Written by Barry O’Sullivan
Carving out a unique, variegated musical niche
Born in Beirut, of Armenian heritage, Zela Margossian began studying piano at four years of age when her mother bought her an upright piano. Zela was overwhelmed by its size as the removal men maneuvered it up the tiny stairwell to their apartment.
“It was huge to a four-year-old and my journey commenced then,” she said. “Throughout the war, while we were sheltering in the basement, I would go up during a ceasefire and practice every day.”
Her musical studies continued onward to higher levels, graduating from Hamazkaine’s Parsegh Ganatchian Musical College, and then continuing her musical studies at the Lebanese Higher State Conservatory. At the same time, she broadened her education in English literature at Haigazian University. Upon earning her B.A. degree in English literature, she re-located to Armenia to further her musical studies at the Yerevan Komitas State Conservatory in the class of the renowned pianist and professor Vili Sargsyan. In 2007, Zela earned her Master’s degree in Piano Performance from the Yerevan Komitas State Conservatory in Armenia.
During her years studying in Armenia, Zela developed a great passion for Armenian ethno-jazz music that she discovered in the local music venues of the capital.
“My experiences in Armenia consolidated everything I had learned in Lebanon at the Lebanese Armenian schools that I attended, there,” said Zela. “After the Soviet regime ended there was more musical freedom, so the musicians in Armenia started fusing their folk music with jazz. This is the music I fell in love with.”
After moving to Australia, she embarked on a new journey of nurturing her passion for jazz and enrolled in the Sydney Conservatorium’s Improvisation Course. It was there that she was encouraged by her mentor, Judy Bailey OAM, to incorporate her ethnic music into her jazz improvisations. Zela was delighted with the response from audiences and was encouraged to form her own jazz quintet in 2017.
Performance highlights for the Quintet have included participation in the Sydney International Jazz Women’s Festival in 2017,2019 and 2020, a tour to Lebanon taking part in the Beirut International Jazz Day Festival in 2018, a couple of key performances in the SIMA (Sydney Improvised Music Association) Jazz Programs as well as performances at Foundry 616 Jazz Club in Ultimo and Old 505 Theatre venue in Newtown.
The Zela Margossian Quintet has also performed on tour in Australia to Canberra, Melbourne, Hobart, and New Zealand.
In 2019 their debut album Transition received an ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Association) Award in the Best World Music Album category.
Zela together with co-composer saxophonist Jeremy Rose has also been commissioned by the Australian Music Fund, in collaboration with the ABC, to create a new work to celebrate the diversity and range within the Australian musical sphere.
“Our new work called Nar, Hymns of New Hope, takes inspiration from the Armenian goddess of water, sea, and rain. It’s music that offers hope into the world and a celebration of new beginnings” said Zela
Zela and Jeremy were chosen along with twenty-five other composers out of the 486 applicants to The Fund.
This is truly an exciting musical journey for emerging artist Zela Margossian to continue upon whilst carving out a unique, variegated musical niche.