Christiane Karam: Nar

NY-resident Lebanese-Armenian singer of plaintive voice draws on the folk traditions of her background and contemporary jazz


Born in Beirut of Lebanese and Armenian descent, Christiane Karam has been resident in the USA since the late 1990s, performs as a soloist and is also leader of the ZiZALA ensemble and the Pletenitsa Balkan Choir. In addition to her work as a faculty member at Berklee College of Music, she is involved with Circlesongs at the Omega Institute, and conducts workshops in several countries.

This is Karam’s fourth album and while it was still in preparation her intentions were altered by outside events, the pandemic and the deadly explosion in Beirut that levelled much of the city, which inevitably affected Karam’s composing and performing. As she said: “This work was the lifeline that kept me buoyant when most of our inner and outer worlds, along with many global narratives were collapsing onto themselves.”

The album title, Nar, the Arabic word for “fire”, not only reflects both past and concurrent events but also the spirit needed to surmount them. Singing in five languages, Karam’s compositions draw upon folk traditions of her heritage and contemporary jazz.

In addition to the songs, the overall theme of the album is pursued with two poems, Interlude #1 and Interlude #2, the first spoken with subtle accompaniment from percussionist Keita Ogawa, the second a collaboration with pianist Vadim Neselovskyi. Incorporating the poetry of Gibran Khalil Gibran, another collaborative work is Haneen, which Karam co-composed with Sergio and Clarice Assad.

The tribulations reflected in the songs are served well by the singer’s wide-ranging, plaintive voice. While her vocals take centre stage, Karam also performs here on the tupan and bendir drums and there are several very good instrumental solos, notably by Neselovskyi and Alatrash. Part of the proceeds from this recording will go to the UNCHR in support of Ukrainian refugees.

Nar; Halla’ Fallayt; Last Snow; Petlite Peyat; Interlude #1; Beirut; Peine; Haneen; Interlude #2; Voyage; Btiji Aala Bali; Farandole; Nar (reprise) (68.46)
Karam (v, pc); Vadim Neselovskyi (p); Naseem Alatrash (clo); Peter Slavov (b); Keita Ogawa (pc). NYC, 2021.