BY: CHRISTINE SOUSSA
Armenians love music, turn on music anywhere, anytime and, regardless of what they are doing, Armenians will start to move with the music and will likely hum or sing-along. From Sharakans (traditional Armenian liturgical songs) to popular folk songs and modern songs, Armenians have a deep rooted love for music. The power of Song is such a strong form of communication. Words sung, melodies hummed evoke emotion and connectivity that transcend generations. Particularly among children who love to learn through play.
The importance of music cannot be disputed. Music development can be seen in the brain and helps facilitate learning in areas including singing, language development and even helps increase IQ. Music is critical in keeping cultural traditions and knowledge alive.
Songs heard and learned from childhood, such as a mother’s gentle lullaby, a hymnal or familiar song invoke comfort and belonging. For Armenians music has a special place in our Oral Tradition. Armenians living in the diaspora are dispersed globally; while dialects may be mixed, the importance of the Armenian heritage and culture substance. Armenian music suffered a tremendous loss during the Armenian Genocide. With the 100th Anniversary of the Genocide months away, the importance of keeping our culture alive and passing it along from generation to generation is critical. Taline & Alex Bessos, Owners and Founders of Taline & Friends, are dedicated to making sure children have access to Armenian songs. Worldwide, in any Armenian home with kids, the songs of Taline & Friends can be heard. Whether enjoyed via the DVDs, CDs, YouTube or a live concert, their infections songs bring joy to all their fans. While Taline & Friends are enhancing the development of language and songs through their catchy tunes, their story is much deeper than that…
I had the distinct opportunity to interview Taline & Alex Bessos, founders and creators of Taline & Friends. As a fan and a mother I applaud and thank them for everything they do! They share their story of hard work, their dedication to touching Armenian children worldwide and share heartwarming stories of their international travels.
How did Taline & Friends go global?
“From the beginning we wanted to create a product that kids would want to watch and enjoy. We wanted to make sure that this included all Armenians and all dialects so everyone could hear something familiar and could connect in a tangible way. A lot of how we went viral is a delicate combination of hard work, first mover advantage and market need. With very little marketing we were able to spread worldwide because there was no one entertaining Armenian children through song in a consistent way. We were the first ones to produce such a product and the kids liked it so they kept interacting with us. Eventually word spread. That was a very powerful thing. With minimal marketing and word of mouth through the Armenian community, the Taline & Friends DVDs started to gain more popularity; we started gathering email addresses, set up a web site and began to promote our music online, at various stores and many Armenian schools. At the same time we started to do concerts so we could
connect with the kids on a more personal level and make the business more viable.”
Taline had their first paid concert in 2003, starting in New Jersey, as part of a tour that included San Francisco, Boston and Los Angeles. Their first international concert followed shortly after in 2004 in Canada. Since then, Taline and Alex have traveled the globe to over 50 cities and 12 countries including Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Cyprus, France, Kuwait, Lebanon, the United Kingdom, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay and many more to come.
As Taline’s concerts started to gain popularity, Armenian organizations started to invite them. In 2007 the Armenian Reporter did a beautiful cover story on Taline and one step at a time they developed the brand with love and dedication. Social media has had a powerful impact; Facebook and YouTube have been amazing resources, allowing them to connect with people in places they never dreamed of, as evident in their concert locations. On a daily basis their various YouTube videos get over 20,000 views. Taline & Alex are impressed saying that the impact of social media “has been remarkable. It is through social media that we have been able to establish fan bases and to travel to places that we never imagined. For example, we recently had a concert in Istanbul and the experience was quite powerful. We never realized there was such a vibrant Armenian community in Istanbul. We had 2 concerts each was sold out with an audience of 700 each. It was remarkable to connect with 1,400 Armenians and see all the kids and parents sing our songs.” In fact, just this week they returned from a tour in Armenia. Alex reports that “the trip was amazing.” Taline & Alex have established a fantastic team of professional actors in Armenia that serve as the characters. In 2014 they have had over 15 shows in Armenia.
One outstanding and emotion invoking reality is that our songs also resonate with mentally disabled children. As Taline & Alex share this story, I am moved to tears and get goose bumps: “while in Aleppo we did a small scale concert at the Aregiv Center in Aleppo, it was heartwarming to see challenged Armenian children and adults find pure joy in our songs. Sadly, that center is no longer there because of the current political situation. It has been tear-jerking to see our songs bring joy in times of suffrage and really this is our motivation. Our main goal is to bring happiness to children; that is where we get our satisfaction from. We don’t do it for the money; we do it because we want to make children happy all over the world. Children are our future.”
I am moved by the selfless motivation of their goal, they want to bring Armenian music and joy to Armenian children globally and they have! They really have changed the world by providing access to joyful Armenian music to children and families worldwide. Alex, Taline’s husband was a successful Engineer. Four years ago, he left his corporate career and has since dedicated himself full time to the development of Taline & Friends.
