By Artsvi Bakhchinyan
Special to the Mirror-Spectator
YEREVAN/SKOPJE — The Tavitjan brothers from Skopje, Macedonia, Diran (born in 1977) and Garo (born in 1982) work in the fields of jazz, contemporary, ethno, experimental and instrumental music and they are known as high-quality composers, performers and music producers who have collaborated and shared the stage with many jazz giants. After long years in the fusion band Paramecium, they founded the Tavitjan Brothers music brand, which has given more than 500 international concerts across Europe and the US. Their jazz album won the national award in 2006 for the first time in Macedonia’s history; they also received awards for the best concert, best albums, best producers, music ambassador’s award, etc. They have produced more than 300 compositions, musical theatre works and short movie soundtracks.
In 2009 Diran and Garo received awards for their project Macedonian Heart beats in 7/8 as the best producers and arrangers, the music video of the year and the best project of the year. In their rich music careers, they have released original compositions as well as projects with jazz standards, traditional music, projects with compositions of classical composers in new jazz arrangements for symphonic orchestra and trio. They have performed at the legendary Blue Note jazz club as well as Carnegie Hall in in New York City, being the first Macedonian musicians who have performed sold out shows at both of these legendary venues. There had also concerts at Nublu, Mc Gallery, Drummers Collective and several others in the US. Their best-selling CD sold more than 100,000 copies.
Their father Garabet Tavitjan — a rock legend himself — is a drummer, composer and founding member of the Yugoslavian band Leb i Sol (they have sold more than 600,000 LPs and CDs in the last 30 years), and leader of his jazz rock band Paramecium. He is the founder of the Balkan and Macedonian modern rhythm and the modern rock and jazz fusion music in the region. In his 53-year-long career, he has given more than 2,000 major concerts, with the greatest rock and pop legends of the Balkan region and abroad (Goran Bregovic, Bijelo Dugme, Time, Smak, Oliver Mandic). On September 8, 2012, the Tavitjan Brothers and their father, Garabet, presented the largest concert for the first time in Macedonian history at the city stadium with more than 70,.000 people in the audience uniting the greatest vocal legends of Balkan in honor of Macedonia. In 2018, Tavitjan Brothers received the prestigious award of European jazz ambassadors.
In 2019, Garo Tavitjan became the resident artist of Vic Firth, based in the US. Vic Firth/Zildjian made drumsticks with Garo Tavitjan’s signature on them.
Dear Diran and Garo, while studying the history of Armenians in Macedonia, the name of Tavitjan family comes often. I know the history of your family comes from Stepan Tavitjan (1830-1890), physician and linguist, one of most interesting Armenians of his time. Is his memory alive among his heirs?
Unfortunately no. We have very little information on the life and work of our ancestor Stepan Tavitjan. We would really like and hope to find more info on him in future. Our grandfather and grandmother unfortunately have not left us info about Mr. Stepan.
Well, Stepan Tavitjan, originally from Caesaria, introduced his idea of a universal language to the lecturers of the Imperial Medical School in Constantinople before Esperanto was created by Polish scientist Zamenhof. In 1887 he published a study in French on this subject and presented it to the Paris Academy. Tavitian’s concept of universal language was based on the language of Grabar (classical Armenian) as a perfect language. Your grandfather, Garabet Tavitjan, was also a physician, a specialist of internal and childhood diseases, and also a writer. Have you read his writings?
Dr. Garabet Tavitjan was the first in our family to come in Macedonia. He was sent from Constantinople to Macedonia for medical purposes. A highly respected medical doctor at his time, he the founder of the medical chamber in Macedonia, who was active in healing and helping those in need at that time. His contributions are significant. He was a humanitarian character, family man, an intellectual and man of good will and his word . He spoke several languages and raised three kids with his Armenian wife Victoria: two sons, Diran and Stepan and daughter Hermine. He loved art, he was also a painter; he loved realism and left several oil paintings in his family. He was also a writer, who wrote poetry in Armenian and French. Unfortunately, my father was born after his death and he have not had a chance to meet him or see any of his personal books. He left a great amount of AGBU literature also.
The next Tavitjan is your grandfather Diran – what was his profession?
Our grandfather Diran was a pharmacist. He was born in Skopje and studied in the Armenian college in Venice; after graduating he continued his studies in Paris where lived for a while. Then he came back to Macedonia and married our grandmother, Araksi (nee Mardikian), who lived in Serbia and then moved to Skopje. They had two children – our father Garabet and his sister Lusia. Grandpa Diran loved music, especially classical and opera. He was also a philatelist. His brother Stepan was a violinist and his sister Hermine was a classical pianist who lived in Paris (her husband, writer and journalist Hagop Djirdjirian was among the founders of the Macedonian Philharmonic). Like his father, Diran spoke seven languages.
Your father, Garabet Tavitjan, was considered the most acclaimed Balkan drummer. He was a founding member of the greatest Macedonian rock band Leb i Sol and founder of the legendary Garo & the Paramecium band. So it is no wonder his sons Diran and Garo followed in his footsteps.
