1 February 2015
Charles "Chick" Ganimian was born in 1926 in Troy, New York, to Armenian parents who had emigrated from Marash in 1922.
Like many of the figures of in post-War Arab-American music, Ganimian grew up in this country; his father, an Armenian immigrant who'd arrived from Turkey, also played oud, and from an early age the younger Ganimian seems to have been fascinated with the music of his heritage.
Oud is a pear-shaped stringed instrument commonly used in Arabic, Greek, Turkish, Hebrew-Jewish, Somali and Middle Eastern music, and it's construction is similar to that of the lute. It is readily distinguished by its lack of frets and smaller neck, and is considered an ancestor of the guitar. According to Farabi, the renowned scientist, cosmologist, musician and philosopher of the Islamic Golden Age, the oud was invented by Lamech, the sixth grandson of Adam.
The legend tells that the grieving Lamech hung the body of his dead son from a tree. The first oud was inspired by the shape of his son's bleached skeleton. It has ten strings (five pairs tuned in unison), and sounds like a hoarse low pitched guitar.
In the mid-'30s, the Ganimian family moved to New York City. In the late '40s Chick Ganimian first formed the "Nor-Ikes Orchestra", a group largely comprised of Armenian musicians, with "Steve Boghossian", "Eddie Malkasian", "Aram Davidian", and "Souren Baronian". The "Nor-Ikes Orchestra" was one of the first to consciously revive the music for mixed audiences, playing various social engagements for the broader Arab-American community.
Well regarded early on as an oud player, Ganimian did not record as prolifically as some of his peers. He was nothing if not bold about exploring different forms, however. A modest (and surprising) pop hit in 1958, his "Daddy Lolo (Oriental Rock'n'Roll)" / "Halvah", was crossover (East West EW 2879) rock'n'roll at its weirdest.
"Come With Me to the Casbah" / "My Funny Valentine" single (ATCO 6142) was released in 1958; its spoken word bits are straight Orientalist hokum but its fine solos and terrific arrangement still make for a fun experience. The selection would see release on a full-length album, also entitled "Come With Me to the Casbah" (ATCO 33-107), that was released the same year on "Atco Records", sister label to R&B and Jazz giant "Atlantic Records".
That album, recorded over the course of several sessions in 1957 and 1958, is an unusual and fascinating artifact, a mix of a slightly updated dances from the Arabic world, East-West Rock'n'roll novelties and fairly faithful readings of American standards performed on regional instruments.
The 1958 session that produced "Come With Me to the Casbah" featured an interesting roster. Not only did Ganimian's longtime compadres in the "Nor-Ikes Orchestra" – "Steve Bogoshian" (clarinet), "Ed Malkasian" (percussion), "Aram Davidan" (dumbek) and "Souren -Sudan- Baronian" (tenor sax) – participate in the session, but they were joined by Anglo Jazz musicians "Al Schackman" (guitar), "Peter Ind" (bass guitar), "Dick Palazzolo" (drums) and "Peter Franco" (drums)
"John Berberian" and trumpet player and percussionist "Roger Mozian" would enjoy as much overlap with the jazz world in the '50s and '60s.
Unfortunately, Chick's dependence on alcohol had a debilitating effect on his ability to earn a living, and later on his health. Ganimian died in late 1989 while a resident of the Armenian Nursing Home in northern New Jersey.