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The Big Transition 

Zela Margossian’s new journey in music 

Feb 13, 2020  |  by Creative Armenia


Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow Zela Margossian is an Australia-based ethno-jazz musician, whose critically acclaimed music rejoices in Armenian, Lebanese, and Australian influences. 


CA: You are a composer and jazz pianist. How did you develop your love of jazz? 


ZM: While studying classical piano performance at the Komitas State Conservatory in Yerevan, I was very much drawn to the ethno-jazz music I heard in the local jazz venues and developed a deep passion toward it. However, I didn’t pursue jazz until I moved to Australia as my classical studies at the conservatory in Yerevan demanded my full attention. 


After moving to Australia, it took me a couple of years to give myself the permission to choose a new path in my music career. Then it took me a couple of years to gain the confidence to audition for the Jazz Performance Degree at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, but once I got in, my life completely changed. Along this journey, I met wonderful musicians, some of whom ended up becoming my bandmates. Being a perfectionist, I knew that it would (and will) take me a long time to consider myself a proper jazz pianist, as it requires a lot of practice and experience, so I decided to deliver what is personal to me and what comes to me the most natural way — creating my own music with all the influences that I have had so far along my musical journey. 


CA: Originally from Lebanon, you have lived in Armenia and now are based in Australia. In what ways has each of these countries influenced your music and your career?


ZM: Lebanon, being my country of birth, naturally had its cultural influence on me which indirectly makes its way out in some of my compositions. 


Studying in Armenia was a life-changing experience. It was a journey of discovery on so many levels: through my studies at the conservatory and my mentors, through the friendships that I built, through the rich culture that I was exposed to, and through the independence that I gained. Living and studying in Armenia fortified my knowledge of Armenian music both through my studies at the Komitas State Conservatory and through exposure to the live music and artistic performances in Yerevan. One of the most important discoveries for me was realising how much I loved and was drawn to the ethno-jazz and folk-fusion music I heard in the music venues. 


As for Australia, Sydney provided me with the opportunity to realize my passion. I consider myself lucky to have had the support, which I still have, from the jazz community. Through my studies and interaction with different musicians, I have gained insight to different genres, approaches, experimentations, challenging concepts, all of which drive me to explore deeper.


CA: Tell us about your daily creative routine.


ZM: Each day of my week is different. I teach music and do private tutoring and accompaniment work. During my work-free hours, I spend my time creating new music, listening to and transcribing music, practicing and taking care of admin work for my band. When it comes to composing new material, so far, the key ideas or the motifs come to me and I start humming them either while I am driving, which takes the majority of time, or at a random location such as the supermarket. I always try to find a way to record my voice on my mobile phone as there’s a high chance I would forget it afterwards. Once I have an interesting riff or a motif written down, it becomes easier for me to build around it and let other ideas flow from it. 


CA: You have a band, the Zela Margossian Quintet, with which you perform your original music. How did your band come about and what does collaborative work add to your creativity? 


ZM: In the past, when I used to perform classical repertoires, I always used to dream of collaborating and producing music with other musicians. I must say, I used to enjoy performing in chamber ensembles as that setting has room for discussion and team work. However, when it is improvised music, specifically original tunes, the whole dynamic becomes different as each individual in the band has a personal input into the overall sound being produced. Working with my band members has definitely given a boost to my creativity. The overall input of the band on how the music sounds is very special to me and their enthusiasm drives me to become more challenging and push my boundaries. 


My quintet came about very organically. I had 2 original compositions back in 2015 that I wanted to record, just to see how they would turn out, and I approached my musician friends and asked them if they would like to be on the recording. And that is how the quintet came about.


CA: Your debut album, Transition, was very well-received and nominated for an award. Tell us about the album. 


ZM: Initially 2 tracks were recorded, with no intentions of releasing an album. After witnessing the positive reception of the music from the audiences during live shows, I was motivated to write more material. Since I haven’t studied composition, the way I compose is very organic and I stick to what comes out naturally and have learned to trust my instincts. 


The name of the album Transition refers to my transition from being a classical performer to whatever genre I am embracing now. It is difficult to give it a description as it is a hybrid of genres and influences. I consider the album very personal. Each composition has a story behind it. Storytelling is indeed a big part of the album and the way I compose music. 


The band and I were amazed by the reception from different significant sources such as The Sydney Morning Herald, Downbeat magazine, JazzWise magazine to name a few. The album was also nominated for an ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Association) music award for Best World Music Album Category. 


CA: Tell us something important you’ve learned from working with musicians from across the world.


ZM: Ultimately, for me, it is the exchange of ideas and the collaboration with other artists and musicians that enriches an individual and opens up opportunities for experimentation, new creations and platforms. 


CA: Have you decided how you are going to use your Creative Armenia - AGBU Fellowship?


ZM: The fellowship undoubtedly will create connections with interesting artists from around the world and give us, the fellows, a platform to contribute and share our craft. As for the stipend, it will be invested in the recording of ZMQ’s 2nd album.


CA: What is your long-term vision for your creative career?


ZM: My long-term vision is to continue creating new music, collaborate, and share my stories with wider audiences around the world. I hope my music and my stories give people meaning and inspiration -- somehow, some way.

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