With the release of their debut single ‘Maria’ garnering praise from the likes of Loud & Quiet, CLASH and Fred Perry Subculture, American-Armenian art-rap collective Samuum continue to tear down boundaries with the release of their poignant new single ‘Asel’, out on 7 December.
The Armenian word for ‘speak’, ‘Asel’ was triggered by the ongoing wars in Ukraine and Armenia, and also inspired by the protests in Iran, where women are fighting for their basic rights.
In their difficult to watch, yet powerfully moving music video, Samuum depict an Armenian girl being tattooed and enslaved by desert tribes during the time of the ethnic cleansing of 1915 (which was provided by Ottoman Turkey against Armenians). All of these girls were marked with tattoos. These tattoos were made to remind Armenian women firstly about about their slave status, and their second function was erasing the roots of these women and merging them into this new cultural environment. After getting the tattoo, girls could be abused in any way – from sex-working to forceful marriage. Some Armenian women who survived those horrific times still have these shameful tattoos across their faces.
Samuum addresses the general issue of how the world even today can face the same situations, where rape and the humiliation of women are part of the war strategy and the culture of violence. Lusine Kocharian, Samuum’s lead singer, says, “It’s not news for anyone that countries like Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Iran are openly using genocidal politics against anything they see as a threat to their ideology, anything that wants to be free. It all means that they are still ready to kill rape and enslave. As a woman, I can feel this danger with all my heart. I wrote my new song to reflect this constant feeling of danger. The phrase “yes ouzoumem asel” in the song’s chorus is translated as “I want to speak out”. This phrase focuses on the importance of speaking up and not tolerating any form of violence anywhere!”
Once again showcasing the collective’s ability to effortlessly transcend genres, ‘Asel’ is a complex listen. Opening with a soft vocal melody, a detuned piano then clashes with a combination of sub-bass, rough slide guitar, and fingerstyle cello. The track then builds into something evocative of tribal music which sonically has always been a creative priority for Samuum. Lusine’s voice sounds expressive, especially in places where it’s enriched with natural distortion and screaming. The track also references “Hurt” by NIN and plays homage to Trent Reznor’s singing style.
‘Asel’ is the second and last part of Samuum’s music video-series ‘Brides’, where the previous music video ‘Maria’ was the opening work and won an award at the Berlin Music Video Awards. Directors of ‘Asel’ Alisa Zolonz and Ando Berberian say, “We were shocked by what is happening in Armenia and Ukraine and Iran now. With the level of cruelty against women. When as kids we were reading horrible stories about tattooed female victims of the Armenian Genocide we could never imagine, that something like that can happen again, especially in our civilized times. We understand that violence against women during war conflicts is one of the tools of spreading more fear. That’s why modern dictatorships use that tool and spread the results of it through social media. It’s a real gendercide! We need to stop this targeted cruelty against women during war conflicts and our work is a reminder about that.”
Samuum’s band members Lusine and Ando Berberian, Samuum’s music sounds as if Crystal Castles and MIA locked themselves in an underground studio somewhere in Tangier with Tinariwen, with Charlotte De Witte thrown in there for good measure.
Lusine gained popularity and 6.4 million hits on YouTube after participating on The Voice of Ukraine in 2017. She has taken her new-found fame and run with it to create a project which challenges Middle Eastern culture. She aspires to represent her culture faithfully, while at the same time highlight its failings when it comes to women’s rights and freedoms.
‘Asel’ is a taster of more music to come for Samuum in 2023. The most intriguing aspect of this collective is that the music tells a narrative that’s much wider than describing the social and gender issues of the Middle East. On a macro level, it reflects that female movement across the world has been ‘in stillness’ for a very long time, confined by the frames of tradition and societal barriers. Now is the turning moment; the moment for female nature to awaken.