K Á R Y Y N is the syrian-armenian-american musician beloved by björk

With a video shot in the mountains of Syria, K Á R Y Y N is the L.A.-based musician exploring her childhood through art.

by Matthew Whitehouse
02 May 2017, 3:39pm

It's pertinent that the latest video from K Á R Y Y N should be set in the Syrian city of Idlib. Its the province where the Syrian war — the brutal conflict that has claimed over 400,000 lives so far — began in 2011. It was where K Á R Y Y N, the American musician of Syrian and Armenian descent, would spend summer at her family's hotel and restaurant. As the province was taken by machine-gun-toting militia five years ago, Idlib stands today as a stark reminder of the multitude of experiences the singer had as a child: born in Alabama, raised in Indiana, but with a connection to a world seen primarily through blinkered Western reporting.

It's a duality explored in her new release "Quanta 11: PURGATORY". Following the release of Quanta 1, comprised of "ALEPPO" and "BINARY",  and the opera Of Light, written under the tutelage of Marina Abramovic and heavily praised by Björk 0, Quanta 11 sees the still unsigned K Á R Y Y N reaching through time to a childhood memory. A memory that reminded her it takes "courage and trust and vulnerability to overcome our fears and heal our wounds." 

"I needed to look at my childhood, see my little self during the years that many wounds had formed and piece it back together," K Á R Y Y N tells i-D. "And instead of finding more pain, what I found was that there was actually a lot of joy and even more love than I had remembered." Press play on "PURGATORY" and read our interview with K Á R Y Y N below.

Can you tell us about the video for "PURGATORY"? Why is the setting significant?
For my first release, the accompanying video was home footage from when I was in my teens in Aleppo. For this, I wanted to go back further into my past — into my childhood. There's a verse in "PURGATORY" where I sing, "Walled in and screaming out/ I'm still where I was exploring/ at the mouth of the mountain." The mountain I'm referring to is known as "the forty mountains" in the province of Idlib where my family has a hotel and restaurant. The beginning footage is from that hotel. I have a memory of playing there with my sisters and we got trapped at the bottom of this mountain between the hotel and some boulders. After a few hours, Mohammad, one of the long-time employees of my grandfather, found us trapped and the entire family had been searching for us. I was scared and I thought I was going to be stuck there forever. I remember my aunt saying if I could just reach through the crevice, they could pull me out. And that's the imagery and the essence I wrote this song from; remembering that it takes courage and trust and vulnerability to overcome our fears and to heal our wounds.

I wanted to show the stark differences of the experiences I had as a child: Eastern and Western upbringing. You see the ritual slaughter of a lamb that is an ancient Christian practice in Syria. You see us being crossed on our foreheads and how that ritual is meant as a sacrifice from the family in order to bless an occasion — like the birth of a newborn or the return back to Syria from The States. The juxtaposition of dipping fingers in the blood of the sacrificed and running around in rural Indiana in front of the Christmas decorations and the cornfields of America in the background. That sort of culturally rich upbringing and cultural differences I grew up with, so many grow up with.

Have you ever experienced purgatory yourself? How did you pull out of it?
Yes. My experience with being in purgatory and dragging myself out was learning that you must forget everything that became of you while you were trying to become something in life. I left my ambitions in music seven years ago to pursue joy; to become a whole and happy person because I was making music from a painful and tortured place. I realized early on that I had to heal the wounds that inspired my art. Art itself was not enough. I didn't want to just display my feelings. I wanted to uncover something worthy, something useful for the listener. Of course, I never set out to do this at all. I just let go of my musical ambitions entirely, and instead went into the process of healing and just living. It was a death. That process took seven years and took me all around the world and involved a lot of artistic practices and even more spiritual studies. Eventually, I realized that as I healed, I had the potential to heal others. I took my time developing my artistry privately. I spent years working on the craft of writing a song and designing sounds and developing my actual voice into an instrument. It was a cocoon for a long time until it slowly became my own purgatory. It was a rebirthing process and I slowly found that I was so committed to the process of making art, that I had totally disassociated from the part where you share. I had been the hermit for too long. I followed my intuition, I followed my inspiration, and that lead me to people who recognized my worthiness and believed in me enough to insist that I no longer hide everything I'd been uncovering. It took a lot of courage and a deep acceptance and trust of the unknown. I had to surrender to that fear. Yet, I pulled myself out by being so inspired that it inspired those around me to not allow me to stay hidden. Part of the healing process is being witnessed. I hope I'm released from my purgatory now that this song is out.

What legacy do you want to leave with your music?
I want to be useful. I want to make something much bigger than myself. Something larger than "I". What can be built by a collective process will be greater than what I can do alone — and that stands true for me in my collaborations and how I handle myself always. I am genuinely empowered and I know that I can empower. I'm all about working hard and it's going to take an entire career to do it and I think it's a worthy goal. I'm unafraid to go into the darkness and bring back jewels. There is enough for everyone to be an Empress and an Emperor and with the platform that may come with this, the potential to really change the world becomes limitless.


Text Matthew Whitehouse

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