In the late ’70s and early ’80s, there were only a few thousand Armenians living in the Los Angeles area, most of whom were centered in East Hollywood. It is here that Harout settled and began his musical legacy in California.
Within two months of his arrival in L.A., Harout put together a studio band and recorded his first album, “Our Eyir Astvats” (Where Were You, God?), in reference to the Armenian Genocide. This was followed by his getting on the nightclub circuit, doing his first gigs on Sundays at a Beverly Hills tennis club owned by an Armenian and performing at a popular night club in Pasadena called Sayat Nova.
That first album, now considered a classic, barely resembles the trademark sound he has become known for. Instead of the usual weepy duduk (a double-reed often called “the saddest instrument in the world”) or synths, you get clarinet, organ and a lot of bass. Only a few of the songs on the first album are dance-oriented, certainly different from the material that later made him popular at weddings.
While most bands and singers were performing in smoky nightclubs, bars and coffee shops, Harout honed his skills at Armenian engagement parties, baptisms, fairs and dinner dances, where one expects to hear five to six hours of music, coupled with an obscene amount of food. This made him popular and branded him the nickname The Armenian Wedding Singer.
Harout has performed at the Rose Bowl, the Shrine and the Palladium. But it’s at all those banquet halls where fans get the best sense of what Harout’s music is about – an amalgamation of contemporary, folk and patriotic music. Harout interprets songs by fellow artists including Rouben Hakhverdian, Robert Amirkhanian, Arthur Meschian and others. But it’s the centuries-old sacred and grandiose folk tunes about protecting the soil and fighting in the highlands — “Antranik Pasha,” “Sassouni Orore,” “Msho Aghchig” — that really engages nationalistic pride in his fans.
Among Harout’s favorite singers is Nuné, who’s been interpreting modern music while still keeping the traditional elements alive. He’s also fond of Rouben Hakhverdian, a “real troubadour”, who has a wonderful way of spouting Dylanesque ramblings like they’re the Gospel. His collaboration with Harout on the 1996 “Yerke Nayev Aghotk Eh” (Songs Are Also Prayers) is somber, intimate and filled with the kind of dirt-under-the-fingernails grit one must listen to, not dance to.
A year after the 1988 Spitak Earthquake that killed 25,000 people and left more than 500,000 homeless, hundreds of thousands of fans looking for some kind of temporary diversion from the devastation, packed the Hrazdan stadium and Hamalir Demirchian Arena to hear 28 concerts by Harout. Then–Minister of Culture, Yuri Melik-Ohanjanian, remarked these were the highest-attended musical performances in the history of Armenia.
It is with great pleasure that we welcome Harout Pamboukjian to the Armenian Heritage Cruise!
Learn more at haroutpamboukjian.com