Yesterday, Daron Malakian, the renowned guitarist of System of a Down, released a new single and music video with his project, Scars on Broadway, titled “Lives.” The song and video, which commemorate the Armenian Genocide of 1915, premiered on Rolling Stone on the eve of the 103rd anniversary of the event which resulted in the death of over one and a half million Armenians, an event which still to this day does not receive proper recognition from the U.S. and other allies of the Ottoman Empire’s successor state, Turkey.
However, unlike most songs or works dedicated to merely mourning the tragedy of genocide or angrily advocating for reparations and justice, “Lives” proceeds to mourn, advocate, and celebrate, bringing hope to the future of the global Armenian community and the descendants of the survivors of 1915. As Malakian told Rolling Stone, the song is meant to be a “morale booster” — fitting not only for the spirit of renewed hope in fighting for genocide recognition, but also because it was released on the same day that Armenian former president-turned-prime minister Serzh Sargsyan announced his resignation from office following eleven days of completely civil, non-violent mass protests in Yerevan and abroad — an unprecedented step towards progress unlike any other. Thus, “Lives” certainly arrives at an apt time, where Armenians not only commemorate the atrocities and injustices of the past, but also gear towards a future of higher democratic, civil, and sociopolitical standards.
Throughout the song, Malakian sings about the victory of survival with lines like “All of our lives we’ve put up a fight/ Survived genocide” and “All of our lives we did what was right/ Our soul will survive.” Not to omit the advocacy and activism so signature to his work with SOAD and previous Scars releases, he also emphasizes the need to undo the damaging works of genocide deniers and history revisionists, declaring, “We are the people who were kicked out of history/ We are the people who exist in victory.”
A song meant to not only empower the Armenian community but also to embolden all groups who have ever faced such intolerance and hatred, “Lives” is sharp, passionate, and energetic. Beyond its listening value, it also serves to promote human rights, with half of the proceeds from the song’s purchases on iTunes going towards first-aid kits which will be sent to Artsakh, the war-torn Armenian enclave ravished by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan that has been ongoing since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, leaving many without access to basic necessities.
The music video, directed by Hayk Matevosyan (who we previously interviewed on Moonrise), is also a work of art in and of itself, combining the director’s cinematic styles with the juxtaposition of age-old Armenian tradition and contemporary heavy metal. The video, which has already garnered 640,000 views on Facebook and 250,000 views on YouTube, opens to electrifying heavy riffs and headbanging, set to the backdrop of traditional Armenian oriental rugs, costumes, and dance.
In fact, dance is a central component to the video, reflective of its key role in Armenian culture. For example, after the resignation of Sargsyan was announced on Monday, Yerevan and other heavily Armenian-populated cities broke out in dance. “Lives” captures this pivotal aspect of the culture, featuring Armenian dancers of various ages performing unique, traditionally-inspired moves. Matevosyan, who tends to feature dance in a lot of his filmography, noted, “Daron’s father was a famous Armenian dancer and choreographer back in Iraq, and he [Malakian] specifically wanted Armenian dance to be at the center of this video. I tried to make the dances fit with the rhythm of the heavy rock sound, making for a new, unique combination.”
Matevosyan, who like many Armenian kids (ahem ahem, guilty!) grew up listening to System of a Down, told us that the entire experience of being able to make a music video for Daron Malakian was surreal: “I’m honored to have been chosen as the director of this music video. Daron is one of the most humble artists I have ever met. It was a pleasure to work with him and visualize his ideas through film, and I put my entire heart, talent, and creativity towards ensuring that this music video would be the best possible cinematic presentation of ‘Lives.’”
This long-awaited material, released right at the intersection of a time of commemoration and a time of progress and a changing tide, is precisely what the global community, Armenian and beyond, needs — an homage to the traditions of the past with a forward-minded, inclusive, cleverly optimistic direction.
Be sure to watch and share the “Lives” music video, and follow the work of Matevosyan through his Instagram and Vimeo channels! You can also keep up with Daron Malakian and Scars on Broadway through their Facebook page and YouTube channel.