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Homegrown Plus: Ara Dinkjian & Zulal Concert and Oral History

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In the Homegrown Plus series, we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both together in an easy-to-find blog post. (Find the whole series here!) We’re continuing the series with a concert and oral history with Ara Dinkjian and the Zulal trio.

Three women and a man perform on stage. The women are standing, while the man is seated, playing a stringed instrument.
New York-based a cappella trio Zulal joins oud player Ara Dinkjian for a performance of traditional Armenian music in the Coolidge Auditorium, May 28, 2015. Left to right are Teni Apelian, Ara Dinkjian, Yeraz Markarian, and Anaïs Tekerian. Photo by Shawn Miller.

In May 2015 Ara Dinkjian, a master of the oud, and the Armenian American women’s trio Zulal performed at the Library of Congress. These artists have in common a desire to preserve Armenian traditional music, but also to continue the progress of that music, adapting traditional songs and music for contemporary audiences and composing new pieces rooted in past traditions. Zulal first sang songs a capella, Ara Dinkjian performed solo, and then all performed together. Enjoy the concert, and continue reading to learn more about the artists and to find the oral history.

Like other performers of Armenian music, these artists face the task of being true to a difficult Armenian history as they perform to audiences both familiar and unfamiliar with this past. A tragic genocide in Turkey during World War I brought their forebears to this country, as is true for the majority of Armenian Americans. Yet they also want to preserve and share the beauty and joy of Armenian culture. Without turning their back on the past, Ara Dinkjian and the members of Zulal choose to emphasize looking forward to the future, and they discuss their artistic values as a part of the oral history in the video below.

A man playing a stringed instrument.
Ara Dinkjian performs traditional Armenian music on an oud in the Coolidge Auditorium, May 28, 2015. Photo by Shawn Miller.

Ara Dinkjian is an American born artist who grew up with traditional Armenian music. His earliest professional musical experience was accompanying his father Onnik Dinkjian, a renowned Armenian folk and liturgical singer. Ara and Onnik Dinkjian performed together at the Library of Congress in 2018 and are the subject of another Homegrown Plus post in Folklife Today at the link. Ara learned several western and eastern instruments (piano, guitar, dumbeg, clarinet) and in 1980 graduated from the Hartt College of Music, earning the country’s first and only special degree in the instrument for which he has become most well-known, the oud. For over forty years, he served as organist in the Armenian Apostolic Church. Throughout his musical life, Ara has continued to develop his highly personal compositional style which blends his eastern and western roots. In 1985, to help realize these compositions and musical concepts, Ara formed his highly acclaimed instrumental quartet, Night Ark. Night Ark’s recordings and concert tours were highly influential for musicians and music lovers throughout the world because they demonstrated how music can be progressive and creative while still retaining the dignity and soul of one’s culture. He also has made collaborative recordings and three solo albums. In 2015 he worked on a special album with his father titled DiyarbekiriHokin (Mira Records). It features traditional and contemporary songs in the dialect of Diyarbekir, in Anatolia, Turkey, known to Armenians as Dikranagerd. This project was in progress at the time of the concert presented here. In the oral history you will hear Ara and members of Zulal talk about preserving the songs in the dialects of Dikranagerd and other former Armenian communities in Turkey, dialects that are now endangered. 

Three women singing into microphones.
Yeraz Markarian, Anaïs Tekerian, and Teni Apelian, who form the group Zulal, perform Armenian traditional songs at the Library of Congress, May 28, 2015. Photo by Shawn Miller.

Zulal’s singers, Teni Apelian, Yeraz Markarian and Anaïs Tekerian, have been singing together since 2002. In Armenian, Zulal means “clear water.” Zulal’s singers take Armenia’s village folk melodies and create arrangements that remain true to the rural roots of the music while adding contemporary elements. The trio celebrates the trials and joys of old Armenian village life as found in traditional songs, such as budding romances in elevated gardens, the disappointments of hapless suitors, secret messages placed upon the western winds, and the moonlit faces of shepherd boys and their brides. Even for listeners like myself who do not understand the Armenian lyrics, the beauty of these songs is transporting. The group has three albums, Zulal (2004),  Notes to a Crane (2012), and Seven Springs (2015). At the time of this oral history, the album Seven Springs had not yet been published and the group talks about the creation of that new work.

Here are Teni Apelian, Yeraz Markarian, Anaïs Tekerian, and Ara Dinkjian talking with Carolyn Rapkevian about their art and their lives as performers. Rapkevian is the Assistant Director for Education and Museum Programs at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, assisting here using another of her areas of expertise, the Armenian diaspora. Enjoy the video, then look to the resources links below for more webcasts and items from the collections of the American Folklife Center.


Ara Dinkjian and Zulal: Traditional Armenian Music and Song, Library of Congress, 2015 (video). Also on Library of Congress YouTube.

Ara Dinkjian and Zulal Oral History, Library of Congress, 2015 (video). Also on Library of Congress YouTube.

“Armenian American Song,” in The Library of Congress Presents the Songs of America.

Armenian songs and music collected by Sidney Robertson Cowell in 1939 (list of audio recordings, photographs of performers and instruments, drawings of instruments, and manuscripts) presented in California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties (Library of Congress).

Onnik Dinkjian: The Soul of Dikranagerd: Armenian music and song from New Jersey (video), also on Library of Congress YouTube.

 Oral History with Ara, Onnik Dinkjian, and Carolyn Rapkievian (video). Also on Library of Congress YouTube.

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