Two weeks ago Armenia’s AMPTV revealed Ethiopian-Armenian singer Vahe Tilbian as the third of six artists who will make up its Eurovision supergroup Genealogy. Our Georgia correspondent Rezo Mamsikashvili recently caught up with him.
Hello Vahe! Congratulations for being selected to take part in Genealogy. What was your reaction when AMPTV approached you to join Genealogy? What about the project appealed to you?
Thank you so much. It is truly humbling and exciting to be part of this amazing team. I was utterly shocked and then super excited when I got the news. I really was, and then I will admit I did a little dance by myself. It’s such an amazing opportunity to be given this chance to represent my fatherland, even living quite far away from it. To be able to spread the power of unity and peace and of love through music is just an immense gift. I am honored.
Could you tell us how your family ended up in Ethiopia? Is there a large Armenian population in Ethiopia?
In search of peace and acceptance. In search of work and a new life.The Armenian community in Ethiopia currently is not large at all. At its peak it was a little over 2000 people but it has always been a very significant and strong community with a symbiotic relationship with Ethiopia through history and even today.
Does Ethiopian music influence your musical style? And what about other genres?
Oh yes, quite significantly. I perform original and cover songs in Amaregna (or Amharic, the Ethiopian official language) as well as Armenian, English and other languages. But I have grown up listening to folk and modern Ethiopian, Armenian songs (as well as international music) so all that I have grown up with and still listen to immensely influence my music. As for other genres I do enjoy the rock style as well as reggae and pop. I find myself quite unique in that I don’t stick to one genre or one language. I call it my mixology, hence why my album is titled Mixology.
You’re not just a singer, but also a professional ballroom dancer. How long have you been dancing and what about dancing do you love?
It is very difficult to say I am a professional ballroom dancer as there is a distinct difference within the ballroom dancing community between amateur and professional dancers. I label myself as a professionally trained Latin American ballroom dancer which I competed in and was part of a show group in until 2005 when I left Vancouver, Canada to move back to Ethiopia. Then I taught mostly salsa and some Latin ballroom dances as well. Currently I’m focused on my music mostly but of course when I perform live dancing is a huge part of my show. I love to dance and have loved it since I was 2. It is such an amazing form of non-verbal communication either between partners or between dancers and those watching. It’s amazing!
Many of our North American readers will be interested to know that you studied biology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. What do you remember of your time in Canada? Were you already making music then?
I have lots of very good friends and family in Vancouver and try to visit as often as I can. The best memories are that of my dance classes and competitions and the ballroom dancing community there. It provided such an amazing background to live singing shows and concerts. And of course one cannot forget the rain in Vancouver, since it rains almost 10 months of the year. I wasn’t in music then. Still sang in the Armenian Church choir though as I always like to do.
Many of our readers will not be familiar with the Ethiopian music scene. Is it vibrant? And are there many opportunities for artists to perform in Addis Ababa?
Ethiojazz is quite the big buzz around town in Addis Ababa lately. The music scene is growing but I personally would like to see more happen as Ethiopian music has so much potential to become international. Both modern and traditional bands perform around the city among who are the well-known Mulatu Astatke and Samuel Yirga. There are a number of venues and a few music festivals that get organized around the city on a yearly basis.
You perform in different places all the time. Where is best place to work?
It’s a different feel at different times. I love my job so I enjoy the time I spend on stage. It is also dependent on mood. Sometimes I feel better to perform for a smaller crowd other times a bigger venue gives me energy. I do love to sing at church as well though I have to say.
What does Eurovision mean for you?
In one word: everything! Performing for 40,000 people with 180 million people watching – I didn’t think I would ever have that opportunity in my life. It is an amazing blessing.
What’s your favorite Eurovision song from all of ESC history?
I am a HUGE Sirusho fan so “Qele Qele”!! But if I also had a penny for every time I played “Not Alone” on my radio show in Ethiopia on 105.3 Afro FM I would be a rich man.
You have already listened to the other songs of ESC 2015. Do you have any favorites?
I do like the Italian entry. The guys sing very well.
Do you have a special message for your fans and followers on wiwibloggs?
Yes, of course. Much love and respect to you all from Armenia and Ethiopia of course and when the day comes I will be really be happy if “Don’t Deny” receives top votes for Armenia!!! Cheers!
Thank you for the interview, Vahe. Good luck!