Art & Culture
Guy Manoukian: Living to the tune of his dreams
May 14, 2008
Imagine learning to play the piano at four, performing for President Amin El Gemayel at seven, composing at eight winning your first competition the same year and voila, you have a star named Guy Manoukian, whose dreams and aspirations have taken him far and high.
While attending an Armenian school, Manoukian also joined a music school where he participated in concerts. Though his original dream was to be a professional basketball player, he was dedicated to his music. His parents, as well as his Armenian and American teachers were supportive and encouraging from the beginning, though his parents suggested he get a law degree for "insurance". He got his degree, but he has never had to practice law.
At the mere age of 16, he had his first solo concert. He expected 400 people to attend, but to his surprise, over 1,000 were present. The success of the night confirmed that music was his calling in life. He turned professional in 1997 at 21 with a concert at the Jeita Grotto, and sold out two concerts at the UNESCO Palace.
His classical training from an early age gave him a solid base for his music which can in fact be said to unite nations, as it fuses influences from so many countries. Being Armenian Lebanese, he attributes the unique flavor of his music to his rich culture. "Armenian culture was at the core of my existence and hence my music," he says. Add some Turkish, Assyrian, Greek, Kurdish, Indian, Latin and other Arabic music to the mix and you have a unique cultural blend of music. "This region is a melting pot, and my music is an expression of this." And, now, at 31, with clubbing being a favorite pastime, he's added "house music" to really spice up the pot, which makes his music not only a pleasure to listen to, but also fun to dance to. He considers the fusion of house with traditional as the turning point in his career.
“My music is modern in arrangement but very classical in spirit; my albums, which are studio recorded, are very club-oriented whereas my performances are live and directed for a broader audience.”
Along with his music being a treat for the ears, several young women might admit going to his concerts for a glimpse of his famous good looks, just as some men might go to see Shakira (another child prodigy for whom he's produced), because of her famous abs. OK, she shakes her booty and everything attached to it, while Manoukian sits at his piano in jeans, black sneakers and a sweater, yet still mesmerizes the audience- without shaking a thing. His feelings and the magnificence of his music which is really beyond words are revealed through the sweet dance of his fingers on the piano.
Manoukian expects that in his fifties, his music may be quite different, just as it has continually changed since he started composing at such a young age. Music evolves. He can't write what he thinks others want, rather he writes to express what he's feeling at any given time, which includes all life experiences: his main inspiration is of course none other than women: loving, being loved, hating and being hated. Music is an outlet for his passions. This is what keeps him "honest" in his work. He is a musician who is true to himself; he is not trying to sell an image. As has been well proven, those that do focus on image come and leave as quickly as the audience changes and starts looking for something fresh. One's interests change with age, travel, meeting new people, hearing new music and having new life experiences, so accordingly, Guy’s music changes and remains freshly in tune with the times.
His brilliance in mastering his art, have earned many awards. The ones he cherishes most are the ‘Best Armenian Dance Album’ received in Los Angeles, and the ‘Murex d'Or’ award received in Lebanon in 2002 for ‘Best Arabic Tune of the Year Award’ for Harem, which was later released on his REG album. Ironically, the latter award came as a great surprise as he did not expect to be recognized in his home country.
Recently he signed on with Yamaha to become their ambassador for the Middle East, North Africa and parts of Asia. Although he has performed in many cities from Sydney to Santiago, he particularly loves to play in Cairo and Beirut. Just this year he won the coveted ‘World Championship of Performing Artists’ award. He has worked with a constellation of stars: recorded ‘On Tour’ with Wyclef Jean, worked with 50 Cent when he came to Beirut, and helped produce for Diams, rapper Raul Di Blasio, and Lucina, as well as Wyclef Jean and Shakira.
Though he's been criticized for writing advertising jingles, he is unapologetic. Someone has to write them, so why not choose someone who can write very good ones. Not that he has to – in the same way that he has never had to practice law. He has already ground out seven successful albums, so wouldn't writing a jingle be a "divertisement"? That's French for "fun". You know, just as "merci" is Lebanese for "thank you."
Of his many albums, starting with Angham in 1997 to his most recent Ftv America, several have won awards, gone gold or platinum. His success has involved hard work, tenacity, and talent. He travels often and gives concerts for politicians, their wives, the young and hip, even disadvantaged children. After playing for hours in a club, encore after encore, sweaty dancers have begged him not to leave the stage.
So what is it that drives Guy Manoukian? "Passion. Passion. Passion." Passion for music, passion for life in all forms and perhaps for admiration as well, which he gets a great deal of. If his fans adore him, he adores them. Performing is another of his passions. He enjoys seeing all the faces in the audience having fun, their bodies dancing in harmony with his music, but he also enjoys the reach of his work by radio to so many nations. Queen Rania of Jordan, one admirer, asked him to write a song promoting Jordan, which he called simply, Alurdunis (The Jordanians) and appears on his sixth album, Sarab. In addition he wrote Arabian Drive with Saeed Mrad, which is the official song of the Bahrain Gran Prix. His next project is a new concept album, Ethnic, and on its heels another called Shochos Dubai. Next summer, expect his latest, Al-urdun.
Which album is his favorite? The Next One. Hark back to Akira Kurosawa receiving an Oscar for lifetime achievement in his early 90's. When asked which he considered to be his best film, he responded, The Next One.
Having performed on every continent short of Antarctica, Manoukian is a citizen of the world. And now he's pinning his hopes on winning an Oscar. having already scored several films: I Can Never Be Your Woman with Michelle Pfeifer, The Flock with Richard Gere and Claire Danes, and The Travels of Shaka Muni, a children's film for Warner Brothers, which he dearly loved writing, so he can reach an even greater audience than radio, as has his favorite film composer, John Williams. One day his star may appear on Hollywood's ‘Walk of Fame’.
A star on the ‘Walk of Fame’ would be a static reminder of the past. Manoukian's mind is focused on the present and the future. Though his hands are busy composing, jotting down notes, playing in front of packed audiences, he would love to take the time to clutch an Oscar, place it on his mantel and, likely, caress it from time to time, though he has little time for sentimentality. His hands are continually in motion. His mind is continually in motion. All his senses, in motion.
He is a man living to the tune of his dreams.