“I don't need your company to feel saved,” sings Azniv Korkejian on Solitary Daughter.
The sweeping and self-possessed soliloquy off her self-titled debut album is a declaration of defiance against the recurring “male saviour” trope. It sure is timely as a growing number of women stand up to reclaim their spaces and their voices.
“It’s definitely inspired by a person I was romantically involved with,” says the singer and guitarist, better known as Bedouine. “It was a very confusing involvement and something snapped in me where the illusion shattered. I realised: ‘Oh, I don’t need this. I don’t need any bit of it’. And it felt like I was shedding skin when I was writing that. So the song just kind of poured out of me.”
The show-stopping track, which was cut on Korkejian’s first take, is just the singer and her pawnshop-bought Silvertone acoustic guitar, save for a smattering of orchestral flourishes. Its quiet intimacy and self-assurance harks back to the vintage folk of Nick Drake, Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell.
“There were a lot of beautiful, lilting melodies back then,” Korkejian says of that era. She particularly loves the warmth and texture those songs had, a rarity in the age of slick digital production. “You do have to ask yourself if you’re being derivative when your music evokes a lot of ’60s and ’70s music, but I think the tone has a lot to do with it, and that’s just something I prefer; the sound of tape and the sound of the equipment from that era.”
Korkejian’s origin story is a fitting tale for a rambling folk singer. Especially one named after the nomadic tribes of the Middle East. Born in Aleppo, Syria, to Armenian parents, she grew up in an American compound (where her father worked as an electrician) in Saudi Arabia before her family upped stumps to the US by way of a green card lottery. She passed through Boston, Houston, Austin and Savannah before settling in hip Los Angeles neighbourhood Echo Park – for now, anyway.
“It’s definitely the longest I’ve been anywhere in my adult life,” she says from her LA apartment on a sunny winter’s day. “This is a great place, I think, to put down roots. But it has its challenges. The neighbourhood has changed so rapidly. It’s become so expensive so quickly … sometimes I fantasise about getting out of the city and going into the desert. Though I’m not really sure how I would do, if that would feel isolating after being somewhere like LA.”
Korkejian’s music is transportive. The idea of passage – across time and place – seeps into each song: the call of someone for whom home is everywhere and nowhere. Her newest song, Louise, released on the deluxe edition of her debut album, is about her family’s decision about whether or not to stay in or flee war-torn Syria. It’s sung entirely in Armenian.
“It’s funny, I couldn’t even tell you,” she says of her motivation to sing in her parent tongue. “Maybe I was listening to a lot of bossa nova and Astrid Gilberto … thinking, ‘I could probably take advantage of knowing a second language’.
“That subject had been weighing on my mind as well,” she says of the song’s lyrical inspiration. “I have family in Syria still who were there throughout the war. Thankfully, everything has settled down since, but there was a time that I didn’t quite understand why they were staying in harm’s way. I stayed with that long enough to sympathise and empathise that you can’t just pick up everything and expect to be able to get back on your feet. Some of my family did leave, but some of them didn’t feel as comfortable doing that.”
Displacement is a topic we keep coming back to. It’s hard to avoid when chatting to the itinerant artist. She describes her move from Saudi Arabia to the US as “jarring”, though concedes: “In some ways, I felt like I was primed for [it].
“Living in an American compound, going to an American school, English was more or less my first language." Still, after spending the first 10 years of her life in a gated community, the vast metropolis of Boston was something of a culture shock. “Because we lived in an American compound, you didn’t really have a sense of what life really was for women outside of [it],” says Korkejian. “It felt really insular and protected. When I was in Massachusetts, when we weren’t living in a neighborhood that was gated, I felt really vulnerable.”
These days Korkejian works as a music editor in Hollywood – she recently worked on Kumail Nanjiani’s autobiographical rom-com The Big Sick. A possible byproduct of her day job, Korkejian’s own music has a cinematic quality – not grand or epic in scale but quiet and intimate and revealing (the swoony, elegiac ebb and flow of highly re-playable album track Dusty Eyes could easily soundtrack a tale of lost love). It makes you sit up, lean in close and listen.
“I just really love the quiet,” says Korkejian. “I love things that are really simple and have so much space in them. To me the perfect balance of something that’s simple but also really melodic. I think that might sum up how I like writing.”
It might also sum up how she likes to live her life.
“Leave me alone to the books and the radio snow,” she repeats on Solitary Daughter. “I don’t want your pity, concern, or your scorn. I’m calm by my lonesome I feel right at home.”
Bedouine Tour Dates:
Wed March 7 – Cake Wines Cellar Door, Redfern
Thu March 8 – Northcote Social Club, Northcote
Sat March 10 – Womadelaide, Botanic Park
Sun March 11 – Womadelaide, Botanic Park