•Chookasian Armenian Concert Ensemble plays music from eastern and western Armenia.
• Hamazkayin Niari Dance Ensemble is known for its traditional dances and colorful costumes.
• Proceeds from the concert benefit the California Armenian Home.
For a couple of months now, local arts and civic groups have been embarking on a solemn mission in the Fresno area to raise awareness of the Armenian Genocide by commemorating its 100th anniversary. This weekend’s Armenian Genocide Centennial Concert on Sunday, March 8, will draw on the talents of traditional musicians and dancers to add to the message.
Here’s the rundown:
The musicians: The Fresno-based Chookasian Armenian Concert Ensemble, founded in 1994, is well known to local lovers of traditional music. Winner of a 2010 International Armenian Grammy Award, the ensemble is the only one of its kind in the U.S. that plays music from eastern and western Armenia on the same stage. It has toured nationally and to Armenia. The ensemble is directed by John Chookasian, who also plays clarinet, and features the vocal talents of his wife, Barbara. Eight other performers — some from as far as New York — are in the ensemble as well, all featured on traditional acoustic folk instruments that have been played for millennia.
The dancers: The Los Angeles-based Hamazkayin Niari Dance Ensemble is in its 15th year and travels to many social and political events in the state, including Fresno, San Francisco and San Diego. The group is known for its traditional dances and colorful costumes. Catherine Hairabedian is director and choreographer.
The program: The two ensembles will for the most part perform separately. The lineup for the Chookasian ensemble includes such tunes as “Harse Em Gnoum” (“I Leave as a Bride”), about a 17-year-old girl leaving her parents’ home; and “Armenian Folk Song Medley,” featuring the double-bodied lute. The lineup for the Nairi Dance Ensemble includes “Ambu Kisher” (“The Cloudy Night”) and “Kochari Barr,” an ancient Armenian folk dance of western and eastern Armenia.
A special song: John Chookasian notes that a song with particular resonance in terms of the Armenian Genocide is “Khossek Hayastani Lerner,” translated as “Speak of the nation’s tragedies, Oh Armenian Mountains.” The lyrics include: “Tell the story, Oh mountains, Weep, Oh mountains, Since the beginning, Mt. Ararat has been ours.”
The fundraising angle: The concert is presented by the Ani Guild, and proceeds benefit the California Armenian Home.