Meline Toumani in "New York Times" 

In Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, the transformation to a free market can practically be measured in days. Thirteen years after the end of the Soviet Union, high-end boutiques, fancy foreign restaurants and Internet cafes are among the more obvious signs of change. But these novelties are superficial. Just as the Soviet era failed to homogenize Yerevan — which, at 2,700 years, is one of the oldest cities on earth — the forces of the free market will have a tough time remaking it.

For proof, listen to the music of Lilit Pipoyan, a Yerevan native and one of the most beloved artists in Armenia today. A vocalist, pianist and guitarist, Ms. Pipoyan sets ancient Armenian texts to original music, sings elegant interpretations of coarse village songs and writes new lyrics and music inspired by these traditions. Her voice — heady in both the musical and the metaphorical sense — has the ringing perfection and acrobatic flourish of opera and the warmth of a mother singing a lullaby.

Ms. Pipoyan's album "One Day of the City" (available from leans more modern than her previous work, but modern in a way that reflects Armenia's consuming sense of its antiquity. In this tiny country in the Caucasus, writers who have been dead for centuries are discussed as though they came to dinner last week, and conquests from the Byzantine era are mentioned almost as current events. Yet Ms. Pipoyan's amalgam of traditional and contemporary idioms also has an interpretive freedom that speaks volumes about the newly unencumbered society in which it was created.

The album begins with three songs about a city in transition (Yerevan, clearly). In "One Day," Eastern-tinged arpeggios on guitar are joined by light, syncopated percussion, which gives energy and motion. Here and in other songs, a flute's embellishments and a cello's plaint lend the characteristic pathos of Armenian folk music.

Ms. Pipoyan maintains a consistent sound, distinguished above all by her brilliant, ornate vocal interpretations. She saves her dreamiest, most capacious compositions for early lyrics, as in "Far From You" and "My Beloved," with texts from the 14th and 18th centuries. Her interpretation of the village song "Cold Waters" is spirited and graceful. Depending on the tune, Ms. Pipoyan can sound like an Eastern answer to Edith Piaf or Joni Mitchell.

While Ms. Pipoyan's odes to Yerevan provide a thoughtful framework, the real soul of the album is the traditional "Cilicia." The mournful, patriotic lyrics embody a fantasy about returning to Cilicia, a patch of land in modern-day Turkey in which Armenians took refuge in the 12th century. Since that resettlement at Cilicia is considered the origin of the Armenian diaspora, the song evokes strong feelings for far-flung Armenians, many of whom have never actually seen Cilicia or Armenia itself.

Ms. Pipoyan's rendition may annoy purists, but others will love her lilting way with the heavy words and her guitar picking, which has the tinny staccato of a music box. They may never want to hear "Cilicia" belted around a dinner table again.

Mark Gavoor in NK Arts

Last night, I went to a concert at NYU Kimmel Center in support of NK Arts. The featured artist was Lilit Pipoyan from Yerevan. She was magnificent and her concert was engaging, intoxicating and simply wonderful. In a way, she has redefined the Armenian folk genre into her own form, one that is more lyrical and an eclectic combination of Western Pop and Classical Music. What Lilit is doing reminds me of similar efforts in Turkey by Zara, Ali Kirca and Erkan Ogur, and this is meant as a compliment. I have been waiting for Armenians to do something similar and voila, we have Lilit Pipoyan!


Lilit said during the concert that she is always looking for songs that had beautiful lyrics, often about love, that were no longer performed. In that, she has done a magnificent job and has resurrected several beautiful pieces from the dustbin of neglect. When she cannot find such songs, she writes her own. She even has written music to the works of obscure, maybe almost forgotten, medieval poets. Lilit reminded us that these poems were originally performed as songs but the music has not been preserved.


Some have compared Lilit’s music to the Portuguese Fado and the Greek Rembetiko styles. Represented by such legends as Amalia Rodrigues, Fado singers have for centuries kept their rich tradition alive by singing about love, despair and nostalgia. Much like Lilit, a Fado singer’s success is often judged by the singer’s ability to bring the audience to tears. The difference between Lilit’s music and these other established genres is that Lilit is at the vanguard of inventing a tradition for Armenian culture rather than maintaining one. Establishing new traditions is similar to what NK Arts is doing in Artsakh through its innovative cultural initiatives such as the annual Festival of Shushi.


Lilit Pipoyan was backed by an ensemble of Armenian Julliard musicians. There was the Argentinian born siblings, Sami Merdinian on Violin and Solange Merdinian on the flute. The cellist, Lilit Kurdiyan, and the violist, Alexander Nazaryan, were both from Yerevan. Joining this group were American born Raffi Bandazian, oud, and Alex Esteban, a Latin American percussionist. All the musicians did a great job but being partial to the oud, I have to comment on what a terrific job Raffi did. It was the best I ever heard him play. This group had only a few rehearsals the week before the concert but you would never know it. Their skill and talent combined with Lilit’s dominant vocals made me believe they have been performing together for years. This blend of talent and style made this performance among the best World Music concerts I have experienced in New York.


The entire concert was mesmerizing. Lilit created that ambiance. The songs and arrangement were, of course, a large part of it, but also Lilit’s delightful mix of Armenian and English words introducing each piece. Her spirit comes through in her music and her charm glowed in her words. She is someone you feel you want to invite to tea and get to know better. In her spoken words, she projected that combination of innocence and deep understanding mimicked by many artists but only natural to the very best, like Lilit.

The concert supported NK Arts, a noble and worthy cause. Its main activities are to assist in the development of Artsakh through the promotion of the Arts. First among the two main efforts is the revitalization of the native pottery industry in the remote, clay rich, village of Nungi in the mountains even above Shushi. Secondly, for three years running, NK Arts has created, sponsored, promoted and is the driving force behind the annual Festival of Shushi. All of this is done in an effort to provide a venue for artists, local and from around the world, to help transform Shushi into the great center of Armenian culture is was at the turn of the twentieth century. Neery Melkonian is the founder and director of NK Arts. They don’t usually includes words like “totally dedicated, driving force” in organization titles, but in Neery’s case we should! Neery invited Lilit for the concert. Bravo ladies on a job well done. 

Silke Tudor in 'San Francisco Weekly'


…Dare I say: Armenian vocalist Lilit Pipoyan caries that voice into the blushing light of adolescence. Like an ingénue presented to society with the shadows and marvels of childhood still clinging to her skirt, Pipoyan's voice is sweet, pure, and elegant, tinged only slightly by the mythic sorrows and fading secrets of youth. The material, like her voice, hints at the midnight nursery rhyme in Bittova's (a violinist) territory, but follows the dark garden path toward coquettish love songs and wistful daydream laments, to great effect.

… Pipoyan was born to an artistic family and studied music from an early age, only to abandon her passion and discover it again many years later. Both women construct very modern compositions seasoned by the very old musical traditions of Eastern Europe, but Pipoyan would probably be welcome in a greater number of homes, and with some reason. Her songs are staggeringly beautiful and surprisingly accessible. Lilit Pipoyan performs on Saturday, March 22, at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts at 8 p.m…

© 2019 Lilit Pipoyan