Viza
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Viza

Los Angeles, California, United States | SELF

Los Angeles, California, United States | SELF
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"Viza Troubadour Review"

VIZA AT THE TROUBADOUR
Somewhere between Gogol Bordello and System of a Down's more flippant fancies you have Viza, a largely Armenian-American L.A. troupe that earned, under its former name Visa, quite the cult following over the course of a couple of albums and EPs. Almost inevitably managed by SOAD crooner Serj Tankian's company (Tankian also guests on their new album, Made in Chernobyl), Viza rather overcartoon their exotic aesthetic with the faux Eastern Bloc uniforms of their promo pics, but their sound is less predictable and straight-faced. Spiraling riffs, knee-slappin' Romany rhythms and blurs of oud and tar propel Greek frontman K'noup's melodies in and out of rockish flirtations and massed unison celebrations with some of his eight bandmates. There's humor, heartache, political commentary and intoxicating musical communion here — plus, on a good night, belly dancers. (Paul Rogers) - LA Weekly


"Viza Feature on PensEyeView.com"

Viza is “a passport into a musical endeavor that touches its conspirators ethnic, cultural, spiritual, and literal influences, while translating them into a perfect balance of old world nostalgia and modern experimentation.” Had to throw that out there before we get deeper into the discussion about Viza. The band formally known as Visa isn’t putting up a front when they brand their music with so many influences – the band includes 9 musicians with backgrounds in jazz, metal, Greek, rock and more, and they come from around the globe!

Band leader K’noup says the group comes together “the same way a chef fuses so many ingredients and origins into a new dish. As a matter of fact that is what this band is all about, in creating a new platform of music, not related to anything else but inspired by many.” You gotta check it out for yourself, specifically one of the band’s latest collections, “Made in Chernobyl”. K’noup says “Our music catalog is an evolution of themes with ‘Made in Chernobyl’ being no exception. In this record we’re tackling a very experimental and aggressive side of our sound/message and we parallel it to the Soviet regime of the early 1900’s in which they had a plan to govern themselves into glory. Let’s just hope we don’t follow the same destructive path. But all jokes aside, the idea of the group is to not limit ourselves and to creatively explore other worlds and cultures in the form of music.”

Of course, if you have an opportunity to catch Viza live, do it. Seriously – 9 guys on stage. You know it’s a good time complete with music that’s very much alive. The band just recently made the switch from Visa – so look into their new web site, ExperienceViza.com. There’s more below, so keep reading for the answers to the XXQ’s.



XXQ’s: Viza – Answered by K’noup


PEV: So, important question to start off. How do you transport a 9-man band from show to show?



Haha well we squeeze into a firetruck, just kidding. We all manage somehow by either commuting with our own vehicles or by renting a van.



PEV: How did the group come together? Viza is one of the larger acts we’ve ever featured.



The project has been around for ten years and it actually started off as a two-piece. In 2000 in NYC I had a vision of creating Mediterranean music with my co-partner at the time Johnny Nice. After my departure to Los Angeles in 2002 we both went our separate ways and I hung onto Viza. After passing my demo around I attracted a few players that were interested in helping this band develop and sure enough years later we’ve grown to be a nine-piece ensemble as I like to put it.



PEV: What kind of music were each of you listening to growing up? What was the first concert you attended?



That is what defines our originality. We all share different tastes in music from Metal to Jazz to Greek, that being said the influences come to together in our writing process that create something rich and more importantly true.



PEV: Was there a certain “a ha!” moment when you knew that music was going to be a career for you?



I myself can pinpoint that day when I was around 16 years old while living uder my parents roof. I was asleep upstairs and had this epiphany about becoming a singer, I jumped out of bed ran doewnstairs woke my parents up and told them the good news. Startled they looked at me as if I was talking gibberish and never thought I would even carry that desire for a week much less the rest of my life. Needless to say music is in my blood, I cant imagine myself doing anything else.



PEV: Tell us about your creative process… What kind of environment do you have to be in to make music?



Well for starters its an open market in our room, anyone can bring anything to the table but most of the time the songs are conceived by the 3 songwriters of the group: Shant Bismejian, Orbel Babayan and myself. After an idea has been introduced the rest of the band follows through and adds there two cents, sometimes we disagree but if we don’t a song could be done within a week or two.



PEV: I read that Viza = “A passport into a musical endeavor that touches its conspirators ethnic, cultural, spiritual, and literal influences, while translating them into a perfect balance of old world nostalgia and modern experimentation.” How do you mix so many influences into a style all your own?



The same way a chef fuses so many ingredients and origins into a new dish. As a matter of fact that is what this band is all about, in creating a new platform of music, not related to anything else but inspired by many.



PEV: You’ve released several music collections, including “Made In Chernobyl” – what should our readers who haven’t sampled it yet expect from the record?



Our music catalog is an evolution of themes with “Made in Chernobyl” being no exception. In this record we’re tackling a very experimental and aggressive side of our sound/message and we parallel it to the Soviet regime of the early 1900’s in which they had a plan to govern themselves into glory. Lets just hope we don’t follow the same destructive path. But all jokes aside, the idea of the group is to not limit ourselves and to creatively explore other worlds and cultures in the form of music.



PEV: You’ve released several EP’s and LP’s – how has each effort built on the work before it?



Each has been its own chapter. The EP was more of the Mediterranean sound I mentioned earlier, Maktub was more focused on Arabic schematics, De Facto had Moroccan touch and Eros was very Greek.



PEV: How would you describe the sound of Viza?



The sound of Viza is a fusion of international cultures.



PEV: What can fans expect from a live Viza show?



Viza shows are meant to be a lively atmosphere with epic proportions much like the circus. We are all entertainers and that is all we want our audience to walk away with. Satisfaction guaranteed.



PEV: Tell us about your first live performance as a band. How have you changed since that first show to where you are now?



As Visa, our first show was quite the memory. It was only I think about 5 of us and we performed at a private party for an Anti-Circumcision organization here in Los Angeles. Needless to say it was one of the oddest performances I have ever done.



