Straddling no less than eight languages, Vatche’s repertoire is an ongoing ode to the love song without borders.
Since 1983, when his first album was recorded in Los Angeles, Vatche has gone on to become a pop icon of international stature, earning a cross-generational fan base throughout the Americas, Europe and the Middle East. His growing success has come on the strength of two essential factors: a softly modulating, seductive voice; and an astonishing stylistic versatility that makes the artist’s aural mosaic of disparate elements and influences seem so effortless.
But perhaps what sets Vatche’s work apart from that of other world music interpreters today is the signature sensuality he brings to his sound. Whether built on a Top-40 French hit, an Italian classic, a Greek standard or an Arabic folk tune, a Vatche song is, unmistakably, a Vatche song.
He got himself a guitar when he was 15, and soon learned how to work it to a fever pitch, even without the benefit of a formal training.
By his next birthday, self-taught also meant singing to the noise he was making on his guitar. In Vatche image
The Lebanon of the 1960′s: imports like the Beatles and Elvis Presley were what the smart young crowd swore by. Taking his cues from the novel exuberance of the Fab Four and others, Vatche formed his own rock band and called it the Born Losers.
The name didn’t survive but the band did. By 18, Vatche’s musical tastes had graduated into a more variegated admixture where classic rock, heavy metal and European pop songs figured in equal parts. His reformatted band was now called Vatche and His Dreams. They practiced incessantly, garnering gig offers from night clubs. But to Vatche, who had begun studying at the American University of Beirut, education would take priority.
In the mid-1970s, however, as family circumstances necessitated a supplemental income, Vatche put the Dreams on hold to join an Italian band as a lead guitarist. They played nightly to international audiences in a posh hotel in West Beirut. It was a singularly glorious moment right before the collapse of everything when 1975 signaled the beginning of the Lebanese civil war.
GROWING PAINS, GOOD PRACTICE
In the following three years, Vatche moved first to Cyprus and then to Iran, got married, and performed as a guitarist and singer for anyone extending an invitation. With a play list that featured a growing number of European and Middle Eastern hits and classics,
Vatche’s musical horizons – and technical capabilities ó were now expanding at an accelerated pace. It helped that the young singer had a thing for languages, constantly taking up the challenge of learning lyrics in a foreign tongue and making them sound seamlessly natural. In all, experience gained from this period would prove invaluable in the burgeoning of his career in later years.
Meanwhile, 1978 presented an unusually stretched lull in the fighting in Lebanon, and Vatche took advantage of the opportunity. He resumed his studies at the American University of Beirut, earning a degree in Business Administration the following year.
By 1981, when the civil war continued to ravage Lebanon’s social fabric, Vatche headed for the promise of Southern California, ready to start over among the budding Armenian communities of Los Angeles. Among the things he brought with him were a new artistic momentum and a solid repertoire of world music.
THE MILIEU AS A CROSSROADS
Throughout the 1980s, as California’s recent immigrants from the Middle East were busy absorbing waves of culture shock in a breathtaking yet alien environment, the idea of community once again assumed urgency. For these future US citizens, coming to ones own meant not only putting behind the wars and social inequities that had forced them to emigrate, but also becoming model Americans without giving up their distinct cultural heritages.
Strangely enough, however, maintaining a unique cultural identity had a lot to do with preserving a large set of esthetic and culinary bonds with other cultures as well. Thus, for instance, in the case of the Armenian-Lebanese now calling California home, staying in tune with their roots was a matter of keeping aspects of Lebanese culture alive plus listening to the kind of international music they had grown up with, in addition to preserving a fundamentally Armenian heritage.
More or less the same went for various communities hailing from Iran, Syria, Armenia and elsewhere. Some would call it cheap nostalgia. But most recognized it as a communal thread that would help people overcome the trauma of displacement on the one hand, and bring sheer joy and a sense of renewed purpose on the other.
For Vatche, a genuine romantic who understood the condition of exile all too well, here was the role he was primed for all his life.
A CAREER IN ROMANCE
Once in California, Vatche lost no time to put his career in place. Now singing in Armenian, French, Italian, Greek, Arabic, English, Spanish and Persian, he formed a band and continued to hone and bolster his repertoire of international Top-40 hits, ballads, dance tunes, folk classics and pop standards. Soon, small venues led to bigger concerts while Vatche also concentrated on receiving voice coaching and formal technical refinements.
By 1983, when his first album was released, Vatche was the most booked, top selling Armenian singer in California. These achievements would pave the way for his most significant breakthrough yet.
This came in 1986, when Vatche appeared at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, complete with an 11-member band and a dance troupe. Now catapulted into international music stardom, he went on to give a number of sell-out concerts in Atlantic City. Big hall successes such as these secured regular Las Vegas performances to this day.
Since 1983, Vatche’s musical labors have turned into a full-fledged love affair, spawning some 20 albums and a string of memorable concerts throughout the globe.
His beautiful renditions and intricate arrangements have earned him both popular and critical acclaim, such as the Best International Album of the Year award at the Armenian Music Awards in 1999, for his album Yesterday. Also in the late 1990s, Vatche released Guitar Romance, his first-ever recording of instrumental tracks featuring his guitar work and orchestration.
Vatche’s output includes a number of collaborative efforts with renowned artists like Adis Harmandian and Nune. In 1992, Vatche and Adis joined forces to record From the Heart, an album of solo interpretations of international hits. In 1999 Vatche recorded a duet with Nune for her CD titled World, which won the Best Pop Album of the Year award at the Armenian Music Awards. Nune and Vatche have gone on to collaborate on several more projects.
Two of Vatche’s recordings are a departure from the norm. These are his Christmas albums, titled Nor Dari and Season’s Greetings, featuring, for the first time, favorite seasonal carols translated into Armenian.
Vatche wears several hats today. In addition to being one of the world’s most prolific Armenian musicians, he is a producer, a multi-instrumentalist, and runs his own recording studio.
The artist’s latest musical effort is the soon-to-be-released album titled Inspirations. Featuring 16 new songs in Italian, French, Greek, Portuguese, and English, the new CD also includes duets with Nune and Vatche’s son, Hrair Meguerdichian. Commenting on Inspiration, Vatche has said that its recording has been an extraordinary labor of love, partly because it was inspired by joyous turning points in the lives of family and friends.
Other musical plans on the horizon include a series of compilation albums, each comprising Vatche’s renditions in a specific language.
In recent years, Vatche fulfilled yet another dream by becoming a restaurateur. In 2000, he launched Alcazar (al-cazar.com), a landmark Encino establishment that has since been recognized as L.A.’s top-rated Middle Eastern restaurant. Today Alcazar is the only Middle Eastern eatery recommended by the prestigious Michelin Guide, and also the only destination of its kind featured in renowned food critic Jonathan Gold’s “99 Essential L.A. Restaurants.”
On the heels of Alcazar’s popularity, Vatche will soon open a second branch, Alcazar Express, in charming Westwood. Featuring the same award-winning menu and wonderful service that have made the original Alcazar a popular favorite, Alcazar Express is slated to open in May 2009.