Reviews | Traditional Music
I knew and expected our session today to be special, and indeed it was. My class was transfixed by your words, and enchanted with your singing. You are such a joy to have a conversation with; the stories and anecdotes are, of course, immensely compelling and incredibly moving, and need to be told and preserved. You are a missionary, indeed a visionary, and I believe that many in my class will now be motivated to learn more about Armenia. Out of tragedy comes the purity of hope, renewal of faith, and the planting of seeds for future generations to propagate, and cherish, a unique and wonderful culture. We bathed in your spirit, and we gratefully embrace you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Tim Baiden, Furman University, OLLI Instructor, Greenville, SC
Mariam Matossian is right: You didn’t have to understand the Armenian language to be captivated by the Canadian-Armenian singer’s highly syncopated music at Centre Stage Saturday night. Matossian’s songs, all sung in Armenian, are so tuneful and rhythmically vibrant that it’s impossible to resist their contagious energy and spirit of exhilaration.
Matossian, now a Greenville resident, delivered her traditional and original songs with a silky, emotion-filled soprano. Her entrance was exquisite: She sang a mournful, long-lined tune accompanied only by the superb oud (a fretless lute) player John Berberian. Throughout the night, Matossian offered equally haunting melodies of loss, alternating those with uptempo songs of love and joy. The more animated songs such as “With the Larks,” “A Bride’s Song” and “Armenian Girls” inspired the audience to clap in time – and dance even while seated. Matossian was an engaging host, at one point telling the poignant story of how her grandmother survived the 1915 Armenian genocide, journeying with her family to Syria. The only possessions they took were the family Bible and their songs. Matossian’s mother passed on those songs to her as well as her grandmother’s name, Mariam.
The concert benefitted tremendously from Matossian’s talented and versatile musical guests: In addition to Berberian, there was the fine Sarkis Chorbadjian on the duduk (an ancient Armenian double reed instrument) and the impressive Asheville-based trio Free Planet Radio. Berberian, backed by the hard-charging Free Planet Radio, offered some particularly fiery riffs in the instrumental number “Laz,” an ebullient dance in 7/8 time. It has been two years since Matossian was last heard in Greenville. That’s too long. Here’s hoping that Matossian will perform here again soon. What a delight, incidentally, to hear some international music in Greenville. We have too little of that here. Early deadlines forced your reviewer to leave before the concert ended. As I exited, Matossian had a good portion of the audience on stage, moving to a joyous Armenian version of a line dance.
Paul Hyde, Arts Editor, The Greenville News, March 13, 2011
Mariam Matossian and [her band] Free Planet Radio (6:45 p.m. Oct. 15 at Eden Hall) will pull a big crowd. She packed the house during a performance of Armenian folk songs earlier this year at the White Horse Black Mountain venue..
Tony Kiss, Arts Editor, Asheville Citizen-Times
Vancouver musician Matossian offers fresh interpretations of traditional Armenian folk songs. Some of the more interesting compositions are by Sayat Nova, a noted 18th century songwriter. Several songs touch upon faith, including ‘Narineh’ and ‘New Song.’ Matossian’s arrangements are as accomplished as her gorgeous singing. Several pieces make good use of violinist Jesse Zubot. ‘A Bride’s Song’ has an exquisite slow opening, and sparse instrumentation. On ‘Blossoming Rose,’ she provides soaring long notes in the background, while she sings rapid lines in the foreground. ‘My Gift’ feels like an invocation, the vocal accompanied only by a faint, sustained low note. A beautiful, very upbeat album.
David Dawes Canadian Christianity Vancouver, BC
Mariam Matossian’s shows at White Horse Black Mountain were a creative, musical, emotional and business high for our venue. She transported the audience wherever she wished and did so with wonderful gentle command of her material and delivery. She even had 150 dancing in a big circle around the venue, holding hands with strangers and all smiles. Her band, Free Planet Radio, was with her every step of the way in their own wonderful, quirky, creative way. The shows were an advance sellout and we felt badly having to turn away a large number of potential customers. I cannot recommend Mariam highly enough.
Bob Hinkle, Co-Owner White Horse Black Mountain Black Mountain, NC
[Mariam Matossian's] CDs are truly spectacular in terms of both musicianship and recording quality (a rarity these days – I can’t tell you how many of my friends from the Eastern European Folklife center have had their artistic achievements sabotaged by inept recording and mastering). One of the bands on [In the Light] shook my floor. All this would be trivial were it not for the fact that [Mariam's] arrangements are masterful and [her] voice deliciously expressive…What I like about what [Matossian] has done is that it captures that bitter-sweet quality that makes music from the Caucasus, and Armenia in particular, so special. It is new, but not “watered down”, surprising without the cheap tricks.
