In the garage where he sought shelter from bombs in his native Lebanon, Ara Malikian discovered the power of music.
The bearded and heavily tattooed 52-year-old paid homage to this childhood hiding spot in his latest album released online in January called “Petit Garage.”
“It was a place full of rats and cockroaches,” he said during an interview in Madrid where he has lived for the past two decades.
“We would hear the bombs, it was a very dramatic situation and suddenly some of us started to make music, others to sing, everyone dancing,” he added.
“I saw how music and art changed people’s mood, gave them hope, joy. We forgot all our sorrows, the war and the bombs.”
Born in Beirut in 1968 to an Armenian family, Malikian started playing the violin at a very young age, encouraged by his violinist father who has performed with legendary Lebanese singer Fairouz.
“From the moment I was born, he put a violin against my chin and, whether I liked it or not, I had to play it,” he recalled.
“Luckily I fell in love with this instrument, so I had no psychological problems,” he added with a smile.
“It is true that my father was very strict, very severe, he forced me to study and practice for hours since I was very little.”
– Prodigious musician –
The hours of work turned him into a prodigious musician and allowed him to go to Germany to perfect his skills.
But there he found a “very, very conservative” world of music conservatories which did not appeal to him.
“I had to earn a living so I secretly played in bars and nightclubs,” said Malikian, adding he learned the importance of being “mad and open-minded” during this period.
He recalled feeling embarrassed because he did not know who The Doors were when asked to play the US rock band’s music at a “transvestite bar.”
So in addition to hours of practising the classical repertoire, he began to learn pop and rock songs.
“It was thanks to these jobs that I was able to get out of this very closed world of classical music,” said Malikian whose repertoire includes classical, gypsy and Arabic influences.
“And while I still play classical music, I see music as music, not just as a tin can which is classic music.”
Malikian has even performed a version of famous Icelandic singer Bjork’s hit “Bachelorette” which replaces the sound of her voice with that of his violin.
– ‘Very moving’ concerts –
The pandemic caught Malikian while he was in the middle of a world tour, forcing him to call it off.
He had already performed at the French capital’s famed Olympia concert hall but still had engagements in Moscow, Milan or Buenos Aires.
Malikian spent Spain’s strict national virus lockdown last year with his son, composing a lot of music which he plans to release in another album.
He has resumed giving concerts in Spain where concert halls have reopened although with strict capacity limits, well-spaced seating policies and rules requiring the use of face masks.
“The concerts were very moving,” he said. “Between the distance and the masks, we thought it would be very hard but it was wonderful because people, despite the fear, came to listen to us and this is very encouraging.”
An advocate for migrants’ rights, Malikian on New Year’s Day greeted passengers at Madrid airport with a surprise concert.
He said he hopes the pandemic will lead to a “more united” world, instead of creating “more borders, more walls and more hatred.”