Anna Karapetian. – “Every song is in the air. You just have to know where to pick it up”. Following your short and wise formula you already prepared your 52nd album and started your next tour. What song list can the audience expect at the concert here in Prague?
Charles Aznavour . – A few new songs, and of course all the songs the public expects me t sing. You have to know and respect your public and give them what they want.
Hakob Asatrian. – Although this April will be the third time you come to Prague, it will be your first concert here. Your concert scheduled in 1968 did not take place because of Jan Palach’s self-immolation. What are your memories of the Czech Republic and its capital? Why did it take you quite some time before your return to Prague…?
Charles Aznavour. – The show was cancelled because of Jan Palach’s suicide . They were sad times, what Jan describes in his letters. These tragic events are always difficult to bear, when they affect youth. But most people don’t know that despite the fact that my concertwas cancelled, I returned to Prague for his funeral.As far as coming back to Prague, we had a lot of offers over the years but the last one looked serious with good people, so I said yes, because I love Prague and the Czech people.
AK. – Your fame, success laurels, love and awards you have today, have NOT been easily achieved. Now, after so many years, when you not only have reached the top of Olympus but live there for decades now, do you have the answer as why the press and radio stations boycotted, ignored or severely criticized you at the time?
Charles Aznavour. – Yes. It was quite hard at the beginning, I was criticized for everything, my voice, my height, the way I looked, the type of songs I was writing, I was censored with my song “Après L’amour ” as it was declared too sexually explicit!!! I was told I would never make it, that I should quit, but I never gave up, and you see at the end, the public has chosen, and I am still here after 80 years on stage!!!
HA. – In 2001 you were in Prague for a second time for the shooting of the French film “Angelina,” directed by Claude d’Anna. At the time, in a short interview with our magazine, you stated that you will gradually limit/restrict the number of concerts you do to one or two concerts a month. 15 years have passed. How much has your work schedule changed?
Charles Aznavour . – I do work less, and I choose what I do and where I go! I still do 30/40 shows a year in larger venues all over the world but the days of doing 3 shows a day and 150 concerts a year are over. Don’t forget at the end of May I will be 92 years old!
AK. – Through a random concert moderator’s random mistake, the Pierre Roche – Charles Aznavour best-known duet was born, which had a continuously successful life for 8 years. Would you know of any other events of pure chance, which have been a great turning point or played an equally crucial role in your life?
Charles Aznavour . – Despite the difficulties I’ve been very lucky and blessed! Between the amazing people I met, things I did that open up amazing opportunities , my meeting with Piaf, the concert in the Alhambra in Paris , my meeting with George Garvarentz who became my favorite collaborator and my brother in law, the first
Carnegie hall in New York, the Albert hall in London, Francois Truffaut, Jean Cocteau, and many many more!
AK. – Many artists sing and sang your songs. Who surprised you the most
Charles Aznavour . – I have been extremely fortunate that my songs have been sung
by amazing artists, such as Elton John, Sting, Celine Dion, Placido Domingo, Bob Dylan, Julio Iglesias, Edith Piaf, Maurice Chevalier, Charles Trenet, Sammy Davis, Fred Astaire, Ray Charles, and many more. They all bring their own personality and I like it when people try something different with my songs.
AK. – You always say that the lyrics come first, that the word message is more important. But millions of your fans love your songs without understanding even a word from the lyrics. Is this a strange contradiction or a paradox for you?
Charles Aznavour . – I am the first and the only singer-songwriter that demanded that
his songs be translated, telling the same stories in every language. So French, English, Spanish, Italian, German… I think we have covered a big chunk of the world!! The rest is either the music or the interpretation , who knows?
AK. – Different sources give different numbers of your songs, from 600+ to 1200+. Would you please clarify how many songs you have written and are there lost ones, that you never recorded, and now don’t remember the music of?
Charles Aznavour . – It is closer to 1200!! I am very well organized, everything is classified , no lost songs as I record all my working sessions.
AK. – Your LAUTREC musical, devoted to Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was
presented in London in 2000, and afterwards in 2015 it was performed on Broadway under the name “My Paris”. Is “Lautrec” and “My Paris” exactly
the same musical, and why is it not presented in Paris?
Charles Aznavour . – “My Paris” is back in the US in May and I am going to the opening and we hope to come to Broadway in 2017. And no, the libretto is new by the writer of Driving Miss Daisy, new direction, new choreography, 70 percent of the songs are the same but with new lyrics , it is a different show!! It may come to Paris at a later date.
AK. – In essence, you started your artistic career through various plays. You, thank God, live with a vibrant, creative professional life, but lately we do not hear of Aznavour’s new roles. Do they not offer you roles, are they not interesting for you, what is the reason?
Charles Aznavour . – I receive proposals constantly, but I turn everything down. I am old school and I need to learn my parts by heart, and after a certain age to remember pages and pages becomes very difficult!! I know some actors have an earpiece, but I can’t act with someone whispering my text in my ear!!
AK. – In one of your interviews, you had mentioned that there is something you would like to talk to Atom Egoyan about, a story where you saw a role for you as well. What story is this, have you discussed it?