John Uhlemann, Host, Music from the Hills, KDHX Radio, St. Louis, MO
Both Salpi Toroyan and I have profound feelings of gratitude for the experience of working with you. Mariam’s hauntingly clear voice along with the mastery of Free Planet Radio could not have been anticipated. The evening was joy filled and uplifting. My spirit soared and connected to the spirits of my ancestors. Words are not easily found to describe the sense of community generated from the experience of that evening. We in the greater Detroit area, are experiencing challenging times. Times that call for spiritual renewal. The evening of June 27th, 2009 fed the souls of all who attended. I have a cherished memory no one can take from me…Thank you!
John Yavruian, St. John Armenian Church, Detroit, Parish Council Chairperson
Our memories of your visit here are forever with us. What a success! Our parishioners are still thanking me personally for bringing you and the guys to Detroit. The uniqueness of the performance was so well received by the audience. There were tears, cheers, hand clapping and encores galore. We hope that you will consider returning in the future. All of us here at St John’s thank you from the bottom of our hearts for sharing your God given talents. Wishing you continued success!
Salpi Toroyan, St. John Armenian Church, Detroit, Parish Council Member
Pure notes layered with emotional intensity marked Canadian-Armenian singer Mariam Matossian’s Southeastern debut at the Warehouse Theatre on Saturday night.
The house was packed — extra seats had to be brought in. People came from Asheville and as far away as Atlanta to hear the beautiful young singer accompanied by Free Planet Radio, a trio of exceptional musicians. They not only backed her but also performed their own eclectic selections.
Matossian’s choice of program was a rare fusion of storytelling and vocal artistry that at times sent shivers down your spine, as in her mournful opener “Groong” (The Crane), performed a cappella. Her follow-up love song quickly changed the mood, prompting the audience to clap joyously to the pulsing rhythm of the ancient folk song.
Early on in her program, she told the story of her grandmother, after whom she was named, who at age 5 became a refugee with her decimated family in the aftermath of the 1915 Armenian genocide. The only thing the little girl took with her on her long journey from Armenia to Syria was the tattered family Bible, the songs of her homeland and hope, said Matossian. The singer added, “this is what inspires me to sing for you tonight.”
Her program undulated from the upbeat to several shades of dark. From “Oror,” a haunting, sweet lullaby, which she dedicated to her dad — her parents came from Canada to hear her — to the bittersweet “Bride’s Song.”
Even if you didn’t understand a word of Armenian, as most of the audience didn’t, you knew that love and loss were the leitmotifs of these beautiful traditional songs that she projected with pride and strength, taking each to the limit with her ringing timbre and soft-voiced high range.
During her breaks, Free Planet Radio took over and laid down some incredible chords. String player Chris Rosser riffed on Turkish cumbus and Indian dhotar, Grammy-winning Eliot Wadopian did some virtuosic bass playing and percussionist River Guerguerian showcased his mastery on dumbeg and frame drum.
While this was Matossian’s first concert in the area, where she now lives with her husband and child, one hopes to hear her much more in the future. For sure, Matossian is a rare, compelling artist who can spellbind any audience.
Ann Hicks, The Greenville News, Feb. 29, 2009
…it was a truly magical evening in Black Mountain, NC as Mariam Matossian sang songs of her ancestral homeland of Armenia. It was one of those rare performances when the audience became silent at the first sound of her wonderful voice and remained spellbound until the last note, when they immediately rose to their feet in appreciation of the voice, the songs, and the spirit with which they were shared. Mariam won the hearts of souls of Black Mountain that night and we eagerly await her return.
Don Talley, The Black Mountain Music Scene
Mariam Matossian’s singing, interwoven with the incredible artistry of Free Planet Radio, brought our audience into ecstacy.
Kim Hughes, co-owner of music venue, White Horse Black Mountain, North Carolina
I was all wrapped up warm and watching the creek rushing towards the sea as the cold rain tapping on the roof of my car blended perfectly with Mariam Matossian on the radio. I was transported into ecstacy between sleep, half-sleep and lucid awareness while listening to her hypnotic voice. Thank you very much for playing her recording during my lunch break from work.
Allen Kugi, KPFK Radio Listener
I have performed with Mariam Matossian on several occasions and find her to be a truly gifted singer who sings from her heart and inevitably captures her audience. She is one of those rare artists that is able to demonstrate her professional talents while keeping an intimate rapport with her audience.
John Berberian, master oud player
And, like an ascending angel, came the clear soprano voice of Mariam Matossian, giving voice to Armenia, her ancestral home.
Barb Brouwer, Salmon Arm Observer: August 19, 2008
Matossian sings…with a voice that’s brimming with emotional resonance, clean and unforced. Her spare arrangements draw out the essence of the beautiful melodies…In the Light, her recently released second album, is…impressive…
Tony Montague, Penguin Eggs: Spring 2008
Mariam Matossian has challenged the established forms of how an Armenian woman should present our traditional songs in today’s modern music. Both of her albums, Far From Home and In the Light are not only the next chapter in Armenian music, but also a brave statement to Western listeners who are seeking pure, quality music. An angelic voice and great production by producer Adam Popowitz – what else could you ask for?
