Astghik Martyrosyan’s “Distance”: Immigrant Songwriter Tells her Story with her Debut Album

By Magos Herrera

Friday, October 27, 2023

I got to know singer, composer, and pianist Astghik Martirosyan’s work through the award launched under my name by the International Human Rights Art Festival in 2021, the "Magos Herrera Female Musician Award.” This initiative had the intention to support an outstanding young female immigrant musician based in the United States trying to make a difference and to develop a musical career. She was selected as the recipient, moved to New York City from Los Angeles, and since then has been making her way into the intricate scene of this vast jungle.

As she prepares for her debut album, New York premiere concert at National Sawdust November 19, we met for tea in downtown Manhattan to talk about her upcoming release, the story behind it, and about the importance of what mentorship has meant for her since she moved from Armenia to the US back in 2017.

As a graduated classical pianist and singing in the school Jazz band back in Yereban, Armenia, Martirosyan’s aim to be a female composer was something unheard, and it was only when she moved to Los Angeles that she met jazz pianist and composer, Vardan Ovsepian, who urged her to write her own music. He became her mentor, meeting on a daily basis for two years to follow up her growth as a composer. Later, while studying at New England Conservatory in Boston with Frank Carlberg, bringing her 3 main influences together, classical music, Armenian folk, and jazz started to become a cohesive natural outcome.

From her big dark eyes you can sense the exciting eagerness of curiosity and discovery. She has lived a year in New York so far. In New York, she is getting to know an inspiring scene that motivates her to work on herself everyday and spend time with ground-breaking female leading artists. It has expanded her vision to remember that, as creators, there is always a larger picture to consider that involves us all as communities: to heal, to grow and evolve. That is why, she says, New York is the place to be. It is important.

Martirosyan feels that to have her New York debut at National Sawdust is a powerful beginning. To be part of an ecosystem that nurtures inclusiveness and diversity, “seems to be a place where everyone that performs there has something meaningful to share,she says. In her music, you can hear a crystal sorrow of a story that hasn’t been told loud enough on this side of the globe.

Inspired in a Emily Dickinson’s poem I many times thought peace had come when peace was far away,” Martirosyan wrote the music of her new album Distance in 2020 while experiencing a stark duality: tremendous artistic growth and fulfillment at the New England Conservatory and gut-wrenching news from an Armenia embroiled in a 45-day war with neighboring Azerbaijan over the status of the long-disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. This was during the pandemic, giving the title Distance another fraught layer of meaning. “All these emotions were happening,” she recalls. “I was experiencing it at a distance, by myself, far from my family and my country, and all of this came out in the music. This was my way of trying to heal, hope and dream, but also to express real sorrow. I lost friends in that war, I have friends who lost their homes. Music was my outlet.”

I look forward to listening to this music live, especially the Armenian folk songs, sung by Martirosyan in her native tongue, where you can hear an ancient breeze of nostalgic nuances. Film director Gonzalez Iñarritu featured in his most recent movie Bardo the emotional dichotomy of being an immigrant. Bardo (in Tibetan Buddhism) means the state of the soul between its death and its rebirth. This suspended feeling of being in front of a thousand possibilities and the mourning of what was left behind. As an immigrant singer myself, I understand what that means, and the need to make your heart and throat your home and temple to be able to create closeness to share with others our common humanity through music.

Astghik Martirosyan will perform with a superb lineup including Vardan Ovsepian on piano, Joe Martin on bass, and Ari Hoenig on drums.

About Magos Herrera

Born in Mexico City and currently based out of New York City, Magos Herrera is a dazzling jazz singer- songwriter, producer, and educator declared as "One of the greatest contemporary interpreters of song” by The Latin Jazz Network. With a sultry voice and an unparalleled presence in the contemporary Latin American jazz scene, she is best known for her eloquent vocal improvisation and her singular bold style, which embraces elements of contemporary jazz with Ibero-American melodies and rhythms in a style that elegantly blends and surpasses language boundaries.