Ara time

Night Ark is kicking off its reincarnation at the Jerusalem Oud Festival.

Ara Dinkjian 58 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ara Dinkjian 58
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Eleven years after its inception, it would be somewhat hyperbolic to say that Ara Dinkjian has made Confederation House’s annual Oud Festival his own, but he has certainly become a staple of the event in recent years.
Armenian-American oud player Dinkjian is bringing his renowned world music outfit, Night Ark, to Jerusalem as the opening act of this year’s Oud Festival (November 11-25) in a much-awaited reunion of the band after a 10- year lapse. In the late 1980s and through the 1990s, Night Ark played to large audiences the world over with its mix of Armenian and other ethnic music, seasoned with jazz motifs. The band played here in 1998 and its hit song “Homecoming,” or “Dinata Dinata,” which became a household favorite as the signature tune for the Chamber Quintet television comedy series.
Now about to make his fifth appearance at the Oud Festival, 52-year-old Dinkjian is delighted to be coming back, especially with his band, which includes ever-present Night Ark cohort percussionist Arto Tuncboyaciyan, as well as pianist Vahagn Hayrapetyan and bassist-cellist Artyom Manukian.
He says he owes the festival and artistic director Effi Benaya a debt of gratitude. “Yes, the festival is really special for me. I wouldn’t say it exactly kick-started my solo career, but it gave me the opportunity to focus more, not on a group but on my own musical identities. Effi asked me to come back each year with a different program, so that challenged me and made me come up with something new each time.”
Dinkjian says he relishes the challenge. “Success, for me, is not how big an audience I bring in or how many records I sell. Success lies in trying to do something. Failure is not trying it.”
Dinkjian says it is not by chance that Night Ark is kicking off its reincarnation in Jerusalem 10 years after the members went their separate artistic ways. “Effi asked me to bring the group to the festival this year,” he explains. “I had other requests to do that, but it was never the right time and I felt I wanted to do this with Effi.”
Another person to whom Dinkjian says he is indebted is Israeli percussionist Zohar Fresco, with whom he has played and recorded at the Oud Festival in the past. “You know, you don’t always get a combination of a great musician and a beautiful person, but Zohar is both. He is the reason I did the festival the first time. I’ll come out with Zohar at this year’s festival and we’ll play one tune together. That will be my acknowledging his part in bringing me to Israel.”
Dinkjian has been a performing artist for almost half a century, making his debut with his musician father at the age of five. He says he did not suffer from stage fright but had a hard time with some of the comments he got. “I told my mother I was upset that people kept saying I was cute and that they should be paying attention to the music we were playing, and not what I look like.”
That has changed over the years. “Well, I’m not so cute now, so people can take my music more seriously,” laughs Dinkjian.
The band will play some of their old favorites but also some new material, including a piece Dinkjian wrote for the festival called “Semi Samai,” the latter word referring a classical instrumental genre in Arabic or Turkish modal music.
Elsewhere in this year’s festival line-up there is a chance to get into some intoxicating Indian qawwali music courtesy of vocalist Iqbal Ahmed Khan Nizami and an instrumental quartet (November 22).
The festival’s closer features a heady mix of Georgian folk and dance music with polyphonic song by the Shin Ensemble (November 25).
Top home-grown slots include a confluence between pop-ethnic star Ehud Banai, bass guitarist Gil Smetana and Galilean duo oud player-violinist-vocalist George Samaan and percussionist Salem Darwish (November 23). Persianstyle vocalist Maureen Nehdar will enjoy the full-blown backing of the Ra’anan Symphonette in the From Isfahan to Jerusalem concert (November 18), while the Strings and Percussion concert brings together Israeli percussionist Yinon Muallem, who recently returned from a seven-year sojourn in Turkey, and Turkish harpist Sirin Panacaroglu, with stellar Israeli kamanja player Mark Elyahu guesting.
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