Ghedtair Composite Reimagines the “Great Armenian Songbook”

A premiere of three tracks from Justin Mayfield’s new project, plus an introduction by contributor Sima Cunningham (OHMME).

Ghedtair Composite is a project orchestrated by Brooklyn-based musician Justin Mayfield (Sheen Marina, Hit). Mayfield recruited fellow Armenian artists like Sima Cunningham (OHMME), Michael Sarian, Craig Heed (Hit, Miracle Sweepstakes), and more to reimagine music from “the great Armenian songbook” — including Komitas, opera pieces, liturgical music, and folk music. Below is the premiere of three of the album’s tracks, along with an introduction to them by Sima.
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

In the face of unspeakable tragedy, you make things. It’s how we humans make sense of the senseless. 

Tucked inside of this heavy, horrible year for the world — two years if we’d like to extend the edges of this black hole — was a deeply painful, and sadly familiar, time for Armenians. In September 2020, we woke up to news of Azerbaijan attacking the Armenian territories of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh). Eventually the onslaught succeeded at once again displacing Armenians from their land and inflicting trauma upon a whole generation of people. I watched social media as pictures of young boys — my former students’ age, my friends’ kids — were posted in memoriam. Friends enlisted and went to the front — rock & rollers and chess champions. Peace-activist friends pleaded for money to buy weapons, bullet-proof vests. Those of us watching from afar watched in shock and horror and tried to rally our non-Armenian communities to care and support the (more palatable) causes: feminist aid organizations and medical funds. I can say so much more of what was lost but I won’t… It was grim and terrible and there are many accounts you can read out there on what happened and the ongoing struggle. 

There are no silver linings in war. But there are opportunities to incubate and practice hope. One of the most powerful things I experienced in the wake of the war was the communities that were built across the Diaspora. People who had typically existed on the fringe of “being Armenian” were finding each other and talking. Talking about food, talking about language, talking about shame, talking about queerness, and so much more. I passed hours on Zoom communing with Armenians across the country who had all had different levels of engagement with, passion for, or indifference to their Armenianness. I found some “indie” Armenians in Chicago and we had a night cooking traditional foods together, plotting guerilla poster campaigns, and trying our best to simulate the dances we’d stumbled along to at bars in Yerevan. 

One of the most lasting things anyone ever said to me about being Armenian is, “what a shame that all you know about yourself is the darkest moment of your people’s history.” Quite patronizing, yes — but it rang true and stuck with me. For so much of my life, my understanding of my ethnic background had centered on the genocide. I barely thought about Armenians as a living, breathing, evolving people, but as a concept stuck in the past. So, I set out to correct that. Over the last decade I have been lucky enough to spend time in Armenia and to learn about the work that Armenian artists have created over the centuries. I’ve been immersed in the ever evolving creative output by hyphenated Armenian artists all over the world. I’ve witnessed how diversity, reimagining, and cross-cultural connections can strengthen, not weaken, the branches of the great Armenian tree. 

Ghedtair Composite is a project of reimagining — an infusion of new life and perspective, into the beloved, sacred music of Komitas — the music at the heart of the Armenian people. It’s the kind of project I hope to see so much more of in the coming years as more Armenians and their allies seek to create, celebrate, and make anew together. I was grateful to Justin for asking me to be a part of this collaboration. I hope to see much more of it and encourage people to explore the amazing work of Armenian artists that exists. It inspires hope in me, and I think it will in you too. 

— Sima Cunningham

Ghedtair Composite is out February 18. All proceeds from the sale of the album through Bandcamp will go to the Armenian Wounded Heroes Fund

Ghedtair Composite is Armenian music arranged performed and recorded by Justin Mayfield with a bunch of other musicians.