INTERVIEW: Bedouine Turns Refugee Struggle into Universal Truth
photo by Polly Antonia Barrowman
Born in Aleppo, Syria to Armenian parents, Anziv Korkejian says she doesn’t necessarily perceive herself as political, but her music allows her to express her views in an emotional way. Displaced by the Armenian genocide, Korkejian’s parents raised her in Saudi Arabia, but moved to America after winning the green card lottery. Pulled both by familial opportunity and a wandering spirit, Korkejian lived in Boston, Houston, Texas, a horse farm in Kentucky, Georgia, and eventually spread firmer roots in Los Angeles. The nomadic musician has more than earned the name she chooses to represent her artistry – Bedouine. Korkejian’s everchanging geographical journey paralleled her musical and personal growth.
Although Korkejian has always loved music, playing the guitar and songwriting wasn’t on her radar until her early adult life. “My first experience with music was my mom making me take piano lessons somewhat militantly,” Korkejian remembers. “It kind of turned me against it eventually…but I also think that’s part of the reason my past went towards songwriting, because sometimes, when you start getting familiar with an instrument classically, it stunts your growth to see it any other way.”
With a newfound aversion to piano, Anziv tried her hand at the trumpet in her teenage years, before finally picking up her first guitar right before starting college. “I bought a little silver tone guitar at a pawn shop…it was like 80 bucks and it was my only guitar until recently,” Korkejian muses. “I appreciate that facility on the piano but I also appreciate that there are more women playing and growing up on the guitar now. It’s these little things that help you see the evolution of feminism.”
After being granted a cultural scholarship for her family’s experience in the Armenian genocide, Korkejian was able to study sound design at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and filled her spare time fiddling with finger picking and writing songs that “probably all sounded really similar,” Korkejian describes. “I knew that I loved music enough to know that I wanted a career in it but also, I was too much, and I still am, of a realist to expect any kind of stability in it,” says Korkejian. “So, ever since I realized that I did want music or sound to be a part of my life, I had been grappling with what I could do that was maybe less left up to chance than being an artist.”
Cue Korkejian’s astonishingly successful career as a music editor in Hollywood. After graduating from SCAD, Korkejian headed straight for Los Angeles where she started working first at a video game company on dialogue and sound assets, then dialogue editing and sound effects for a film company, and recently adding her first feature film, The Big Sick, to her CV.
She had been writing songs here and there, but it was when Korkejian switched to freelance music editing and found herself with more free time that she truly honed her artistry. “It wasn’t until four or so years ago when I really developed a voice that was deliberate and I felt proud of,” Korkejian confirms. “I just started picking up the guitar more often and writing. There was a particular month where I was writing so much I hardly left the house. I went through a little crazy phase. It kinda worked to my advantage.”
The fruit of Korkejian’s labor is Bedouine, her vulnerably autobiographical debut album. While cozy, serene love songs like “Nice and Quiet,” and “You Kill Me,” reflect Korekejian’s calm and collected personality and outlook on romance, more emotionally charged songs like “Summer Cold” and “Skyline” shows her cognitive unrest about the place he grew up in and her innate need to wander. Perhaps prompted by Korkejian’s nomadic past, the record itself projects a feeling of impermanence, effortlessly gliding from song to song with easy melodies and soothing vocals. Recorded on analog tape by Gus Seyffert and filled with graceful, swelling arrangements (composed by Trey Pollard) the record is reminiscent of ‘60s folk combined with a tinge of ‘70s psychedelia.
The lyrics on the album are equally as chilling as the stunning musicality. Clever, earnest and poetic, Korkejian’s lyricism brushes topics of learning self-reliance, navigating modern-day romance, and grappling with the unsettling violent happenings in the country where she was born. Korkejian navigates these topics with grace and ease, effortlessly unfolding a series of universal truths.
“I don’t need the walls to bury my grave / I don’t need your company to feel safe / I don’t need the sunlight / my curtains don’t draw / I don’t need the objects / to keep or to pawn.”
These lyrics are a testament to the minimalist way she lives her life, refusing to attach strongly to any person, place or thing. Korkejian admits that this may be, in part, a result of the detachment she feels with the country where she grew up, Saudi Arabia. “Once I left Saudi Arabia, I feel like the home I was closest to sort of dissolved and I didn’t feel any real sense of home anywhere,” she remembers. “So I think that come across a little bit. Just, like, a lack of attachment to any one thing.”
As much as Korkejian projects a lack of attachment, she also sings about love and romance. “‘Heart Take Flight’ is a song about giving yourself permission to love someone because, as you grow older and more comfortable in your skin and you become maybe more particular, it is a much more conscious effort introducing someone or co-existing with someone else.”
Moving from personal to social issues, her song “Summer Cold” is a haunting emotional response to the Syrian weapon crisis and prompts questions about her politics. But while Korkejian says she’s no activist, she admits that her music gives her license to freely express herself. “I mean Nina Simone in that famously viral video says, ‘How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?’ Well, how can you be a person and not reactive?”
Bedouine is currently on tour in the UK and Ireland through November 8. Upcoming U.S. tour dates are below.
11/14 – Washington, DC @ DC9
11/15 – Richmond, VA @ Capital Ale House
11/16 – New York, NY @ Joe’s Pub
11/18 – Allston, MA @ Great Scott
11/19 – Philadelphia, PA @ Johnny Brenda’s