Rhythmic musical expression
Among Belarusian bands, Morfe Acoustic Band stands out for having an international team, uniting musicians with Belarusian, Armenian, Russian and Tartar roots. They perform a dynamite mixture of instrumental free-jazz, eastern folk songs, hip-hop and, even, rap. The band’s leader, Oganes Avanesyan, tells us how the band’s name is connected with its activity (in Greek, ‘morfe’ means ‘unity of form and material’).
Oganes, is it true that Morfe Acoustic Band gave its first concerts at academic halls?
When we first came together, our musicians were studying at Minsk’s Conservatoire, at the State University of Culture and at other establishments. Each had to give final concerts at their departments before becoming a true band. Our early audience comprised the lecturers and students of musical educational establishments, who found our music interesting.
You are the band’s leader and the writer of its music, yet are not a professional musician. Moreover, I’m sure you’d agree that it’s rare for a percussionist to lead a band...
I’m a lawyer by education but have played music since the mid-2000s. I’ve always loved Latin rhythms and percussion and bought myself a set of drums, learning to play independently. I was born with music in my head. Initially, this resembled Brazilian salsa; later, it transformed into more complicated pieces.
Over the course of time, professional musicians began gathering round you...
Yes. They are professionals but all are young. ‘Morfe’ offers a start for all of us which I hope will be a success. Anatoly Taran — a graduate from Minsk’s Conservatoire and one of our band — has won an international contest for accordion players in Germany.
Moreover, you have a wonderful wind group, with the clarinet and flute playing in turn...
In my view, Andrey Minkov is among the most serious Belarusian musicians; I’m proud that he’s been performing with us for many years. He plays wonderful compositions on the clarinet: amazing avant-garde music and free-jazz — solo, in support, and improvised. How could we not place him to the fore?!
Morfe plays complicated instrumental acoustic music, with an eastern accent. How would you define it?
I’m Armenian, so many of our musical ideas originate from there. However, I wouldn’t say that we perform Armenian music. It’s always been difficult for me to define our music — as avant-garde or jazz. We perform jazz with folk elements. However, rap singers also perform at our concerts.
Does this mean that you play what you love, inviting listeners to choose their own definition?
Musicians should follow their own idea of what is topical, what they can do well and what they wish. The most awful music is that which has no topicality and is predictable. There’s an ocean of music out there, with many people capable of playing, but a true musician should have a distinctive and recognisable sound. Listeners should immediately proclaim: ‘Oh, this is ‘Morfe!’’
Do your listeners say this?
We don’t especially aim to be unique in order to sell more albums or concert tickets but we do spend time on arrangements and practice diligently to ensure we play to the best of our ability. Social networks show us that our major fans are aged 25-40, who have an understanding of music. Initially, our audience comprised teachers and students but, now, we are touring Eastern Europe a great deal, visiting Ukraine, Poland and Russia. Among our listeners are artistes and those involved in art.
They dance while you play...
I must admit that I can hardly keep my own feet still while listening to ‘Morfe’s music, as it’s so rhythmic. Some dance – depending on how they feel.
Morfe Acoustic Band is preparing its first album for release, uniting traditional clarinet, conga drums and contrabass — supported by electronic backing.
Musicians need to be flexible and willing to experiment. Famous sound director Andrey Zhukov — working with ‘Troitsa’ band — has been working with us, showing wonderful professionalism and intuition. He’s given us a new outlook which I’m sure you’ll notice on the CD.