Armenian Folk with Zulal
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Genre and Artist Overview
In the early 1900s when Armenia was part of the Ottoman Empire, Armenians were devastated by genocide initiated by the government, resulting in the death of as many as 1.5 million people. An additional half million Armenians were forced to flee their homeland, spawning the creation of new Armenian communities all over the world. Many of those who came to New York City congregated on Manhattan’s East Side in what came to be known as Little Armenia, and what today is called Little India or Murray Hill. While the Armenian community is now scattered throughout the tri-state area, three Armenian churches remain in Little Armenia. The oldest is St. Illuminator’s Armenian Apostolic Cathedral on East 27th Street.
The folk songs sung by the vocal trio Zulal tell stories of traditional village life in Armenia: Girls cast fortunes by moonlight, morning smoke rises from the hearth, young brides weave golden threads through their hair as others spin wool into gossip. These songs were traditionally sung together in unison, accompanied by a single instrument. Over time, polyphony—multiple voices singing in harmony—began to emerge; in the early 1900s, composer, ethnomusicologist, and priest Komitas Vartabed refined that practice. Zulal follows in Komitas’s footsteps, reinventing traditional songs by adding new harmonies.
Introduce your students to Zulal with this “Meet Zulal” video. Visit the video index to watch all the videos for Zulal and the other Program Five artists.
Resources for Teachers
The following resources provide background information about the musical genre and culture. Some are intended to be shared with students; others are for teachers who may want to explore further on their own.
- Visit zulal.org to hear more of Zulal’s music.
- Visit aradinkjian.com to hear the music of Musical Explorers’s oud player.
- Shoghaken Ensemble
- Heyrik Mouradian Children’s Folk Song and Dance Ensemble
- “Armenia,” On the Road, CNN
To Learn More about Armenian Music and Culture
- The Greedy Sparrow: An Armenian Tale, Lucine Kasbarian