PEV: Got any good stories from playing on the road?



Viza on the road is always full of good stories. We’re a group of wild personalities so to mention one would be like trying to remember what you ate last summer.



PEV: Share with us your take on the current music scene.



The music scene is and has been uneventful for many years now. It lacks the great talent that this world is so thirsty for and yet they are out there. Luckily the internet allows the listener to search for good music and avoid the surface garbage that’s out there. One day though, talent will reign once again it always does.



PEV: Do you have a dream city that you’d like to play in?



I personally would love to play in country of birth, Greece.



PEV: What can we find the each of you doing in your spare time, aside from playing/writing music?



Well we all have our personal life that we love to keep private, but you could always catch most of us enjoying a good drink or five at a local bar here in LA.



PEV: Is there one artist or group out there that would be your dream collaboration? Why?



I think the fact we’ve collaborated with Serj Tankian on a song called “Viktor” was a dream in itself. We’re honored in that fact alone and to speculate on anyone else would be perhaps getting ahead of ourselves.



PEV: Is there an up and coming band or artist you think we should all be looking out for?



Yes. Since we are full times musicians we each have side projects that we work on as well. Check out Neurobox, Ed, Pancho & Sancho, LeaveItAlone and 23 Link Chain.



PEV: What's one thing we'd be surprised to hear about Viza?



Expect the unexpected. That’s all I will say.



PEV: Some friends of ours in DC turned us on to Viza – any plans to play around here in the near future?



In May we’re doing our appearance on the East coast in NYC so I would imagine DC is not too far off in the future. Thank you for your support!



PEV: So, what is next for Viza?



We’ve changed our band name from Visa to Viza.



For more information, check out: ExperienceViza.com - PensEyeView.com


"Viza's international music fusion to rock the East Coast"

New York - The Los Angeles-based Viza will perform for the first time in New York City at the Knitting Factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on Friday, May 21 at 9 pm and Philadelphia at the Northstar on Saturday May 22 at 9 pm.

With a music scene dominated by recycled pop music and digital voice enhancers, it is rare to hear a song that is unique yet appealing to the listener. Viza, which recently changed its name from Visa, has achieved just that, fusing rock, metal and Middle Eastern music, to create a one-of-a-kind sound.

Managed by System of a Down lead singer Serj Tankian's label Serjical Strike, Viza was initially formed years ago in New York City by vocalist K'noup and developed further in Los Angeles into a nine-member band.

Each of its nine members - which includes K'noup (vocals and 12 string guitar), Jivan Gasparyan Jr., grandson of the legendary Armenian duduk master of the same name, (duduk and zurna), Orbel Babayan (electric guitar, tar, saz, vox), Shant Bismejian (electric guitar), Andrew Kzirian (oud), Alex Khatcherian (bass), Suguru Onaka (keyboards, accordian), Chris Daniel (percussion) and Hiram Rosario (drums) - is talented in their own right.

Viza's brand of international rock music is influenced by Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Eastern European and Latin cultures and each of their songs is more eclectic and different than the next.

The hard-working group, which has played in many venerable rock venues including the Troubadour, Key Club, Roxy, Derby and Viper Room has put out an album a year since its formation, including "Eros", "De Facto" "Maktub" and "Viza E.P." They are currently working on their newest album titled "Made in Chernobyl" which features Serj Tankian on the track "Viktor."

Aside from creating innovative music, Viza is a socially-conscious band and has been covered in the Los Angeles Times for their activism on human rights and social justice work. Of the band's nine members, six are Armenian and one is Greek, so "the band is well aware of the history of Anatolia through the years," said band member Andrew Kzirian, noting that many of their families were impacted by Ottoman policies against minorities and the persecution of certain ethnic groups. Because of this, "the band has taken on a strong human rights awareness approach in its advocacy and shows."

The group has organized benefit concerts to promote understanding of the Armenian Genocide and human rights as well as to raise funds for the Armenian Relief Society' s Armenia-Artsakh Orphan Project and the Bird's Nest Orphanage in Lebanon.

"Silence the Lies, Rock the Truth", on April 24, 2010 at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles, enabled Viza to work with community organizations such as the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF), Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) and the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) as well as social justice groups regarding human rights.

The group also organized a "Feed the Need" show on Thanksgiving Eve last year, held at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. Portions of the ticket sales of each show went to Armenian Orphanages and the Los Angeles Mission to Help Feed the Needy, reflecting the band members' awareness and passion about their surroundings in Los Angeles and the need to speak out against genocide.

"I feel that music and artistic expression is a fresh and appealing medium for educating our youth, some of whom will inevitably serve as our leaders of tomorrow," said Kzirian. "It is an effective supplement to more conventional approaches to societal change and informing the audience about what is going on the world."

The band's diverse backgrounds help contribute to the originality of Viza's music. Aside from the six Armenian members, the vocalist, Knoup is Greek, drummer Hiram Rosario is Puerto Rican and keyboard and accordionist Suguru Onaka is from Japan.

"Viza is a celebration of life, world cultures, music and a representation of the individuality of the band," said Kzirian, a Philadelphia native who was influenced by the Armenian-American oud tradition on the East Coast and started learning the instrument at a young age. He said his generation has the opportunity to "help revive and sustain the tradition of the oud through a new prism," which Kzirian expresses through his music with Viza.

As some of the band members have roots in New York and on the East Coast, both the musicians and fans are looking forward to Viza's upcoming concerts in two of the most revered rock venues in New York City and Philadelphia. Said Kzirian, "It's exciting for us to connect with new fans and demonstrate our creativity in new venues."

For more information about Viza and information on purchasing tickets, please visit http://www.experienceviza.com/ - Armenian Reporter


"Band preps for big gig at the Derby"

Band members of Visa bill their act as "an audio passport to world music."

The band's promoter and historian described the band's style differently.

"It's world music with a shot of tequila," Sako Khatcherian, 23, said.

Listeners can make their own distinction on Friday at the Derby in Los Angeles, when the Glendale-based band headlines the night club's folk/world/rock night on the main stage.

