I’m willing to put myself out there. Until ten years ago, I never knew about the Armenian Genocide, not a single thing. I mention this because I know I’m not the only one. So how did I learn about this tragic chapter in human history? Through movies and documentaries, of course. While most of the films I’ve seen go into great historical detail, Lisa Hagopian and Eric Harabadian’s documentary, We Thrive, explores the rich culture of Armenian artists and music to come out of the genocide.
We Thrive places the spotlight on over a dozen American musicians of Armenian descent. This includes Hachig Kazarian, Kim Kashkashian, Dan Yessian, Sean Blackman, Ara Topouzian, Tia Mayhem, Tanya Venom, Rubik Mailian, Simon Javizian, Eliza Neals, Chuck Alkazian, among others. Their testimonies are interwoven throughout, as the movie is broken into several parts.
Part one goes into the backgrounds of each artist, including their musical interests and heritage. Part two speaks to their Armenian culture, history, and their individual, familial experience with the Armenian Genocide perpetrated in 1915 by the Turks and the Ottoman Empire. Lastly, Hagopian and Harabadian go into great detail about how their culture’s tragedy and triumph influenced each artist’s musical style and performance.
The reason to see We Thrive is the music. The goal of many of the artists in the documentary is to bring traditional Armenian music to the forefront. The musicians are highly accomplished, the music is brilliantly produced, and those featured speak very distinctly about how their culture influenced their work.
“…how their culture’s tragedy and triumph influenced each artist’s musical style and performance.”
While the music is distinctly Armenian, you can hear its similarities to that region’s Persian and Middle Eastern music. The common thread is its use of the minor key, which seems to reflect the tragic nature of its people, who carry the memory of the genocide with them. For you musicians, the music chatter gets deep into the weeds. In a way, it honors those lost and carries their memory in hopes such tragedies will never happen again. Many artists still use classic Armenian instruments like the Kanun (a Middle Eastern harp with 78 strings), while others hold true to classical Christian songs and hymns to inspire hope.
Other artists have been able to branch out into different musical genres while staying connected to their roots. Eliza Neals is a well-known blues rock singer with ten albums. Tia Mayhem and Tanya Venom are twin hard rock singers known as Venom and Meyhem. Chuck Alkazian is a successful record producer who produced songs with the likes of The Romantics and Eminem.
I mentioned this initially, but We Thrive proves why independent documentaries are so essential to support. How can most of us go through life not knowing the breadth of human history without indie films (yeah, books too)? Formal education picks and chooses what they think is important to us, and movies like this fill in those vital gaps.
Filmmakers Lisa Hagopian and Eric Harabadian do fantastic work in We Thrive. There is a great deal of material they present, and they’re able to not only cover so much ground while moving the story along at the right pace in a heart-warming and toe-tapping manner.
For screening information, visit the We Thrive official website.
"…proves why independent documentaries are so essential..."