Bedouine review – a wandering star is born

The Islington, London
LA-based singer-songwriter Azniv Korkejian writes beguiling folk songs with a granite core, delivered with subtle authority

There have always been talented singers and nice tunes; while some artists are all about virtuosity, others rely on atmosphere. It’s rare, however, to stumble across such a beguiling confluence of voice, delivery, song-writing and vibes as you find in Bedouine, a mesmerising 33-year-old folk singer, still a cult act but deserving of much wider acclaim.

When she walks on stage in this pub back room, the LA-dweller actually resembles a character from central Hollywood casting. She wears an intricately embroidered woollen dress – the wrong choice, it turns out, for a sweltering box like this – and round Lennon specs; her wavy tresses have no discernible end. It’s as though the sleeve of a rare 60s album has come alive in front of you.

Long, spidery fingers pluck the opening strings of her opening song, You Kill Me, with ease. It’s about wandering – a huge theme in Bedouine’s music. The room falls into a humid hush. Stripped of the sublime Spacebomb studios orchestrations that adorned her self-titled debut album, released in June, there is, equally, now nowhere for her to hide. As song after song unfurls, it becomes clear that Bedouine needs no shelter. Direct and unfussy, her voice can also be feather-light, but it is always imbued with the kind of authority that you wish more women with acoustic guitars aspired to: the feeling, as with Joni Mitchell, that they are sages imparting hard wisdom direct from the source.

Tonight, Bedouine sounds nothing like Mitchell – her songs take place octaves lower and stray into mellifluous country (One of These Days) or even warm bossa nova – but there is a core of granite to them. When she sings sweetly about doubt (as on Mind’s Eye) or about tiptoeing around a lover (as on Nice and Quiet), there is no sense of submissiveness, just self-possession. Her songs often deal with love, but never in martyrdom; they are full of conclusions arrived at from observation and so-dry-you-miss-it humour. All these time-honoured concerns come out sounding like retro caresses, but Bedouine’s turns of phrase are often fresh; her eyebrow can arch. “California city parks,” she sings on Back to You, “they talk in exclamation marks/ I am still dying to know what’s exciting.” She plays an untitled new song and wipes sweat from her face with the flared sleeve she can’t roll up. “I feel like an athlete,” she deadpans, when someone hands her a towel.

Bedouine named herself after the nomadic Arab people, in keeping with her own peripatetic life. Born in Aleppo of Armenian origin – she would be a shoo-in if you were casting the young, folkie Cher – Azniv Korkejian grew up in Saudi Arabia and attended international schools before a green card lottery landed her family in the US in her teens. When she is not Bedouine, Korkejian is a film and dialogue editor for film and TV; her latest CV point was The Big Sick, the autobiographical romcom starring Kumail Nanjiani. Keen to self-record to tape, Korkejian met analogue engineer Gus Seyffert (Norah Jones, Beck, Roger Waters) and, over a number of years of downtime, they demoed the songs that would become her debut. Lured in by the lovely, Spacebomb-produced Natalie Prass album of 2015, those songs eventually found a natural home at the Virginia studio-cum-label run by Matthew E White.

Watch the video for Solitary Daughter by Bedouine.

You don’t want to assume too much about someone with family in Syria, but even as it draws from obviously Anglo-American traditions, Bedouine’s music seems informed by a greater-than-average understanding of change, sorrow and the relative importance of things. In interviews, she has revealed how she shares her small place in LA with a large alsatian called Hans and few possessions. She has also expressed a desire to play sousaphone for Solange.

One of the night’s standouts, Solitary Daughter sounds like autobiography of the best kind: elliptical, but clear in its declaration of independence. “I don’t need your company to feel saved,” she sings. “I don’t need objects to keep or to pawn.” Shortly after, one fan has to be helped to a seat, literally swooning. It’s unclear whether it’s just the heat.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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