Visa is a lively world music group with heavy influences from Mediterranean and Latin sound, said the band's lead singer and Glendale-resident Pete Tomopoulos, or K'noup as he likes to be called.

"What sets us apart is we have an international, exotic sound," said Tomopoulos, 31. "You can't compare us in general to everyone else — the fusion of styles."

Greek, Turkish, Armenian, Mediterranean, Latin and rock influences permeate their songs, he said.

"[We are] an exotic show that you probably wouldn't get within 3,000 miles from here," Tomopolous said about his band, even as he acknowledged Los Angeles' diverse music scene. "I would let people know we are a nine-piece ensemble with people from all around the world."

The band boasts a 12-string guitar played by lead vocalist Tomopoulos, three electric guitars, bass, keyboard, drum kit, a variety of percussive instruments.

But Visa's main instrumental distinction is the duduk, a traditional Armenian woodwind. Band member Jivan Gasparyan Jr. plays the instrument and learned from his grandfather Djivan Gasparyan, a famous duduk player who was nominated for a 2007 Grammy award for his 2006 album, "Endless Vision."

Bassist Alex Khatcherian, 20, said the band's duduk player was initially timid with the rest of Visa's exuberance and fast pace — on and off the stage.

"He's a very private person," Alex Khatcherian said. "Publicly, he has an image to uphold ... and we were just so out there."

The band is in the school of musicians that believes pleasing the crowd and putting on a good show is placed above other things, he said.

"It's like a rush," Alex Khatcherian said about the live shows. "It's very exciting. You're having a good time. It's a good feeling when people are responding to your music."

The band has its share of remarkable, and unremarkable, past shows.

One of their favorite shows is at the Alex Theatre in December when they played for a sold-out crowd.

"From that moment we had so many fans," Alex Khatcherian said. "We played excellent. The music came across."

But the band has paid their dues, too, Tomopoulos said.

"It was the Unknown Theater [in Santa Monica a few years ago]," Tomopoulos recalled. "We were put on the bill for 11 p.m. but went on around 1 in the morning and we played for like two people."

They laughed off the experience, booked another show and carried on, he said.

Maybe it's because of shows like that, but band leader Tomopoulos said he prefers the creative process, all the work that goes into creating the songs that energize his audience at shows.

"I'm a songwriter," Tomopoulos said. "I love creating. I mean, I love the performance. But what really gets me going is the fact that I just created something."

Visa will come on stage at 11 p.m. on Friday at the Derby, 4500 Los Feliz Blvd., Los Angeles. Tickets are $15 at the door. - Glendale News Press


"A Visa to Lands You Hardly Know: Experimentation at its Best (Summer 08)"

Mile-high sand dunes and desert winds give way to an oasis tucked neatly away somewhere in the Mediterranean, with hand drums beating away behind harmonized guitars sounding almost like snake charmers.

Sorry kids, this isn’t a scene out of Aladdin, it’s the first minute of "To the Gods" – the opening track on Visa’s "De Facto".
The hypnotized snakes dance as singer K’noup’s voice beckons "It’s up to you to run and hide to a land you hardly know."

"De Facto" travels to a land hardly any of us know, one filled with knotted snakes, wailing woodwinds and even "Mediterranean thieves" that contrast starkly with the mundane, urban clutter that surrounds our everyday lives in Los Angeles.

The band sets out to do just that, describing themselves as a "passport into a musical endeavor" that balances "old world nostalgia and modern experimentation".

Oddly enough, Visa started out as a side project for founder K’noup. "I thought of it more as something like synth, you know, as kind of like electronic music," says K’noup about the formation of Visa.

After the 9/11 attacks devastated the New York music scene, K’noup – then preoccupied with his main project, Neurobox – decided to head west to Los Angeles.

After passing out Visa demo CDs to Neurobox concert goers for two years, an all acoustic Neurobox show featuring a few Visa songs finally revealed the project’s true potential to its creator.

"All of a sudden, I’m just like, ‘Hmm, I can do this as a band, and not necessarily as just an electronic synth project." Shortly after, the world music band Visa came to life, an enticing mirage flickering in the distance of Neurobox’s heavy metal desert.

However, the mirage of Visa as a world music phenomenon became a tangible, entity with the addition of Jivan Gasparyan, Jr, who introduced the melodious wails of the duduk, a traditional Armenian woodwind instrument.

Jivan’s duduk permeates all of Visa’s music, calling out and dragging the listener away from the comfort of their homes, cars, headphones, and sound systems, to a land few have ever, dreamt about.

According to K’noup, "[Jivan’s] the paranormal. At least to strangers who don’t know what the duduk is, it’s like, ‘What is that?’ It’s intriguing to the listener."

As intriguing as the duduk can be, Jivan is only part of the Visa experience. With dueling guitar harmonies, a traditional rock drum set infused with various percussion instruments, keys flowing smoothly through the background, and K’noup’s bellowing serenades tying everything together, the Visa experience blows in like the Khamsin and sweeps you off into the desert night.
What started off as a small electrosynth side project, has blossomed into a nine piece pseudo-symphony. As K’noup puts it, "I sometimes think of us as an orchestra rather than a band…[Visa] started out as a synth project that I had as a hobby, and now it’s turned into my first preference."

With a new record on the horizon (/Eros/ is set for release this summer), the band has decided to tweak their creative process, placing less emphasis on K’noup’s songwriting, and more on the rest of the band’s contributions.

K’noup admits, "This record is turning out to be our strongest record. Everybody is coming together and contributing, putting their two cents in," but at a same time, he’s still holding the reins and making sure everything remains true to the band’s identity. "I make sure we’re on the same passage to the Visa sound. I want to be able to experiment, but still keep that Visa vibe."
Experimentation. The very word sends shivers down a music fan’s spine. Experimentation can lead to very horrible results (for example, Metallica’s /St.Anger/), but it can also breed a new energy and forge a new creative direction for a band.

