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World Music CD Reviews Middle East & North Africa

Shoghaken Ensemble

By Michael Stone
Published June 13, 2008

Music From Armenia
Traditional Crossraods

Gracing soundtracks from The Last Temptation Of Christ to Gladiator, lauded by such luminaries as Paul McCartney, Peter Gabriel and Jan Garbarek, and featured at the Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife as part of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road project, the Shoghaken Ensemble remains, since its 1991 founding, the foremost bastion of Armenian traditional music. Recorded in Yerevan, Music From Armenia draws from a vast folk repertoire that goes back to the 1880s, revealing the many strains (Mongol, Arab, Balkan, Roma, Turkish, Ottoman, Persian, Russian) that suffuse this extraordinary, long-lived tradition. Although the historical Armenian territory is today only a fraction of its original area (with more Armenians living abroad than at home), the resilient character of Armenian culture comes through here with keening vocal harmonies, soaring pipes (including duduk, blul and pku), modal strings (kamancha, kanon and ud), and lashing polyrhythms (dhol and dap drums). The ensemble’s spring 2008 U.S. tour is already flooring audiences.