K Á R Y Y N: the syrian-armenian-american musician beloved by björk
With a video shot in the Forty Mountains of Syria, K Á R Y Y N is the LA based musician exploring her childhood through art.
It's pertinent that the latest video from K Á R Y Y N should be set in the Syrian city of Idlib. The province in which the Syrian war - the brutal conflict that has so far claimed hundreds of thousands of lives - began in 2011, it was where the American musician of Syrian and Armenian descent would spend summer at her family's hotel and restaurant. Taken by machine gun toting militia five years ago, it stands today as a stark reminder of the differences of experience she 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 new release Quanta 11: PURGATORY. Following on from first release Quanta 1 comprised of ALEPPO and BINARY -- as well as an opera, Of Light, written under tutelage of Marina Abramovic and heavily praised by Björk 0-- it sees the still unsigned K Á R Y Y N reminding herself that 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," she tells us. "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 asking if I could just reach through the crevice, that they could pull me out. And that's the imagery and the essence from which 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 the 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 realised 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 realised that as I healed I had the potential to heal others. I took my time to develop my artistry privately, to cultivate my field of awakening, diving deep into a Buddhist practice, and it took time to learn about the Self and my own potential and the world and the potential of people and to merge my ideas with my ideals in the realm of music. 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'd 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 recognised 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 hope whatever worthy ideas and feelings I am given that I can exude that energy power, beauty and possibility into a form that paints itself into people's imaginations through sound. 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
Photography Derek Hutchison