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Visa

De Facto

Review by Rick Damigella

When a band combines elements of traditional world music in a modern music setting it can often produce magical results. Such is the case with the band Visa, a group of nine musicians from Los Angeles on their second album De Facto. The band is heavy on percussion, features a trio of electric guitarists and a duduk player (a traditional woodwind instrument prevalent in Middle Eastern and Balkan music). Their combined sound is quite unlike anything you will hear from other artists.

Visa’s blend of traditional music styles with modern instrumentation and sensibilities makes for a wholly original sound that is all at once passionate, exotic, entertaining and musically spiritual. Calling this “ethnic music” would be inaccurate as it is far less traditional than many world music artists tend to sound to be tied with that epithet. As you listen you will detect elements of rock, jazz, pop, and even metal-inspired chord progressions wrapped up in a Mediterranean/Armenian/Middle Eastern fused wrapping. The band offers all of its music for sale through its website and their previous album is on iTunes, so if you have an ear for adventure, grab your musical passport and get it stamped with Visa.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
To The Gods
Drummer Hiram Rosario counts in the band with a unique rhythm and is quickly joined by the band’s percussionists and guitarists in an exotic sound that evokes visions of sun-bleached Greek shorelines. The group’s vocalist K’noup has a voice that women will find instantly seductive. All the lyrics are in English, thereby distancing the band from traditional ethnic artists even more. Jivan Gasparyan Jr. delivers an intoxicating duduk solo here.
Debke
Percussionists Chris Daniel and Mher Vahakn open the next number with K’noup and the guitarists quickly joining in for a Middle Eastern inspired sound that entrances the listener. Keyboardist Suguru Onaka furthers this feeling along with Gasparyan Jr.’s duduk solos.
Sacred Blessings
The opening chords would feel right at home being pounded out by a metal band, but the under the hands of key player Onaka and bassist Alex Khatcherian, they start the next number in a unique style. Listening to this album with headphones shows off the individual instruments quite well as the mix lets each player shine through.
Wallflower
The Latin feel of this next number is evocative of early Santana. K’noup’s vocals and triple guitar line of Orbel Babayan, Shant Bismejian and Carlos Alvarado combine to create a jazzy pop sound that challenges the listener to keep from getting up and dancing. Guitar aficionados will undoubtedly enjoy the lines which the trio run through the song.
Mediterranean Thief
The duduk of Jivan Gasparyan Jr. takes center stage as the next number begins, followed quickly by distorted rock guitar and the full band in an almost tango-like mode. K’noup’s vocal range and style is quite impressive as he delivers lyrics that make one imagine a dark-eyed Mediterranean temptress who has stolen the protagonist’s heart.
Guilty Pleasures
The album closer features all the players most prominently from the outset, with some cool sounding key flourishes and interwoven guitar runs. These three players trade lines with K’noup like competing voices. A beautiful keyboard and duduk solo from Suguru Onaka and Jivan Gasparyan Jr. makes up the end of the number. It is worth noting here that Gasparyan Jr. is the grandson of Djivan Gasparyan, the legendary duduk player who has lent his talents to Hollywood in films like The Crow and Gladiator. The album is a shorter affair, but the band has another plus an EP of more music to explore and simply hearing Visa’s unique sound is well worth the trip.
Napster, LLC
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