Garabet was born in Skopje, from the earliest years he was interested in music, as a small child he took piano lessons from his aunt Hermine, and shortly after started playing guitar. A little bit later his primary instrument became drums. He played with every significant musician at that time in Macedonia. His talent and ability were above usual and he was considered prodigy on drums that led him to more serious engagements in music. After playing in the earliest rock and jazz bands in Macedonia, he recorded the very first LPs in the history with Skopje’s festival orchestra. Later he became the founding member of Leb i Sol as composer and performer. His drumming arrangement contributed mostly to the traditional song Aber dojde donke to get them with their first significant award. Afterwards, many awards, concerts and festivals started to come, and they became the greatest rock band in Yugoslavia’s history with more than half a million sold records, more than 13 albums and hundreds of concerts. Our father was awarded as the greatest drummer of Balkans multiple times, and received the St. Kliment Ohridski national award as an artist of national significance. His discography has over 100 albums, over 3000 large stage concerts and hundreds of collaborations with the greatest bands and vocal artist from the Balkan and abroad. He is the first conceptual drummer with solo projects in Balkan region. Garabet is also the first drummer who developed irregular Macedonian rhythms and made them popular in the whole Balkan region, being considered as the founder of the modern rhythm and jazz rock legend of the Balkans.
As we can see, even as a fourth generation Armenian in Macedonia, you have kept your Armenian names. Wasn’t it difficult for your father and you to make a career with non-Macedonian name?
It was not easy. We love Macedonia, it is a beautiful country with amazing people, rich history and modern society, having great acceptance and tolerance. It is similar with Armenia in many points. We are the fourth generation born and raised here and we have learned everything here. Our family took part in making this country a better society and proved itself on the field. We invested our life, resources and heritage in this country. It is kind of natural for any nation to love and favor their artists with the same nationality and surname primarily, and we understand that. It is a unique situation and experience which occurs only to the affected by those circumstances and makes them think about it. That’s why it was a challenge for our father and for us to work twice hard than many others to receive recognition. Everything we did, we did it by ourselves with the support of close friends. We personally believe that in any country the quality and the right people in right places are more important factors in achieving success than the national background itself. People who love and work for the interest of one country are more valuable than those doing nothing productive for the society but just natives of that given country. We are thankful to Macedonia for being our home and to those who loves us and our music which means a lot in supporting us through the years. We represent Macedonia sincerely, while maintaining the highest quality and loyalty we know in doing that, meanwhile respecting our Armenian roots and never forgetting them. We have not known family ties in Armenia after the genocide unfortunately.
What other Armenian traditions you have?
We often celebrate and respect Armenian holidays as Christmas etc, we celebrate Garabet the Forerunner’s day as a name day of our father, Armenian dishes are frequent in our family’s and friends’ menu, we enjoy the music of great Komitas, Khachaturian, Orbelyan, Charles Aznavour, Levon Malkhasyan, Tigran Hamasyan, Arto Tuncboyaciyan and many others. The genocide memorial is an annual meeting held at the church as an opportunity to meet other Armenians.
The Macedonian Armenian community is very small – could you please provide some information?
Macedonian-Armenian community has over 100 members. Very well, respectful community but not so much active and there are not so many relations between the members in everyday life. A number of Macedonians are also our community member – very respectful friends. Armenian genocide memorial day is probably the main event uniting the Armenians annually. There are doctors, surgeons, tourist agency owners, museum curators, intellectuals, economy and law workers and more who are Armenians or half Armenians living in Macedonia.
Armenia is considered as a fan of jazz. Have you ever been there?
Yes, several times. We were invited by Mezzo production and their management who are top professionals and friends – Kamo Movsesyan, Ani Saghoyan and Gaya Poghosyan. We played a several concerts at the Aram Khachaturian philharmonic hall, the Mezzo club, the Cascades etc. We have the opportunity to meet so many great musicians such as the Armenian state jazz big band which is amazing; especially the horn section is unbelievable! The piano legend Levon Malkhasyan, another legendary pianist Vahagn Hayrapetyan, the saxophone virtuoso Armen Hyusnunts, Armen Manukyan – a great man and top music journalist, members of Armenian Navy Band, Gor Sujyan from the Dorians, Karen Mamikonyan, etc, great and friendly reporters at the Armenian First TV Channel, Shant TV, Pan Armenian, etc. They are all amazing professionals and people. It was an amazing experience to see the beauties of our roots, the Ararat Mountain, one of the oldest Christian churches – Holy Echmiadzin, Tsisernakaberd, the Genocide museum memorial, the Matenadaran museum of ancient manuscripts, the beautiful center of Yerevan, Cascade and more. Armenia has a remarkable music and cultural tradition, even the taxi cabs had classical and jazz music on the radio. We cannot wait to go there again!
How was 2019 in your life and what are your plans for 2020?
The year 2019 was a year of great happenings and moments in personal and professional life for us. We are looking forward to new music adventures and goals in 2020, we have planned lots of travels, projects and hope on good health and wish better understanding and positive energy among the people around us and in the world.