When they play, their eyes sparkle, just as they should — for they are the Diamonds. This all-girl band rocks the time away in Aparan, a town about 60 kilometres north of Yerevan which does not shine with opportunities for teenagers, especially girls. Its 6,000 residents live in the heart of Aragatsotn, a conservative province where women rarely get off the beaten track of dutifully marrying and looking after their families.
Alla, Elida, Hripsime, and Marika got their chance in 2014, and since then the four teens have shaken off that stereotype. It all started at the local music school when their late guitar teacher, Artsvi Kocharyan, picked out the best students and created two rock groups in the Culture House — an all-boy band, The Basilic, and an all-girl one, The Diamonds. The mastermind passed away in early 2017, but his legacy remained and the young musicians continue to play together — with different results.
While the all-boys group study in the capital and have landed offers to play live music in several bars, the girls have performed just five concerts in three years, all of them in the town’s Culture House, which also houses their rehearsal room and the instruments they play. Opportunities to play live rock are rare for teenage girls living in rural areas, and when they do come, they often slip away.
When in 2016 the Diamonds were invited to perform at Loft, a multifunctional leisure center in Yerevan, their families refused to let them go — it was too far away to return late in the evening.
“In August 2017 Aparan hosted a music festival, but the organizers didn’t let us participate, they claimed we do not play well enough, and the festival was no place for girls,” says Marika, the band’s guitarist. “It was only after a performance by a band of mostly girls from Yerevan that we approached the organizers again and got the chance to play one song. We were cheered by an ocean of applaus.”
The Diamonds depend on the Culture House, a public community centre common across the country, where they meet regularly to rehearse as they have access to its music room and instruments. In early summer, the director appointed his son, a player in the boy-band Basilic, as the Diamonds’ manager. The decision was dropped on the girls, who had no voice in it and were not consulted.
"We were surprised,” explains Elida, at the keyboard. “We need professional support, but we don't get it. We realize that the future of our group and our career depends solely on ourselves."
Despite the challenges, they persisted. Refusing to abide by rural customs and adamant that they would pursue their passion, the teen rockers stand by their music and their right to play it.
The Diamonds on a photo shoot in a field near Aparan — (from left to right) Alla, drums; Elida, keyboard; Hripsime, vocals; Marika, lead guitar.
A doll sits on Alla’s windowsill, it was a present from her grandmother when she turned 8. Alla hardly matches the stereotype that this doll, dressed in pink represents — passionate about rock music, she was studying singing when she was asked whether she was interested in percussions. She was then 12. Basilic’s Ashot Shahbazyan taught her to play.
Hripsime, singer, in her house’s yard. She recently participated in the music contest “Hayastani Dzayn”, the Armenian version of the US TV format The Voice. She made it through the first round and has just participated in the second. She wants to be famous and sing in different countries.
Hripsime’s grandma, Lida, has bright dreams for her granddaughter. She hopes she will be able to get a full scholarship to enroll in the musical department of Yerevan State Pedagogical University. “She has a nice voice,” says 70-year-old Lida “but still needs guidance and support.”
Hripsime with her father Sarkis, 46. Her father, and the rest of her family, are not musical but have been supporting her singing dreams.
Alla walks by Aparan’s small market. Alla was known in her family as a quiet girl, and everyone was surprised when she took up the drums. “My 15-year-old [male] cousin says that I play well, but he thinks that drums are not instruments for girls”.
Posters of past and present bands cover the rehearsal room at the local Culture House where the Diamonds play.
Marika spent the few minutes before the rehearsal doing her homework. Friends say she’s organised, precise, and diligent. Her mother is worried people do not fully value the girls’ band. “They work so hard,” she says “however the’ve had no concert yet. They are young and sensitive, I hope they will not be discouraged.”
Hirpsime during the rehearsal of The Cranberries’ 1994 hit, Zombie.
Alla rests on her drums during a break. Alla uses the old instruments for rehearsals, and the new ones are only used for concerts. The band however does not have many occasions to play live — in three years they had five concerts, all of them on the Culture House stage.
Marika tunes her guitar. She and Elida have graduated from musical school while Hripsime is attending her last year. Alla continued her musical studies in Yerevan.
Hripsime next to her school desk. Like Marika and Elida she is enrolled in the local school in Aparan, while Alla attends the Romanos Melikian Music College in Yerevan.
A cake celebrates the band’s third anniversary. The girls planned a flash-mob in Aparan’s streets to mark the event but the head of the Culture House did not allow them to take the instruments out of the building.
Hripsime laughing at her large slice of cake - her name is the longest.
Marika and Elida praying in Saint Mary’s church in Aparan.
Elida and Marika regularly sing and play at the local church. Despite all their difficulties, the Diamonds’ challenge to stereotypes and their limited opportunities is setting an example, as other girls attending the music school want to start bands themselves.
Amalya sells candles to be lit in church. The girls’ performance charmed her — she was the only spectator.
The girls’ dream is taking part in the TV program X-Factor and becoming famous. They are sure their passion, and eventual success, sets an important example for other girls in their town, and beyond. They are adamant about breaking the stereotypes surrounding what girls can, or cannot do. “We want to show that no matter where you live and what [limited] opportunities you have, it’s what you want to achieve and change that matters,” notes Elida.