic - I owe her most of the Panorama Yerevan covers. Some other shots were done by my other friends in Armenia. I art direct it myself, think of the spot, etc and she does the shots.

The first installment of your series (as it's planned to be a series of documentaries presenting Armenian music) focuses on rock (music). How did you choose the protagonists?

It was actually random that I started with rock music. I wanted to kick off with a mini-documentary series that accompanied some episodes and timewise the rock one was there, plus for me, this topic was always super haunting - Armenia has a huge rock scene and it’s always been underground. Also, I remember myself as a teenager going to rock gigs and identifying myself as a “rocker”. So I started to research the bands I included in the show as I already kind of heard the stories fluctuating around about rock musicians of the past. I knew some band members personally, like Bambir, and some people I met through connections and my friends, when I was asking around if anyone had any Armenian rock archival material. Everything was very organic, once I started my research it never seemed to end. I have a lot more protagonists to include in p2 perhaps, but these were the ones I had the capacity to interview during the summer of 2021 to have some material to work with.

Panorama Yerevan by Lucia Kagramanyan

In this inaugural, Rock Edition, history seems to play an important role, the legacy of the Soviet times, with all that it entails (censorship, nostalgia, etc). How do you perceive the historical legacy of Armenian music in general?

Armenian music is very multi-layered. There is the Soviet heritage so to say, and there is diaspora music. I dug a lot of the archives, found reports and documents on folk music that was actually very appreciated during Soviet Armenia and a lot of research and collecting was executed back then. However, Soviet Armenia had its own traps obviously, a lot of censorship for whatever could shake up the solid state of the propaganda. Anything provocative was obviously banned so there was little space for critical thinking and individualism. Same with the methodology of folk music research. It’s hard to imagine what it could have been without the Soviet influence because it was fortunate there was a lot of research done, but it could have also looked differently without standardisation procedures.

What are your plans with the series - which music genres will you present next?

My next documentary is a full-length about the genre/subculture that haunts me the most - RABIZ. It’s urban folk pop/urban pop music that is meant for restaurant feasts, weddings, funerals, remembrance and lyrical music. It’s hard to categorise Rabiz but it's a realistic plasm of folk music adapted to a regular urban listener. It’s beautiful although the older “intelligentsia” generation seems to look down on it. I try my best to popularise this music and play it in my DJ sets a lot. So there’s going to be a film about it very soon.


Lucia Kagramanyan by Maria Vartanova

You are Armenian, so the view of your country's music you present is different than it would be from a foreigner. Is it difficult to document your own culture?

It’s a very good question. The experience of decolonising methodologies can be quite complex, yet rewarding at the same time, as one learns more about their cultural identity. I belong to Armenia ethnically and culturally (I speak the language, I lived here, I am part of the mentality) but I have to admit - my parents had to migrate to Moscow as many Armenians did in the 90s (mainly because of war and post-Soviet ruins) so I was born in the former (and present) coloniser state. Having had to speak a language different from the one I belong to perhaps made me appreciate my own culture more. I was always proud to say I'm Armenian since school and I've never had problems myself, but I knew my parents had some hard time integrating. I think it’s a very common situation nowadays to be a second-generation immigrant but I made my choice to come back to my roots and dedicate my time to researching my own culture.

Are there any exciting new scenes coming from Armenia that you could mention?

It’s very vibrant and dynamic. We have some new clubs opening with great line ups, the night scene is evolving, the live scene is emerging, and jazz is a big thing in Armenia as well. I'm going to make another Panorama Yerevan show dedicated to jazz only pretty soon.