Gor Mkhitarian, Singer, Songwriter, Guitarist
With her velvety soft voice, Mariam Matossian really moves us. Through her songs, treasures from Armenia, her ancestors land, we are wonderfully carried away.
Avec sa voix de velours, Mariam Matossian sait nous émouvoir. Par ses chansons, elle fait revivre les trésors de l’Arménie, pays de ses ancêtres, où nous sommes merveilleusement transportés.
Claire Chainey, Radio Host and Producer, Musique Autour du Monde, Saguenay Region, Quebec
I am sitting here listening to Mariam Matossian sing a traditional Armenian song and I feel like I am transported. Her voice is beautiful and clear, and her connection to the song and the tradition from which it comes is evident somehow in her voice and her loving treatment of the music. I know from talking to her that these are songs that she’s heard all her life, from her mother, they are part of the fabric of her being and are a vital connection to her heritage. That deep connection is powerfully present as she sings. I don’t know the words but I feel the emotions.
Mariam’s singing shifts you out of the ordinary and into a realm of pure experience. There’s a kind of “ear cleaning” that happens. Sounds, words, gestures become more vivid than you remember. She and her excellent band have found a unique vibe that sets them apart from much of the other fusiony stuff happening out there.
Michael Juk, Producer, CBC Radio
…[In the Light]…is a first-class recording from start to finish, [with] excellent choices for airplay…
Beautiful music can overcome the boundaries of race, religion, culture. Mariam’s music comes into the soul and serves to heal and remind us of what we must not forget: we are all bound together in this world and what happens to one of us, happens to us all. I had the joy of hearing Mariam perform at a fundraiser for Genocide Awareness in April in Portland Oregon. Her message of remembrance and peace is beautiful and healing. Her music is unforgettable. Her voice and spirit are what transform this music into a language all its own.
Victoria Trabosh, President, Itafari Foundation
I have yet to see someone perform with the same passion and intensity as Mariam Matossian. Her performance was an offering to us, a woven gift of song that allowed the audience to escape into stories of the past, the moment of the present, and the potential of the future. Her music presented a mosaic of culture, history, wisdom and hope, painting a musical landscape with every perfect and precise note. She has an amazing voice that was at once haunting, emotional, airy and hopeful. Her stories and songs were inspirational and passionate. As part of Genocide Awareness Week, Mariam’s concert brought a hopeful and transformative perspective to the week of events and reminded us of the importance of forgiveness, remembrance, connection, and the power of song. After the performance someone said to me, “Judging by her voice, I believe it must have been the Armenians who taught the angels to sing.”
Sarah Stark, Founder, Genocide Awareness Week, Oregon
Captivating. At the top of the show Matossian walked out onto the stage, lit with only one spotlight, and began singing an Armenian lullaby. Her unaccompanied voice soared through the theatre, blanketing the spellbound audience. Rarely have I heard simplicity and sincerity used so expertly to create such a tremendous impact. After that, the audience was hers, and she did not disappoint her new fans.
Paul Gravett Executive Director, Kay Meek Centre
Mariam’s beautiful voice carries the devastation of the past toward the hope for a future for all peoples in such compelling tones. And through each song, she carries the hearts of each listener closer to that hope.
Sherry Harbert Amnesty International Portland Group 48 Coordinator
Matossian…celebrates her heritage with a voice that is dark, rich, passionate and compelling.
Gulf Islands Driftwood Newspaper
Rarely offered is the opportunity to listen to such an elegant voice charged with emotion. Behind this romantic and sensual voice is hidden, barely veiled, the history of a nation. Outstanding pronunciation, sublime music, superb tone of voice – the high notes of traditional Armenian culture simply to be discovered.
BC Jazz Magazine
The first was a set with an Armenian singer Mariam Matossian with Gord playing the oud…Mariam is actually a Canadian born vocalist but she comes from an Armenian background and has learned many of the traditional folk songs. She sings in a high clear voice and she tells little stories to the audience, which describe what each of the songs are about. Mariam is just lovely to watch and listen to on stage. She is absolutely natural and elegant and I enjoyed every minute of her singing. She and Gord make a wonderful duo team performing this haunting music.
In the words of renowned Canadian Jazz Vocalist, Karin Plato
…a very clear, measured and ultimately sweet innocent style that captures the listener from her first breath… the eclectically acoustic based folk band is in full swing with Matossian’s supremely focused approach. At times, Matossian’s voice seems as though it is as light as air…
Raffi Meneshian, CEO Pomegranate Music
Mariam Matossian has a beautiful voice and the original, clever arrangements set off her voice perfectly…enchanting, professional and haunting vocal style.