Visa’s very foundation has been experimentation and taking risks – nine members playing seven different instruments is hardly the traditional rock band lineup – and in this respect, experimentation could be a very good thing.

Whatever the outcome, one thing is clear: /Eros/ will be the next step in the maturation of K’noup’s world music vision: a passport – a /visa /- into lands that you hardly know.

Posted by Armenian Chronicles at 3:48 PM

Tigran Avoundjian
tavoundjian@ucla.edu

- Armenian Chronicles Blogspot


"Performers hope music will inspire Armenian genocide protest"

The feelings flow out of his heart, through his fingers and onto the strings of his guitar.

Sometimes, said Armenian American songwriter Shant Bismejian, he feels anger over Turkish denial of the genocide of his people in the early 20th century. Sometimes he feels sadness over stories of children forced to witness the massacre of their parents. And sometimes he feels joy that the Armenian people survived the atrocities and rebuilt a nation.

Bismejian, 22, expects all of those emotions to flow tonight as he and his band, Visa, perform a concert to memorialize the Armenian genocide, one of several commemorative events planned in the Los Angeles area.

The concert, called Silence the Lies, Rock the Truth, scheduled for 8 p.m. at the Troubadour in West Hollywood, will also feature other Armenian American musicians and poets in what activists say reflects a growing youth movement to raise awareness about the genocide.

The Armenian genocide of 1915 to 1918 claimed the lives of about 1.2 million Armenians under the Ottoman Empire, which became the modern republic of Turkey. The Turkish government disputes that a genocide took place.

This year's memorials are punctuated with the drama of whether President Obama will make good on his campaign pledge to recognize the genocide in his expected statement today.

Armenian Americans overwhelmingly backed Obama for president, in part because of his outspoken and unequivocal recognition of the genocide, said Andrew Kzirian, a band member and executive director of the Armenian National Committee's Western region office in Glendale.

The Armenian community plans political protests at the Turkish Consulate on Wilshire Boulevard and a laying of wreaths at a genocide memorial monument in Montebello. Band members say they hope particularly to raise awareness among young people through music.

The band plans to play as its opening number "Adana," an Armenian folk song that laments the suffering during the genocide, band members say.

"There's nothing wrong with speeches, but music is the easiest way to connect to people because everyone can relate to music," said Alex Khatcherian, a 22-year-old UC Santa Barbara student and bass player.

The band, which plays a mix of world music featuring hints of rock, Mideastern rhythms and traditional Armenian instruments, such as the flute-like duduk, has attracted fans beyond the Armenian community.

Setareh Mortazavi, a 21-year-old UCLA senior of Persian heritage, said she was captivated by the band's music the first time she heard it a year ago. That prompted her to attend Visa's genocide memorial concert last year and do her own historical research on the massacres. She then join a protest against the refusal to recognize the genocide.

"Usually political speeches seem a bit boring," Mortazavi said. "The entertainment aspect is more effective to get non-Armenians interested in the issue."

Arek Santikian of the Armenian Youth Federation's Western regional office in Glendale said bands such as Visa and System of a Down, which also addressed the Armenian genocide and other human rights issues before breaking up two years ago, reflected growing youth activism in raising awareness. The federation's members have grown from 350 to 500 in the last decade and have staged several events, including a 215-mile march from Fresno to Sacramento in 2005, a five-day Fast for Remembrance in 2007 and an 11-mile bike ride from Encino scheduled this Saturday.

Part of the enhanced activism, Kzirian said, was prompted by then-President Bush's opposition to genocide recognition legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2007. The community expects Obama to behave differently and will be furious if he does not, Kzirian said.

But Hakan Tekin, Turkey's consul general in Los Angeles, urged Armenian Americans to focus instead on progress in Turkish-Armenian relations, illustrated by an agreement this week on a framework to normalize relations.

"We hope especially that the Armenian community in California supports these talks rather than get involved in activities that instigate hate and poison the minds of young Armenians with what we see as distorted history," Tekin said.

Visa was started in 2000 by K'noup Tomopoulos, a native of Greece. He moved to Los Angeles in 2002 and eventually hooked up with his current band of nine members, five of whom are ethnic Armenians. Tomopoulos said Greece's history with the Ottoman Empire, which ruled his native land for four centuries, has helped him connect with Armenian pain.

"Getting out the message about the manslaughter that took place in 1915, which is so important to Armenians, is also important to me," he said.

Bismejian said his family history inspires his music. His grandfather and great-grandmother were sent by the Turks on a death march to the Der Zor desert, where mass killings took place, he said, but they escaped and moved to Syria. The emotions triggered by those stories influence nearly all of the songs he writes.

But there are also songs of joy. He calls one of them "Look at Us Now" because every time he plays it he thinks:

"After everything that happened, we're still here and look how strong we are," he said.

teresa.watanabe
- Los Angeles Times - 4/24/2009


"Visa Brings the "Cultural Noise""

Written By: David Carr

If you are looking for a band that takes rock music and combines a serious cultural sound with a political message then look no further than the band Visa. Visa has their roots in both New York and L.A., but they boast a cultural sound rooted in the Armenian/Greek culture. I had the chance to chat with Visa frontman K’noup about the origin of his band and what the future holds for this unique ensemble.

David Carr: When did Visa form?

K’noup: I formed Visa in the summer of 2000 in New York City with former co-founder and member Johnny Nice. It was meant to be strictly a side project of mine due to the fact that I was in another band, Neurobox. In 2004 upon moving to Los Angeles and with Johnny Nice’s departure from the group, I made a band out of the project with the members of Neurobox with the intention of exploring a more international sound.

DC: How did you all get together and how long have you been together?

K’noup: In 2004 the members of Neurobox (that included me, Hiram, Suguru and Alex) came to play with Shant Bismejian, Orbel Babayan, Jivan Gasparyan Jr., Chris Daniel and Andrew Kzirian through the large community of musicians that inhabit the city of Los Angeles. The band has been playing local shows now for 5 years.

DC: Your sound seems to be a mix of heavy rock and traditional Armenian music. How did you all agree to create such a mix?

