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Mike Sarkissian The Volunteer Soldier

Mike Sarkissian is widely recognized as a major artist in the Armenian cabaret music tradition. For many years he has performed throughout the the United States, with his activities centered in the Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts. Over the years he, along with his late brother Buddy, has appeared as a headliner in Las Vegas. Notable among these appearances is his legendary run at the International Hotel.

Mike's stage persona reveals very little of the man. Mike is a man of immense talent, dedication, and sensitivity. While performing almost exclusively in the cabaret style, his repertoire includes many historic and important works in the Armenian folk idiom. Some he has almost single-handedly championed, keeping them forever in front of the public. His style, while not traditional, is attentive to the underlying excellence and meaning of the material he presents. Mike's interpretations often become the reference that others use when adding a song to their own repertoire. His performance of Gamavor Tzingvor has burned this important song from the Armenian Genocide into the musical memory of thousands of Armenian-Americans. It's underlying message is one of heroism and respect for the Armenian volunteers who fought under the French against the Turkish forces during World War I.

Recently Mike recalled a performance early in his career. He was appearing with the legendary oud player/ singer Marko Melkon (Melkon Alemsharian). As Mike launched into his rendition of Gamavor Tzingvor, Melkon looked at him with a strange expression, but played along to the conclusion of the song. Then Melkon asked how he came to know the song. Mike replied that his mother, a survivor along with her 2 sons (Mike's half brothers) from Chimizgazek, had taught him the song when he was a child. He said his mother was very concerned that this song not be forgotten. Mike said he had always known the song, he couldn't recall not knowing it. Melkon explained that he hadn't heard the song for many years, but that he too was familiar with it. Melkon mentioned that perhaps Mike had a few lyrics wrong.(oral traditions often fall victim to inaccuracy) After a discussion of the "errors", they played the song again. Mike Sarkissian has been known ever since for his dramatic performance of this wonderful document from the War. In the song, a woman talks of the heroism of the Gamavors (volunteer soldiers) and her dream to stand next to one in church, dressed in white. This is a true expression of respect and thanks those to take up arms against one's enemies, rivaling When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again and Over There to mention just two. Here are the lyrics of the song in transliterated Armenian with English translation:

Gamavor Tzingvor

Verse I


a) Gamavor tzingvor toon 'es
You are an honored and brave soldier

Verkis Palah san too 'es (repeat a)
In my eyes a true hero

b) Amen Kisher kez yeraz em
Every Night, in my dreams, I see you

Sirdis hadoor al toon 'es (repeat b)
You are the Love of my Heart

Chorus
a) Yes alam, yes alam
I want to be, I want to be.

Al koodudrag'ut yes alam
I
want to be the love of your life.

b) Asdotz memeg mouratz gusem
nishanages yes alam (repeat b)

Verse II (english translation only)
You walk like a soldier,
Able to keenly observe all that is around you.
But you will never find a girl
who would love you as I.
Chorus
a) Yes alam, yes alam
I want to be, I want to be.
Al koodudrag'ut yes alam
I want to be the love of your life
b) Yegheletzi germag hakvov
In church, I want to be the one
covit gaynov, yes alam (repeat b)
in white standing next to you.

In this caricature cartoonist Dobson truly captures the energy of Mike Sarkissian performing.

left: Mike and his "kid brother" Buddy in 1952 right: Mike with the great Artie Barsamian

A menu cover from Mike Sarkissian's legendary Lawrence, Mass night spot the Cafe Tamba

The band Mike put together for the legendary Audio Fidelity sessions. Mike is seated in front, third from the left. At the far left is Mike's half brother Sam, Sid Frey, the owner of Audio Fidelity is between them. Buddy Sarkissian is at the far right. Also in the photo: Fred Elias, Dick Sheytanian, Marty Kentigian, and Zaven Takvorian, all long-time members of Mike's bands.

 

Playing at a picnic, Arakelian Farm, Billerica, Mass. in 1939. Hagop Gureghian is on violin and Mike Ouzounian on clarinet. At the time Mike is concentrating his musical efforts on the "trap set", an instrument he was later to play while a member of the Antilles Air Cadets. Without any formal training, Mike was able to audition for and win a seat in the elite World War II Army Air Corps Jazz Band.

Three Brothers: from left Sam Akashian, Buddy Sarkissian, and Mike Sarkissian