Daily Star staff
Tata is the biggest name in Armenian pop music today. Or so his fans say. There is no limit, it seems, to what a community will do to stay together. Over the past six years, Tata Simonian has slowly become the king of Armenian popular dance better known as rabiz music.
The Armenian singer, hailed both in his country as well as abroad, has attracted quite a following. Since 1996, Tata has been touring cities with large Armenian communities. He was invited to Lebanon for the first time last year to perform at UNESCO Palace on the Armenian Christmas. The event caused such a buzz that he was invited back this year by the Hamazkayin Cultural Committee for concerts on consecutive nights at the Biel Pavilion Royal on Monday, and at the UNESCO Palace on Tuesday.
What is fascinating about Tata is that his music is not fascinating at all. If anything, he is simply the king of restaurant, wedding and community hall singers all over the world. In his early 20s like so many others in Los Angeles, Montreal, Windsor and Toronto Tata started singing in bands that included do-it-all synthesizers. At that time, he could only hope to have a rock star following, even one limited to the Armenian community. Like them, he sang traditional Armenian dance songs about love lost or hoped for and never had the benefit of any formal musical training.
“(The songs) just come to me,” Tata reveals in interview on the day after his UNESCO concert. “I don’t compose music. I just come up with the songs in my head and play them … I don’t know why I became more successful than others,” he continues. “God just answered my prayers, I guess, because I have always dreamed of becoming a star.”
Even until recently, with the exception of well-liked songs like Anabadi Arev (Desert Sun) and those on his newest album, Antrsev e kalis (It’s Raining), Tata’s music was not original work but his own version of popular Armenian dance songs. This “own” version, according to his fans, is what makes Tata special.
What that means, though, is that the same de rigeur extended guitar solos and 4/4 drum-beats that can be found in every Armenian barahantess (dance), banquet, or celebratory event, are performed by Tata “his” way.
But neither the 6,000-member crowd at Biel, nor those who attended the UNESCO Palace concert Tuesday night seemed to care about any of this. For them, it was Tata, and he was enough. Some had come from Anjar just to see him perform. For them, what was most important is the ability of a singer to “get you up to dance,” and, assuredly, Tata can do this.
He runs up on stage at the UNESCO Palace concert hall, a little more enthusiastic than the crowd, wearing a white bohemian shirt, black leather pants and, as always, his signature baseball cap (black leather, ornamented with swarovski crystals). His kind, beady eyes squint into the crowd under the shade of his cap.
Amidst colorful, flashing spotlights and other stage effects, he prompts the Armenian Christmas evening crowd. “Rabiz is for the young, let’s go! Clap! Clap!” he yells. “We hope you don’t sit there all night, we hope you are going to get up and sing, whistle, dance!”
For over two hours of what sounds like versions of the same song (with the exception of a couple slower tunes), the audience claps in unison with the enthusiasm of a sing-along for songs they have often heard in their cars and at birthday parties.
Tata meanwhile seems to enjoy himself on stage, playing air guitar, drumming his hands in the air, and mimicking (perhaps once too often) the electric guitar players in the band with his microphone stand.
The crowd seems oblivious to the occasional feedback from the speakers that intrudes periodically. Nor do they seem a bit bothered by the sudden power outage on the speakers: an outage that interrupts one song, and which briefly brings the entire performance to a halt.
“We’re used to this in Armenia,” Tata says with a charming smile. “Only in Armenia, the power doesn’t come back on.”
The crowd laughs, and as the music begins again, they clap with renewed fervor, energized by a moment of collective embarrassment.
Soon thereafter, a young couple from the crowd comes down from their seats and begins to dance in front of Tata below the stage. Like professional ice-breakers, they encourage the audience to join them. After a couple of songs, a train of teenage Armenian girls join in, wearing flared jeans and stylish short skirts. They join fingers and dance the common shourtch bar while mouthing the words.
The UNESCO Palace hall soon begins to feel like a familiar Armenian house party. The girls then line up at the edge of the stage, facing Tata, for the remainder of the concert, waving their hands in the air from side to side, looking at each other only to change the pattern to a rhythmic clap-then-back step movement.
“This next song is dedicated to all the young girls,” yells Tata. The older audience members watch them from their seats, smiling.
What makes Tata the phenomenon he is surely has nothing to do with the originality of his music, but rather his ability to feed the continuous and insatiable willingness of the new Armenian diaspora to survive culturally.
It helps, of course, that he comes from the motherland itself, satisfying the community’s need to get closer to its source. While there is hardly a shortage of Armenian rabiz singers, the need for a singular rallying figure is indeed great perhaps so great that it supersedes, sadly, any consideration of the quality of that new cultural direction.