K’noup: The music itself represents a natural progression. I created Visa with the intention of exploring different musical cultures of sound whether it is Greek, Armenian, Russian or such. There has never been a contract to adhere to a specific style or origin; everything is all about our ability to create together naturally. Some people think we’re just as Greek as Armenian as Arabic and so on. It makes no difference to me as long as they feel the music in a positive spin and feel our energy.

DC: Why is it important for you and the band to celebrate your culture in your music?

K’noup: It’s important simply because it shows no disguise; we all come from strong distinct cultures from around the world. These homegrown characteristics are necessary in our music to not dissuade the audience in our music and because of that I think we connect with so many people.

DC: You have made it a point to play shows that commemorate the Armenian Genocide. Why is remembering this tragic event in world history so important to the band?

K’noup: As people alone, we feel that we should stand up for what is right. This was a tragic occurrence that should never be allowed to happen again and we take part in events to expand the public’s knowledge of this atrocity that to this day is ignored. It’s the youth of today that will keep our future safer, so if these events open their eyes then why not take part and make the world a better place.

DC: Should art and politics mix?

K’noup: That all depends on the artist. Politicians certainly don’t like the idea of “their” people being influenced by some artsy fartsy guy who has something to say to change the world. And for the most part the artist wins because he has the medium that can influence millions faster than some boxed up collegiate scholar or politico. In my opinion music is the most powerful form of expression, I always said if a politician wanted to come across stronger then write it in a song!

DC: Have you done many shows within the heart of the Armenian community in Los Angeles?

K’noup: We have done quite a number of shows in the Armenian community as a large portion of our fan-base is Armenian based. From Glendale to Little Armenia in Hollywood we have been part of many social gatherings that have promoted the culture and lifestyle of Armenia. These shows complement our standard LA performances and provide another outlet for Visa to reach its fans.

DC: Who are some of your musical influences?

K’noup: I think our distinct sound is directly due to our diverse influences. We as a unit are all over the place in terms of influences from international artists like Notis Sfakianakis and Despina Vandi to more mainstream artists such as Mr. Bungle, Metallica and Queen. Regardless, we all come into one room and create a new canvass on which to work artistically.

DC: You have a new disc coming out soon. What can fans expect on the up coming disc?

K’noup: We have a new record in the works called “Made in Chernobyl” in which we venture into a new aggressive sound. It also has a more Eastern European flavor than our previous efforts and I think it will take many by surprise but that’s the whole point of Visa, to delve into other worlds and cultures without second guessing ourselves.

DC: Will you be touring for this new disc?

K’noup: We are going to Canada in the middle of October with more dates to follow elsewhere around the world. It will be very exciting to say the least!! - CWG Reality Check


"Visa's Underground Journey, Priceless"

In the age of MySpace, Facebook and “Googling it,” it’s something of a surprise when a three-year-old indie band is more interested in hitting small stages around town than counting hits on a homepage.

But ask K’noup (pronounced ka-noop), lead vocalist for the L.A.-based group Visa and you’ll find he’s perfectly content living under (or as far away from) the Internet’s seemingly omniscient radar. And although, yes, they have a MySpace page, he insists, “I like to keep a little suspense behind us.”

The 32-year-old singer/songwriter was born in Greece, raised in New York and currently resides in Glendale. All the while, K’noup — whose latest album, “De Facto,” was released in September — has always been rooted in his music, and he is all too aware of the mystery that now eludes artists. “We know everything, from what food they like to what they were doing last Tuesday,” he says.

To the chagrin of executives of such newly acquired social networking sites, Visa believes more in the force of the underground, word-of-mouth movement. And, why not? They’ve acquired quite a substantial following, and continue still, by (surprise, surprise) the draw of the music, and the personal bubble-bursting/space-invading, face-to-face experience of a live show.

But as hard as they are to find, they can be hard to define. What little information the search engine spurts out describes their music as being anything from foreign to electronic to, he shares, “a little hard rock with a little folk.” K’noup isn’t surprised as he admits, “We’re full of sub-genres.

“I like to call it a different form of world music,” he adds. “A lot of my vocal melodies are inspired by Greek music.” The music as a whole, he says, has Arabic, Armenian and Latin influences. The melting pot of sounds that make up Visa’s sometimes intense, sometimes mellow (often both) set lists can be attributed to the diverse nine-member group — what K’noup calls a “mini orchestra” — and the use of unique instruments such as the duduk, an Armenian woodwind instrument.

Despite his desire to remain incognito, both off-stage and online (“You can catch our personalities on stage,” he teases), with the promise not to inquire about his last Tuesday activities, K’noup is more than willing to give a pass into the world (music) of Visa.

Q: You say your vocals are inspired by Greek music. What are the elements that characterize it?
A: It’s very much passionate, lyrical and poetic. It’s like listening to opera ... you get caught up in it. We sing from the heart, from the soul. (Usually) we sing about real issues within relationships ... it's about feeling rather than just listening.

Q: Do you think performing in a larger performance space could take away from this?
A: There are advantages with both (but) I prefer the intimacy (of a smaller venue). You see people’s expressions; you can make out everyone that’s there. You might lose that essence for a live show (in a larger venue).

Q: You rely mostly on word-of-mouth to spread the word about Visa. How’s that going?
A: It’s been a gradual increase. From the outset, people were talking about how different (our music was). I always tell the guys, it’s like a snowball going down a mountain, picking up more and more snow. People are just expressing passion for the show.
Q: What is the duduk, and how does it add to the music?
A: It’s an exotic and sad instrument. It’s incorporated in sad cinematic scripts. Our duduk player’s grandfather (Djivan Gasparyan) is known for playing the duduk on soundtracks (including credits on “Gladiator” and “Blood Diamond”). The duduk always comes into play in sad scenes (but) we try to do that and use it in other tones.

Q: What does “De Facto” mean to you and your band?
A: The reason why I chose (the name) was to bring out the overall theme of the record (which is) intimacy: What goes on behind closed doors with two people? It could be seductive or intimate or passionate ... what all adults go through but don’t express or speak about because it’s supposed to be “hush-hush.” I wanted to express that, but in a metaphoric sense.

