Baruir Passonian taught me that an instrumental has the potential to become more than just music. In the right context, it has the power to sing. The tall, Armenian musician grew up in L.A. and was born to parents who hailed from Lebanon. Baruir was heavily influenced by the ’90s hip hop he was hearing on the radio and decided he was going to start making his own beats. He inherited his parent’s collection of Armenian music which led to Baruir creating the sound of Bei Ru.
His first two concept albums, Little Armenia and Saturday Night at the Magic Lamp take you on musical trips filled with jazzy Armenian samples put over sleek drum beats. On Little Armenia you feel yourself fully submerged into a fast paced urban city echoing the sounds of the exotic Middle East. On Saturday Night at the Magic Lamp you find yourself in an unknown time, lost within the walls of a beat filled jazzy lounge. Both of these albums were released on Baruir’s own record label, Musa Ler Music.
Continuing from where he left off with those two releases, Bei Ru takes us on another journey into a city where animals and humans live side by side under the laws of nature. Exploring new sounds, Bei Ru places his beats over psychedelic jazz samples and funky harmonic melodies which blend to create a place called LA Zooo. Dropping Oct. 7 (pre-order here), each of the 20 tracks on the album are under two minutes, which reflects the fast pace of its urban theme. These tracks also flow into each other, making it feel like a walk through each pocket of this intricate city.
Baruir has made his music into a third language, using it to tell a story without saying a word. He’s an intelligent musician who studied psychology in college and learned the basics of music by playing the piano; an artist with a vision like a director looking onto a set, using his surroundings as the basis of his concepts. When I spoke with the man himself, I saw glimpses of Bei Ru, but was unable fully meet the man who takes people on these musical journeys. But maybe that doesn’t matter, maybe that’s the point of his three great albums to tell the rest of this story. And the interview and mix below. —Gabriel Murillo
Included below is an exclusive mix Baruir made for Passion of the Weiss.
01 George Braith – Del’s Theme
02 Omar El Shariyi – Yawabor Kolly
03 Mystic Moods Orchestra – Cosmic Sea
04 Ananda Shankar – Charging Tiger
05 Annette Peacock – Pony
06 Gershon Kingsley – Sunset Sound
07 Charanjit Singh – Raga Lalit
08 Christopher Scott – Wives And Lovers
09 Enoch Light And The Light Brigade – It Was A Very Good Year
10 Ananda Shankar – Night In The Forest
11 Perrey & Kingsley – Countdown At 6
12 Elias Rahbani – From The Moon
13 Rod Hunter – Snoopy
14 Ziad Rahbani – Taksim Organ & Tabla
15 Mister K. – Cara Sicilia
16 The Copper Plated Integrated Circuit – Integrated Circuit
17 Gershon Kingsley’s First Moog Quartet – Have It Or Grab It Or Go
18 Baligh Hamdi – My Love Story
19 Space Invaders – Invasion Return
20 Ishan Al-Munzir – Salma Ya Salama
21 Pat Prilly – Indicatif Spatial
22 Richard Hayman – Melody #2
23 The Free Design – 59th Street Bridge Song
24 Electronic Concept Orchestra – Like A Lover
So you’re from LA, right?
Bei Ru:Yeah, born and raised.
How did you start using Armenian samples in your music?
Bei Ru:When I first started getting into production I inherited my parent’s record collection and a lot of the stuff that they had were the old Armenian records and you know when I was younger I wasn’t really into it, it was kind of corny to me but I started to get into taking bits and pieces that I thought were kind of dope and making my own thing with them.
How did you get into Hip Hop?
Bei Ru:I got into it when I was a kid just listening to the radio. I remember when The Chronic came out by Dr. Dre, I was actually in Lebanon visiting relatives out there and I was like 10-11 years old when it came out and they had a bootleg of it. It just blew my mind, that was one of the defining albums for me, where I didn’t even know what he was doing as far as taking old soul and funk samples and making it his own. That album and the fact that it came from LA was definitely big for me.
You have family out in Lebanon?
Bei Ru:Yeah my parents are both from there. They moved here to go to school actually. They went to UCLA which was like in the mid ’70s and then there was a civil war that broke out in Lebanon so they ended up staying here but the plan was to go back actually.
Did you go out there a lot growing up?
Bei Ru:No that time was I think my second time and I went there once when I was a few years old but I don’t remember. I’ve been there a few times since, I went there last year to do this show as part of this tour I did out there and I’m going out there in a couple of months to play some festival. I haven’t been there too much but every time I was there it was a whole other world so it was kind of dope to see that.
How did you get into doing the score for A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night?
Bei Ru:The director Ana Lily Amirpour hit me up and at the point she had a short. It wasn’t a full length and she was working towards making it a full length so she approached me with the idea. I thought it was awesome so I played her some of my stuff and we just kind of clicked that way and it just ended up being one of those things where I felt like her visuals were complimenting the music.
When you go to make music what is your process? How do you go about it?
Bei Ru:I’m a big fan of concept driven albums. The Chronic was one and some of the early De La Soul albums like when Madlib did the Quasimoto albums. Those albums always resonated with me extra. Not only because the music was dope but it was like this whole story, it kind of takes you to this other place. I like to kind of do the same so they were both kind of concepts.
