MELTEM NAZ – Rena De: I would like to represent Syria and Armenia at the Jazz Festival

Rena De: I would like to represent Syria and Armenia at the Jazz FestivalRena De is a celebrated Syrian-Armenian Jazz singer based in Yerevan. She agreed to an interview with me in which she shares her wish to participate in the Istanbul Jazz Festival and explains how music is instrumental in creating dialogue between people in conflict.

The night before, I speak on the phone with Rena De, a 42-year-old Syrian-Armenian singer who performs jazz music in a venue called Melrose in the heart of Yerevan. She calls out a andldquoHello,andrdquo that varies between a stylish Australian accent and a powerful and self-contained womanand#39s tone, like Velma in the movie andldquoChicago.

andrdquoandldquoCome to Melrose at 8 pm, dear,andrdquo she says. Rena seems kind and intimidating, graceful and distant.

She radiates an energy that emanates when someone is aware of her own strength while being touchingly vulnerable at the same time.At Melrose, Rena does event planning and public relations, apart from performing jazz, blues, RB and soul songs with her band Shiver After I swing open the door, I find Rena sitting on a red chair that extends from wall to wall under Melroseand#39s blue lights.

She is holding a cigarette with one hand and making calculations on her iPad with the other Nervous that Rena wonand#39t have time for our interview before her 9 pm performance, I sit and stare at her long black curly hair But thankfully, within minutes, she comes and sits with me. Seeing that I am concerned about the loud noise that surrounds us, Rena suggests that we go to the kitchen to conduct the interview.

andldquoI read that some of your ancestors are from MaraI in modern day Turkey. I wonder how you feel about that.

Is your music influenced by their legacy?andrdquo I ask while breathing in the smell of fried oil and ignoring the big white ventilating unit next to us that sounds like an airplane taking off.andldquoI have been to Turkey five times, and I felt the energy of the land where my ancestors once lived,andrdquo Rena says.

She listens to every kind of music. But traditional Armenian music is special for her because it touches her in a way thatand#39s inexpressible through words.

andldquoIt says something to me because thatand#39s who I amandrdquoRena was born in Syria and moved to Australia when she was two years old. After spending 20 years there, she left for Syria But after the war broke out, she first moved to Lebanon in 2012 and then finally settled in Armenia in August 2013.

The young cook in red takes out a box of sandwich loaves from a bakery and starts applying mustard on them I ask Rena what she thinks of musicand#39s role in facilitating dialogue and understanding. I explain that I have Armenian-Turkish dialogue in mind in particular, with all its complications and promises.

andldquoDefinitely it has a role,andrdquo she says instinctively. For example, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) organized a concert in Yerevan at the end of October, Rena says, and its aim was to unite diaspora, local and refugee Armenian musicians.

andldquoThat was really beautiful! I was asked to say a few words on stage. The only thing that I said was how I felt.

Although we speak different Armenian dialects [eastern and western], on stage we speak the same language — music. We might have different backgrounds and political opinions.

But on stage, we speak a language that everyone understands. This brings us closer,andrdquo Rena says.

Rena thinks that the same applies to making music between Armenia and Turkey. She communicates with me that she has heard about the Istanbul Jazz Festival.

andldquoI would like to represent Syria and Armenia at the Istanbul Jazz Festival,andrdquo she says. I immediately imagine her singing Arabic and Armenian jazz songs with a concentrated face and her monumental black curly hair at the Cemil Topuzlu Open-Air Theater in Istanbul.

After the interview, I see Rena where I first saw her, close to the entrance of Melrose, sitting on that red chair I want to thank her for her time and hospitality, so I squeeze her hand in the dark. I only realized after I screamed in pain that she was holding a cigarette.

SOURCE: The East African