Q: Given the type of music you perform, will you ever go international?
A: Ultimately, I’d like (the music) to be played around the world. (The band) can grow. I’ve never put a limit on how many could be in the group. It could be nine today, 19 tomorrow. Every record will just come out naturally. It all comes out through inspiration of daily life. (We) just keep writing music that people can enjoy, can feel.Semhar Debessai, (818) 713-3665 semhar.debessai@dailynews.comVISA
>Where: The Derby, 4500 Los Feliz Blvd., Hollywood.
>When: Friday, Nov. 2 (doors open at 10 p.m.)
>Cost: $15, $10 advance purchase.
>Information: (626) 405-2100; www.experiencevisa.com. - LA.com


"De Facto CD Review"

Overall Review

When a band combines elements of traditional world music in a modern music setting it can often produce magical results. Such is the case with the band Visa, a group of nine musicians from Los Angeles on their second album De Facto. The band is heavy on percussion, features a trio of electric guitarists and a duduk player (a traditional woodwind instrument prevalent in Middle Eastern and Balkan music). Their combined sound is quite unlike anything you will hear from other artists.

Visa’s blend of traditional music styles with modern instrumentation and sensibilities makes for a wholly original sound that is all at once passionate, exotic, entertaining and musically spiritual. Calling this “ethnic music” would be inaccurate as it is far less traditional than many world music artists tend to sound to be tied with that epithet. As you listen you will detect elements of rock, jazz, pop, and even metal-inspired chord progressions wrapped up in a Mediterranean/Armenian/Middle Eastern fused wrapping. The band offers all of its music for sale through its website and their previous album is on iTunes, so if you have an ear for adventure, grab your musical passport and get it stamped with Visa.



Track by Track Review

To The Gods: Drummer Hiram Rosario counts in the band with a unique rhythm and is quickly joined by the band’s percussionists and guitarists in an exotic sound that evokes visions of sun-bleached Greek shorelines. The group’s vocalist K’noup has a voice that women will find instantly seductive. All the lyrics are in English, thereby distancing the band from traditional ethnic artists even more. Jivan Gasparyan Jr. delivers an intoxicating duduk solo here.


Debke: Percussionists Chris Daniel and Mher Vahakn open the next number with K’noup and the guitarists quickly joining in for a Middle Eastern inspired sound that entrances the listener. Keyboardist Suguru Onaka furthers this feeling along with Gasparyan Jr.’s duduk solos.



Sacred Blessings: The opening chords would feel right at home being pounded out by a metal band, but the under the hands of key player Onaka and bassist Alex Khatcherian, they start the next number in a unique style. Listening to this album with headphones shows off the individual instruments quite well as the mix lets each player shine through.



Wallflower: The Latin feel of this next number is evocative of early Santana. K’noup’s vocals and triple guitar line of Orbel Babayan, Shant Bismejian and Carlos Alvarado combine to create a jazzy pop sound that challenges the listener to keep from getting up and dancing. Guitar aficionados will undoubtedly enjoy the lines which the trio run through the song.



Mediterranean Thief: The duduk of Jivan Gasparyan Jr. takes center stage as the next number begins, followed quickly by distorted rock guitar and the full band in an almost tango-like mode. K’noup’s vocal range and style is quite impressive as he delivers lyrics that make one imagine a dark-eyed Mediterranean temptress who has stolen the protagonist’s heart.



Guilty Pleasures: The album closer features all the players most prominently from the outset, with some cool sounding key flourishes and interwoven guitar runs. These three players trade lines with K’noup like competing voices. A beautiful keyboard and duduk solo from Suguru Onaka and Jivan Gasparyan Jr. makes up the end of the number. It is worth noting here that Gasparyan Jr. is the grandson of Djivan Gasparyan, the legendary duduk player who has lent his talents to Hollywood in films like The Crow and Gladiator. The album is a shorter affair, but the band has another plus an EP of more music to explore and simply hearing Visa’s unique sound is well worth the trip.

By Rick Damigella - Music Street Journal


"Associated Students Rock the Quad with Visa"

With their infusion of English lyrics and Latin/Mediterranean rhythm, the hip swaying nostalgic style world music band, Visa, put on a performance for Santa Monica College students and staff alike during Tuesday's activity hour.

Tuesday afternoon was full of buzz and enjoyment as the Associated Students organized an event featuring the experimental world music of Visa, performed live for hundreds of students in front of the newly built quad.

The performance lasted for the duration of activity hour, as students munched on tasty baklava dessert while listening to the soulful Middle Eastern style tunes.

Visa, comprised of members with Armenian, Greek, Japanese and Puerto Rican backgrounds, was formed in 2000 when K'noup started the group while playing in his hometown of Astoria, a sub-section of Queens, New York.

The members include Orbel Babayan, lead guitarist, Shant Bismejian, electric guitarist, Alex Khatcherian, bassist, Suguru Onaka, keyboards, Chris Daniel, percussions, Hiram Rosario, drums, Jivan Gasparyan Jr., world music instrumentalist, and K'noup, lead vocalist.

"We're eight guys each bringing in a piece of our background to create such an exquisite blend of music that anyone can enjoy," said K'noup, lead vocalist of the band.

"Originally, the project started eight years ago when I played back home in Astoria," said K'noup. "But the band really took to new heights when all of us came together four years ago."

Aside from K'noup, who garnered his Mediterranean style vocals from his native country Greece, all the band members are local L.A. residents.

"All of us can relate to the music we're playing because of our background and our experiences," said lead guitarist, Orbel Babayan. "We just hope that everyone can enjoy and feel the rhythm of our music."
The A.S., SMC's student body government, organized Tuesday's event with limited amount of time and notice.

"We just put this event together in a little less than a week, but this is such a great event," said Raphael Sisa, A.S. Director of Activities. "I just want see more multi-cultural bands and events take place here at SMC."