Charles Aznavour . – A script I wrote. I will talk to Atom about it. Nothing more to say at this stage.
AK. – Director Edmond Bensimon paid a cinematic tribute to you with a fiction film “Emmenez moi”, about adventures of a fan of yours. Unfortunately we haven’t had the chance to watch that film but don’t you think that YOUR LIFE STORY ITSELF is a wonderful film-scenario ?
Charles Aznavour . – There’s been talks about it… maybe after I’m gone ?
HA. – Armenia occupies a special place in your life, and especially after the 1988 earthquake, you began a vast movement of support and social activities. Throughout the years, what kind of projects were you able to implement in Armenia?
Charles Aznavour . – We raised millions with our song “Pour toi Armenie.” We built many things and helped the local population. I am now starting another foundation just to help Armenia.
HA. – Recently, information appeared in the media that you support 19 homeless families in Gyumri through a support and action program. It has been nearly 28 years since the earthquake. Governments change, but the lives of the people don’t. What do you think should be done to solve the issues of social living conditions of the people there, as well as help with the situation of Syrian Armenian refugees?
Charles Aznavour . – I offered to take Armenian families displaced from the Syrian
war and re-located in some French villages. I am seeing French President Hollande in April and I will mention it to him. The fate of the Christians in some parts of the Middle East has terrible echoes to what happens to the Armenians in 1915!
HA. – Did you easily agree to become the Armenian Ambassador to Switzerland? During these past years, what has been achieved in Armenia-Switzerland relations thanks to your personlity?
Charles Aznavour . – I am not a politician and I try to use my notoriety to help as much as I can. It’s for others to judge if what I do is positive and helpful, not
for me to say so!
AK. – Naturally there are events taking place in the political life of Armenia, with which you do not agree or give your personal opinion on. Being an Ambassador does not confine you to be objective? To what extent are the authorities responsive to your criticism?
Charles Aznavour . – I often say what I think, and it is not to everyone’s taste!
AK. – In the 1990s, when I was interviewing you in Yerevan, you were reluctant to discuss your views on the issues surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh. You always say “no politics”, but in 1989 you were invited to the Kremlin for discussions on the release of the Karabakh Committee members . At least now tell us with whom you met, what discussions were held?
Charles Aznavour . – I am still not a politician, and have no desire to get into politics!!
Charles Aznavour . – My parents tought me generosity, dignity and survival!
They didn’t have much but they always shared it with the less fortunate! Like my father who used to feed young poor Armenian students and used to say, “You will pay when you can.” Of course they never did and his restaurant had to close!! But he wasn’t bitter and my parents always use to say “God will give it back to us!” I had a very happy childhood and amazing parents!
HA. – What part of your Armenian heritage have you had the chance to transfer to your children, to what extent do they share your views, what do they now?
Charles Aznavour . – Our values, our culture, our history, our sense of survival.
Recently my son Nicholas started to learn Armenian, he is learning so fast and he is enjoying it! I am very proud of that! I am also proud of my oldest daughter Seda, she has always been fluent in Armenian she also sings and has recorded in Armenian.
I noticed that my three other children Katia, Misha, Nicholas, despite their mother being Swedish, the older they get, the more they feel their Armenian identity, and their roots are getting much much stronger.
AK. – In different countries at different times you have been labeled as
“Sentimental realist”, “God of Love”, “French Sinatra”, “Napoleon of
songs”, “Our Charles”… Which one you love the best, which one do you
find the most felicitous (accurate)?
Charles Aznavour . – Journalists like to put labels! They do not mean anything to me!
I do my best, I respect my public, because it’s the public that gives you everything, and I don’t think anyone came to see me because they read that I was the the “Napoleon of songs”!! They came because they were either touched, moved, or identified with what I wrote and they liked the way I was on stage.
HA. – Armenia’s government has built a house for you in Armenia. Have you ever thought about living there? When you are in Yerevan, do you stay there, do you like the building?
Charles Aznavour . – With my son Nicholas we have started to collect a lot of my
memorabilia to create a very important Aznavour museum in Yerevan in that house… my piano, unique posters, records, books, manuscripts, and many other things, and we are very closely involved to make sure that it is the way we want it. I enjoy visiting Armenia very much, but not to live there, don’t forget I was born and lived all in France all my life!
AK. – With your willpower and energy, love of life and sense of humour you are younger than many biologically young people. Recently you announced that you “have plenty of plans for another ten years” and that you want to be the only singer still singing on stage at 100 years old. What concert hall and program do you imagine for this special occasion?
Charles Aznavour . – I don’t know yet! Let me get to 100 first, then we will see!
It will be a surprise! For me and the public!!
AK.- 60 years have passed after you forced Paris to a standing ovation. You have won over thousands of concert halls after that, you enjoy glory, peoples’, nations’, generations’ love and respect. Which peak remains unreached for you yet? Is there a dream you want to become true?
Charles Aznavour . – To stay healthy, being able to carry on doing what I love, and most of all to be surrounded by my wife and my children.