I asked Taline if she was always musical. With a giggle she says “me, musical? Not exactly. In fact I wanted to be a ballerina.” With a BA degree in Early Childhood Education, Taline has always had a deep love for children. She has worked at many preschools and would always sing to the children. Alex has always loved music. Alex says “I used to play in pop music bands, write songs and produce music for various singers and I always wanted to marry someone who could sing so that we could produce music together, but eventually gave up on that dream.” He goes on to share a touching story: “a year after we got married I heard Taline singing in the house and I realized she had a really fantastic voice”. Taline says “I never thought I had an outstanding voice, I always enjoyed singing and would sing with the kids daily at school but I always kept my singing to myself.”
This really changed things for this dynamic couple. After Alex learned that Taline had a nice voice, they decided to do an experiment. They thought it would be fun to make some music as husband and wife; so they did! They rented a small studio and made a CD, they wrote a few songs along with traditional Armenian songs from their childhood. In the end, in 1993 they released their first CD called “Hink Pokrig Tatigner” which includes 18 songs . The CD was sold in Armenian stores and schools which started to promote them. They remember “through word of mouth we started to spread, the numbers were not huge but CDs were selling and it was exciting for us.” Like many fans, I am thrilled that Taline & Alex executed their “experiment” and nurtured their idea so that it would positively impact the world. All their DVDs and CDs can be purchased on their website: http://www.talinemusic.com/
On Bootlegged Music?
Bootlegged music has had a significant impact on the “Taline & Friends” business. It has been both positive and negative. Positive because their songs are distributed in places where distribution would have been unthinkable. Children all over the world can have access to their music ,feel joy and benefit from the productions. However, the larger issue has been bootlegging in their own backyard in Los Angeles and in Canada, because this has had adverse revenue impact that has prevented Taline & Alex from being able to reinvest in the brand and produce new CDs and DVDs. They are exceptionally proud of the 5 DVDs and 9 CDs they have but want to be able to make more and so do their fans!
Back in 1994 they produced their second CD, after more bootlegging and various challenges Taline & Alex share that they were so discouraged, they gave up. Alex started an MBA program, they had 2 kids and life happened. For 8 years they did not produce or distribute any music.
In 2002, when both of their kids started school, Taline started to want to work again, “I wanted to get back into music and make it a focus”. At that time Alex had decided to never touch music again. His focus was on his career and providing for the family. After convincing Alex, they produced and released “Ourakh Or”, like their other releases, the songs were a mix of childhood songs and original songs.
At that point, in 2002 people started asking for DVDs “we had never filmed in front of a camera before” and we had no idea how to make videos. So we learned the entire process. “We started watching kids DVDs and really analyzed every single detail. Since I have a background in engineering, we reverse engineered it to learn what works and what doesn’t, what angles should be used, and from that we developed a list of best practices”. From that came our first DVD “Let’s Sing & Dance”. Alex Directed the production and things started to propel. To learn more, Alex started taking classes at UCLA and one of the speakers spoke about a need for characters when entertaining for kids. So, they put together a team and the characters of the Bunny “Nabig”, the Cat “Piso” and the clown “Dzaghradzoo” came to life. They also wanted to include the kids. They say “This is all about the kids, not about us. We put the kids on platforms and we wanted kids to see other kids having fun while singing and dancing. We put a lot of thought, hard work and love into this.” I am touched by their dedication. Alex shares that during this time he was working full time and also editing video, he says “I would be up editing until 4:00am, then would sleep for a few hours and get up at 9:00am to go to work”.
On filming in front of the camera and performing live:
I am moved by what Taline & Alex have been able to accomplish together. Their experiences and hard work have produced a product that is loved by all. Taline shares the story of the first time they were getting ready to film “I was frozen. I had never been in front of the camera before.” Thus, as a family they started to film Taline a lot, she would watch the footage so she could see, hear and learn about her camera presence. A major contributor was their amazing cameraman Gagik Hambartzumyan, he was very talented in making everyone feel relaxed in front of the camera and that made a tremendous difference. In concerts as well, “there were times when I would get stage fright but through my experiences of working with kids, I know that kids love to learn through play, reminding myself that this is for the kids really helped to ease my nerves.” It’s been a tremendous adventure for Taline & Friends with many more to come.
The message of Taline & Alex is very clear, “through our DVDs and music we want to help make childhood memories happier. We want our young fans to be proud of being Armenian and see our language and our rich culture as cool. Our goal isn’t to teach Armenian but rather to make being an Armenian fun.”
Currently, Taline & Friends has a busy concert schedule including a Northern California concert:
SF Bay Area, October 25 – purchase tickets here
New Jersey, November 1 – purchase tickets here
Philadelphia, November 2 – purchase tickets here
As a Mother, Taline & Friends fan, and businesswoman I applaud Taline & Alex for all their efforts. I hope their fans will continue to support them so they can continue to fill our homes and hearts with joyful music!