Art and culture

Vahe Tilbian : The mix and the true calling

This article was originally published on June 22/2013.


Zela Gayle

“In our own mix we find our true calling”, becomes much more than a description of ‘Mixology’, the masterful debut Album from the young artist Vahe Tilbian in which he reconnects his roots as an Ethiopian, born into one of the country’s oldest immigrant communities  – Armenian.

Vahe’s heritage is strongly rooted in Armenian-Ethiopian musical history. His Aunt Hermine Nalbandian Sakadjian, who was also his first piano teacher, was daughter of the great Nerses Nalbandian, a famous composer in Ethiopia during the time of Haile Selassie I. Today Vahe embraces the love of Armenian stories told to him as a child.

The legendary story of the Arba Lijoch (forty children) is one of his favorites. The story begins with Ras Tefari, the Crown Prince later to become Emperor Hailesellassie who, while touring Jerusalem in 1924, visited the Armenian Monastery and met 40 orphans. They had escaped the genocidal atrocities in Turkey and were in hiding in Israel. Ras Tefari requested of the Armenian Patriarch to bring them all to Ethiopia.  Later on, after receiving musical instruction, the Arba Lijoch became the nation’s first Official Orchestra, with Mr. Nalbandian as their Bandleader.

Photo - Scout Tufankjian

From this strong foundation in music, Vahe has built a repertoire in performance while studying biology in Canada. Away from home(he left Ethiopia at 18) his fond memories of the dance tradition he grew up with attracted him to join a Latin American dance club, putting himself in the cultural melting pot and giving birth to his journey to establish “in our own mix we find our true calling.” Vahe became a Latin American ballroom dancer, competing for six years. “My first passion as a performer was dancing” he told this magazine contentedly. Returning home 10 2005(home is Ethiopia) this is exactly where Vahe put his efforts. Performing salsa dance at many top venues in Addis Ababa including Cultural Shows held at The Italian & French Institutes. His illustrious performance at The Sheraton Addis hotel was distinguished by his own Choreography.

 Continuing his musical journey Vahe joined the Bayenetus band performing in nightclubs around Addis. Now he gave up his day job without regret and grew in his passion for art from strength to strength.

Vahe became popular, but still faced challenges of being considered an ‘outsider’. Audiences perceived him as unique and inspiring, but what Vahe needed was a recognition for what he truly is.  “In the beginning, people would look at me and say, ‘he came from abroad and now he’s here working on his music’”.

This made Vahe to remind himself that, ‘in our own mix we find our calling’ and this was the wakeup call. Slowly he started singing in Amharic, Ethiopia’s national language, and the received a phenomenal response from his Ethiopian audience, his mix propelled his success!

The birth of ‘Mixology’

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This year, Vahe released his debut album ‘Mixology’, which, by any standard, shines light on Ethio-Armenian music. Audiences can rewind this trendsetting album of original songs in different languages, which blend a range of genres together. Vahe sings each track melodiously refreshing the ears and evoking deeper meanings. Expect journeys in Ballad, Pop, Rock, English-Armenian, Reggae and Tizita, which is traditionally Ethiopian. Vahe reveals a new perspective on Tizita as not only a form of Music but personalizes his composition in a unique blend of modern soft rock beats producing, Yene Tizita. (My Memories).

Steeped in Armenian culture, the hypnotic beats of the songs on ‘Mixology’ resound in the listener.  Vahe sings with his aunt, Sevan Aslanian, on the Track “Ari Ari”, and proudly explains, “the Armenian cover songs on my album have deep meaning to my family. It carries old memories of growing up singing these songs”. Before the Mixology album was released, Vahe was nominated in March 2012, for the “Best Artist in English” category of the Armenian Pulse Music awards.

As a singer, songwriter, performer and writer at 33 Vahe’s ascending career is steady and ongoing with gigs six nights a week in Addis, singing lead for Beyaynetus and Zemen Bands. His own current focus is music videos of songs from “Mixology”. Achieving a masterful production with this album was an easier challenge than marketing it, he says. His work could not be easily categorized. “Making it free was the best option for me and a different marketing strategy,” he said. Everyone can download the album from his website.

Mixology was produced by Kenny Allen from East Africa Recording studio (E.A.R.S) who features on the dance-techno track “Party tonight”.

 Party with “Mixology” and be ready for Vahe’s promotional stage performances this season.


Photo credit (cover) – Aramazt Kalayjian

Photo credit (inside) – Scout Tufankjian

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