Azniv Korkejian wrestles with displacement in dulcet tones
Though Azniv Korkejian spent much of her childhood in Saudi Arabia, she has specific, vivid memories of her grandmother's street in Aleppo, Syria, the city in which Korkejian was born to Armenian parents. There were men playing backgammon in alleys. Metal gates being rolled up. Gasoline salesmen on the backs of donkeys. Car horns.
Korkejian, who records and performs as Bedouine, made a soundscape of those memories to serve as the coda to “Summer Cold,” a track on her self-titled debut that emerged last summer on Matthew E. White's Spacebomb Records. In the slow-paced, mournful song, the Los Angeles-based singer and guitarist bemoans the sale of weapons between countries: “Why must they get involved? What on earth could this solve? I've had enough of your guns and your ammunition.”
It's been strange for Korkejian, who moved to the U.S. with her family as a child, to see her birthplace in the news so often the past few years. “It's nothing I would have ever expected,” she said recently by phone from Spain. “I remember when the Arab Spring started, there was a part of me that was just hoping it wouldn't reach Syria, because I had so much family there. And it ended up being the most dire.”
On Bedouine, a collection of 1960s-indebted folk songs, the various geographical touchstones in Korkejian's upbringing often surface indirectly through themes of displacement and detachment. At times she retreats inward, as on “Solitary Daughter.” “Leave me alone to the books and the radio snow,” she sings in a peaceful, calming croon, with pacing and phrasing reminiscent of Leonard Cohen. On “Skyline,” she looks backward: “I've got a craving for a thing of the past and it's hitting me hard.”
“[Displacement] is definitely something I've been grappling with,” she said. “It's been hard, and it seems to get harder, just because a lot of my family has been displaced because of the war in Syria. My parents are in Saudi Arabia, which is not the easiest place to go back to and touch home. A lot of my family has left Syria for Armenia. I've been a couple times since they've all moved, and I don't take to it quite in the same way, but I think maybe with the Syrian diaspora it'll start to feel more familiar.”
Los Angeles, too, isn't the easiest place to call home, but for more practical reasons. “How deep can my roots go if I can never afford to buy a home here?” she said.
While Korkejian has written songs since she was a child messing around on the piano, she didn't pick up a guitar until later in life. Then, a few years ago, while working as a sound editor for TV and film in L.A., songs started spilling out of her, and she grew afraid that if she didn't preserve them in some way they'd start slipping through the cracks.
“Around the time I wrote ‘Solitary Daughter,' that's when I was like, ‘OK, I can't let this one just disappear,'” she said. After joining up with producer Gus Seyffert, she began putting the songs to tape, chipping away at the project over a period of three years. Eventually, she whittled the 30 tracks down to 10 for White at Spacebomb.
The album has an easy, breezy feel made for warm summer days, which should be perfect for Bedouine's set on the Nelsonville Music Festival's Boxcar stage at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, June 1. That laid-back vibe is something that Korkejian didn't need to cultivate. It's in her makeup.
“I'll be in the [recording] booth thinking, ‘I'm singing my heart out,' then I'll go back and it still sounds like I'm half asleep,” she said. “I listen to Edith Piaf and think, ‘How do I sound like that?' … But I do like the style I sing in, and I think there's a subtlety to it that I appreciate.”