Raphael, among others on the board of A.S., organized the event as a string of other up-coming events to promote the A.S. as much as possible.

"We're planning on using the new quad as much as we can and to create a community base between the students and the A.S. board," said Sisa. "We're planning and hoping to have events spilling out of the pores of this place."

Tuesday's event drew in so much attention that for a good 10 minutes or so, the enormous crowd of students gathered around to see the band and mingle with several A.S. staff members, blocked off the entire walkway of the quad.

For years the A.S. have been alienated by most of the student body due to a lack of communication and interest. But this year, all of that will change by the recently elected A.S. president, David Chun, and his newly appointed staff who have been proactively reaching out to the students.

"Our mission here today is to get the students attention and interest in the A.S.," said A.S. Vice president, Jafet Santiago.

With the new staff trying to get more supporters, and the student body seemingly more interested in campus events, the A.S. board sees a future of greater things to come on the horizon.

"We're very excited to see so many people gathering around our event today," said Santiago. "Honestly, I thought we would only get about a hundred people today. But as you can see, the turn-out far exceeded my imagination."

They hope that their next event will garner as many people as it did today.

The next event held on October 16th, Rock the Vote, will feature representatives from both the McCain and Obama campaigns who will speak to the students on behalf of their parties respectively.

Sisa stressed the issue to have more people involved with A.S. activities.

"I'm encouraging more people to stop by and attend meetings at the A.S. office located above the Cayton Center," said Sisa. "The new A.S. website will be launched within the next three weeks, but in the meantime students can contact us at events.associatedstudents@gmail.com."

"From what it looks like today, I can't wait to see what Raphael has in store for us in the future," said Santiago.

All students who showed up at the event truly showed great amounts of enthusiasm and interest of the band, and were really positive towards the A.S.

Noah Rinsky, a new student at SMC from Colorado, said, "It's pretty incredible to see how they put up an event like this in such short notice."

For more information on the band, check out their official website at Myspace.com/visa.

To purchase any of their music or to see their complete discography check out the iTunes© music store.
- Santa Monica College Corsair Newspaper


"K'noup the musical ambassador of passageways to distant lands"

From the corner of my eye, I can see him sitting there in the coffee shop, deeply intertwined in his book, wearing sunglasses. For a moment, there is something very John Lennon about him, he is at peace, content and reading; not at all the man I'm expecting. This is K'noup, the mastermind behind, what was only a side project at first called VISA, now the object of his infatuation.
Born to a humble Greek family, the Tomopoulos' jumped on a ship from Kastoria Greece, to New York in '77, following a trend to the US. Through his birth, Pete, now known as K'noup, has had instilled in him a very deep connection to his homeland, its people and the solitude of its serene mountains. Now in his thirties, he reminisces about his upward battle for acceptance from his family and friends for being a musician. Around the age of fifteen, out of no where, he boldly announced to his mother that he was going to be a singer and was greeted by the voice of reason stating at he didn't have his father's voice, but his mother's and could not sing. Rejection from family and impressionable figures have fueled K'noup's desire to be a success. Realistically, what he does is not a profession by choice, but something that's in his blood, which he is obliged to honor.
Being a member of two bands is no easy task, but K'noup has managed to mend two different styles of music into his palette. While living in New York, Neurobox (his metal band) became deeply scarred by the aftermath of 9/11 as the city grew to be ghost like with no one interested in the nightlife. The band reached a conclusion to shift to Los Angeles and since, they have had the privilege of a very receptive city welcoming them. In fact, K'noup speaks of how the audiences in the two places differ greatly, with LA being more gracious, while New York, a bit more reserved.
As we continue to talk about his life, it becomes evident that this man is an old soul. He's authentic in who he is, not at all jaded by the musician's lifestyle. His nickname comes from some friends who saw him perform in Neurobox and claimed that Pete was like a mosquito, and that they itched for more every time they saw him perform. K'noup, in Greek, is slang for mosquito, so now upon introduction; Pete refers to himself as K'noup.
In 2005, VISA was born. K'noup and its co-founder, Johnny Nice, naturally agreed to name the band VISA, purely due to how their world music serves to be a passport for people to go anywhere on the globe. He calls their melodies "a passage place for every culture without shame". Their recent album titled Maktub is named after a modest concept from Paulo Coelho's famed book, The Alchemist, which states that all is written. Reminiscent of the boy Santiago from the book, K'noup is aware of his calling, following his personal legend. It seems that yes in fact, the universe is truly conspiring in his favor, for it's rare to realize your path, even more rare to take that leap, having nothing but love, understanding, and support that eventually follow.
VISA's music is the soundtrack of the hilltops and churches of Andalusia, a back drop to Santiago's journey, to K'noup's journey. The songs of Maktub have been thoughtfully crafted into the album, each playing a crucial role to the whole. VISA's music effortlessly captivates your soul with the haunting sound of the duduk played by the famed Jivan Gasparyan Jr. Orbel Babayan, Shant Bismejian, and Carlos Alvarado tease your senses with their tantalizing talent on the electric guitar. Equally complimenting are the rest of the members, Alex Katcherian, Suguru Onaka, Chris Daniel, and Hiram Rosario. When the band performs, there is an extraordinary feeling of calm and harmony, as if they've been doing this together all their lives. Even though each member comes from a very different cultural background as well as age group, their style and being merge together rather organically.
As we near the end of our interview, K'noup only has words of praise, love, and respect for his band mates, at their astounding talent, friendship and individuality. His majestic wishes for the band are for them to be a part of the grand scheme of things, a musical movement, which isn't too far out of reach. Each song is a journey, giving us a glimpse into the mischievous and remarkable life of its mystical ambassador. Some are about the deeper things in life such as finding meaning and answers, while another about the infamous midnight drive that includes a lovely union between a man and a woman that he knows. Break out the Violins talks of the dramatic woman that drives him crazy while Lady Luck highlights the beauty of a relationship that has taken all his troubles away. For more information about VISA's upcoming shows and merchandise, visit www.experiencevisa.com.
By: Tenny Hovsepians
- LA2Day.com


"Visa brings world music to Neomeze"

Visa brings world music to Neomeze
By John Sollenberger


Since its opening last year, NeoMeze has offered a cool alternative to other nightlife options in Old Pasadena. Late-night dining with a Mediterranean flair, a roomy patio area and frequent live entertainment make it popular in a city full of hot destinations. Tuesday night, you can get a taste of what the place is all about and hear a top world music act at the same time when Visa comes in for a special show. The performance is hosted by the nonprofit Armenian General Benevolent Union Young Professionals of Los Angeles. A portion of the proceeds benefits the Karabagh Chamber Orchestra.

