Armenian-American musician Ara Topouzian wants to preserve Detroit’s Armenian musical history on film, hometownlife.com reports.
“My goal is to show the hidden story about Detroit, the ethnic community,” said the Farmington Hills resident. “Our music represents sadness, happiness, weddings, parties, picnics.”
The idea for the film stems from a project Topouzian, Troy Chamber of Commerce executive director, created when he received a fellowship from the Kresge Foundation in 2012.
A nationally known musician, Topouzian taught himself to play and love the kunan, a trapezoid-shaped instrument that boasts sets of three strings tuned to the same note. He and other Armenian musicians continue to perform.
His Kresge fellowship gave Topouzian yet another opportunity to open the doors to preserving Armenian music.
“It allowed me to create a project for the public that was a lecture/concert about the history of Armenian music in Detroit,” he said. “I thought it would be great if it was a film.”
That dream is on its way to reality thanks to a $12,000 matching grant from the Knight Foundation. That joy, however, presents a hurdle. Topouzian must raise the $12,000 match and he has until September.
He is working through the Miami Foundation and the online Kickstarter to raise the necessary money. The former executive director of the Farmington Area Chamber of Commerce and former economic development director for the city of Novi is also accepting private donations to help with the grant match.
With Kickstarter, Topouzian had to set a dollar goal and if that fundraising goal is not reached by March 18, that’s the end of that. “No money goes in my pocket from any fundraising for the film. I get nothing except maybe the notoriety of the film,” Topouzian said.
Progress is under way. If he can raise the minimum $5,000 on Kickstarter, then he has $2,600 already with a total of $7,600 so far.
If all goes as planned, Brian Golden, Farmington area historian, will film the historical project Topouzian has in mind. And again, if all goes as planned, he wants to pitch a completed film to PBS. The film in 2015 would coincide with 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.
The Armenian Genocide took place during and after World War I when the then-Ottoman Empire systematically exterminated its minority Armenian population from their homeland, which is today’s nation of Turkey.
Before the genocide, Detroit could boast some 3,000-4,000 Armenians. Following the genocide, the ranks swelled to some 30,000 as survivors made their way to Detroit and jobs with Henry Ford.
For the most part, Armenians brought their culture and music and settled in the southeast section of Detroit. “They had no tape recorders but they brought the tunes in their heads and desperately made a life here and brought the culture they lost,” Topouzian said.
And this is the story he wants to tell the world. At first, Armenian musicians played in churches, community centers and halls. In time, nightclub owners realized Armenian music was popular and began inviting the musicians to play a few nights a week.
“It is a story that needs to be told,” he said. “About how important Armenians have been in Detroit preserving their culture and their music.”
Topouzian plans to return to the spots where those nightclubs once stood and interview Armenian immigrants and musicians who steadfastly protected and preserved their culture.
“I want them to tell their stories. This is the history the Turks did not get.”