Like Little Armenia was just me kind of putting all the years of making beats out of these old Armenian records into one album. And then Saturday Night At The Magic Lamp was similar in the sense that I wanted to make it seem like it was some kind of nightclub in like another dimension…Like you don’t know if it’s past or future. So it was the same for the new album. I just kind of came up with this idea and just tried to run with it and try to illustrate it with music.
What is the concept of the new album?
Bei Ru:Sometimes you see LA as a caricature of its own. Almost like people always say it’s a zoo in the sense that it has a doggy dog kind of attitude and people will do anything to get where they want then there’s the whole Hollywood and fame so it’s almost like a cartoon. So that became the jumping off point and I also realized LA and the zoo as far as humans and animals are not that different. Like, the only difference is we’re free unless we fuck up and we can’t afford a lawyer then we get put in cages but the ideas are the same.
We have laws but they don’t get obeyed. People get killed all the time people get robbed all the time so it’s the same as the animal kingdom. It was a parallel to me that I hadn’t really noticed, so I was like, ‘oh shit.’
On the new record are you keeping the Armenian sound?
Bei Ru:There’s some stuff but it’s a little different. It’s more of an LA record in the sense that there are all types of music and all types of influences here. So there’s jazz, soul, rock, and funk…Like it’s all in there.
What high school did you go to?
Bei Ru:I went to Taft which is in Woodland Hills. Ice Cube actually went to high school there and one of my art teachers would tell me, “I remember him in class” and all this shit.
Do you have good fan base out in Europe and the Middle East?
Bei Ru:I haven’t played Europe so it’s going to be my first time doing that. The Middle East is really dope in the sense of like, even the countries that I had never been to that I went to last year like Jordan, Kuwait, Dubai…It was dope for me because you always know people are the same but like, to actually go and meet people and see how in tune with music they are. It’s crazy, how like-minded people are was kind of a trip in a good way. It was almost like instant family with some people. There’s definitely a really great appreciation for music out there. It’s kind of different than here because in LA there’s a different show every night but when they have a show out there it’s like a special event.
How did you make the transition from making beats to live performance?
Bei Ru:I started playing with a few different musicians for this show I had in Pasadena some years back. I had a guitar player, bass player, oud player, keyboard player, and percussionist and we just kind of started experimenting. So it was just kind of a matter of stripping away some of the layers in the beats and kind of having the musicians compliment it. It’s kind of different for every record.
For this record it’s a little more stripped down and I’m going to be doing some live stuff with a bass player and a keyboard player. But yeah, I mean working with musicians is a whole other thing because they kind of build off your ideas and take it somewhere else.
You have your own label, right?
Bei Ru:Yeah, Musa Ler Music.
How did you get that started?
Bei Ru:I started it when I released Little Armenia, my first album just because I wanted to put it out and I didn’t want to deal with anybody so that was the only way to do it.
With every album, artists always want people to hear it how they’re hearing it so how do you want your audience to hear your music?
Bei Ru:I kind of wanted it to be this audio journey through this place called the LA Zoo where people and animals live together. You know it kind of has this daytime sunshine psychedelic sort of vibe. It’s kind of a culmination of all the music I was listening to while making it, combined with just LA atmosphere and energy.
What do you see ahead? You got the new album and then you got shows going on. After that, do you want it to just keep growing?
Bei Ru:Yeah, definitely. I see myself doing more work with films, too. I think that’s a really dope medium for music and visuals so I want to do more of that. Musically, there’s a ton of different ideas I have so I’m looking for collaborators as far as vocalists and other musicians.
Composing a score is so different than just making music by itself. How did you go about that?
Bei Ru:It’s a totally different process because you have to consider what it’s being made for. But the challenge is also part of the enjoyment because I get excited…Like, how am I going to make this work? It’s a whole new approach and it’s very different than making music based on how you feel. I think that challenge is what makes me want to go into that uncharted territory a little bit more.
What was the first piece of equipment you had?
Bei Ru:My parents bought me a keyboard when I was like 13 or 14, an old Casio and I had this dual cassette karaoke machine. So I would plug in the keyboard to the karaoke and I would record drums, then I would put that tape in and press play and record piano while the drums were playing and then I would take the piano and drums and play something else on top. So that was my first experience doing it, and then I started getting more into sample based equipment.
That’s cool because I feel like no one gets that whole tape experience since there are all these studio programs for the computer.
Bei Ru:Yeah it’s so easy. On my phone there’s a mini studio but the dope thing going through that whole process was being so limited as far as your resources. It pushed me to get extra creative and that was the biggest lesson.
When people listen to your music and ask, “Who is Bei Ru?,” what is it that you want them to know?
Bei Ru:It might sound cliché but I really like the music to speak for itself. I’m not the most outspoken person but when I’m making music I put everything into it to the point where it does speak for me.
When I go to the record store I usually hit one section first. What’s the section you hit first?
Bei Ru:Jazz is always my first section and a lot of people are surprised when I tell them that because there isn’t that much jazz in my music but jazz is a huge influence on me.