Visa grew out of New York band Neurobox, some of whose members left the city in search of more creative environs. They found it in LA, as the group grew to nine and took the new name. Group mastermind K’noup blends Bowie-esque vocals with 12-string acoustic guitar. The music, fusing Middle Eastern rhythms with folk, Arabic, Greek and Armenian traditions, updates sounds of the past with modern sensibilities. The sounds of the duduk, an ancient flute, pervade the music, played by Jivan Gasparyan Jr., grandson of the legendary duduk master Djivan Gasparyan. Visa members’ distinct cultural roots intertwine to produce a masterful blend of multi-ethnic sound.

Music starts at 9 p.m. Tuesday at NeoMeze, 20 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Call (626) 793-3010.

- Pasadena Weekly


Discography

• Visa (EP, 2005)
• Visa & Friends (Compilation, 2006)
• Maktub (LP, 2006)
• De Facto (EP, 2007)
• Eros (LP, 2008)
• Made in Chernobyl (LP, 2010)
• Bake me in Clouds (Single, 2011)
• Carnivalia (LP, 2011)

Photos

Bio

Viza has captivated the global music scene with erratically amusing blend of international rock.
In 2010, Viza supported System of a Down frontman Serj Tankian’s solo tour in Europe, in the cities of Yerevan, Athens, Hamburg, Cologne, Paris, Zurich and Bologna. “Viza is one of the most unique and interesting bands I have ever encountered. Their live shows are energetic and fun," describes Serj Tankian. Viza was invited back to Europe in 2011to perform at the Rockwave Festival in Athens, Greece, a headline show in Paris, France and Malmofestivalen in Malmo, Sweden.

Viza’s extensive performances at home in Southern California, the East Coast, Canada and Europe also serve as their voice for promoting social consciousness of human rights and community issues. Formerly known as Visa, the band released two EPs and two full length albums, along with a award winning music video. In the De Facto and Eros albums, the music is pervaded by sonorities taken from Arabic, Armenian and Greek traditions blended with elements of rock and dance. In the Made in Chernobyl, Russian and Eastern European styles and themes take center stage.

Carnivalia is Viza’s most animated album, a journey through a theme park derived from satirical to dramatic influences. Recorded by Jared Lee Gosselin (D12, Macy Gray) at Frank Zappa’s UMRK Studios, Viza’s third full length album is inspired from System of a Down’s notorious screams and riffs and Gogol Bordello’s multi-cultural rhapsodies. Carnivalia is “the strangest show on earth” where “Everybody wants Money!” and the “Magic Ladder” to god is but an illusion.

To launch the release of Carnivalia in January 2012, Viza will embark on a European tour of Cologne, Frankfurt, Munich, and Hamburg in Germany, Turino, Italy, Budapest, Hungary and Paris, France.

The Band Members:

K’noup – voice, 12 string acoustic guitar
Born in Kastoria, Greece, K’noup is the mastermind behind the music and lyrics. K’noup orchestrates the band flawlessly as if they have been playing together all their life. He is part villain, part renaissance romantic. Founder of Neurobox, a mature metal band with a wordly Dimmu Borgiesque bent, he moved to LA from NYC after 9/11. Knoup meaning mosquito in Greek was a nickname given by friends who itched for more every time they saw him perform.

Orbel Babayan – electric guitar, tar, saz
Orbel grew up in a house of musicians. He plays the guitar and the tar and tours with international Persian singer Andy. Orbel was impressed by Viza’s musical qualities and unique arrangements. He contributes different instrumental melodies to Viza’s music. Orbel performed with Rama Duke in the Warped Tour 2007.

Shant Bismejian – electric guitar, bouzouki
Shant picked up his first guitar when he was six. He grew up listening to his grandfather and father playing the oud, an ancient Arabic string instrument. After a few jam sessions with K’noup, Shant knew he could contribute his unique perspective to Viza. Shant has become an integral part of the creative process with Viza. His musical talent is also expressed in his other band, Ed. At the same time, Shant is learning the music industry while working at an independent record label.

Andrew Kzirian - oud
With years of experience on the east coast's vibrant music scene, Andrew has performed on the oud in a wide spectrum of musical genres from rock and metal to middle eastern folk and classical music. Andrew strives to contribute to Visa's creative energy through the use of the oud, providing insightful improvisation and dynamics for the group. Andrew is also an accomplished attorney and human rights activist.

Alex Khatcherian – bass
Everyone agrees that Alex is all smiles. In 2001 at a System of a Down concert, he realized he wanted to perform in front of large crowds. Alex was a member of Neurobox and then naturally moved along with Viza. Having a full load as a biology major at UCSB, he drives to LA every week to practice with the band. Alex also sings for Ed, his punk band. If he is not hitting the books or playing the bass, he is playing poker with his buddies.


Chris Daniel - percussion
At the age of 20, Chris is the youngest and newest addition to the band. Chris has been playing the drums since he was 7. Two nights before a big Viza show, Chris was asked to play the hand percussion having only had six months of experience. His performance was so phenomenal that he became the pulse of the band.

Hiram Rosario – drums
From NYC, Hiram played beat box/hip hop on the streets, drummed to rappers. He met K’noup while working at catering business and felt an immediate chemistry. Nirvana’s Dave Grohl is Hiram’s greatest inspiration. When he is not drumming, he manages a specialty automotive bookstore. His metal past and sense of humor influence his creativity in Viza.