The Rabiz Phenomenon
Since the fall of the Soviet Union a new style of popular music emerged in Armenia, which branched out to communities containing large populations of Armenian expatriates, most notably around Los Angeles where much of the music is produced today. The sensation that has tens of thousands of Armenian youth captivated is called “rabiz,” and the ramifications of its popularity have affected
There is no consensus on the exact origin of the word. Most people verify that the term stems from the Russian phrase transliterated as “rabotniki isskustva” which translates to “worker’s art.” According to some sources, the word’s usage in
The rabiz song form varies in interpretation and comprehension. Some attribute the term to describe modern Armenian dance music, usually fast paced and laden with upbeat tempos. The music of a particular artist performing within the full spectrum of current Armenian pop can subjectively be considered rabiz depending on the tastes of the listener. It is also said that rabiz music existed in one form during
Stereotypical descriptions of rabiz performers and their followers have expectedly taken form, especially in the last five years. In fact, they themselves are labeled as being rabiz from their appearance as well as practiced popular culture. The clothing and grooming styles of men who have an affinity with the music are specific, thus the result has become a kind of uniform. The common color scheme is all black, but a white dress shirt or pullover is accepted for contrast, although now other colors, predominately dark, have come to be worn. Young men wear either black single-breasted suits or faux leather jackets with black trousers or jeans. Dark, rectangular sunglasses and black belts with large, square platinum-colored buckles are worn as accessories. A small case containing the latest mobile telephone model is strapped to the belt and placed on the hip. The footwear chosen are leather loafer variations, usually black in color and narrow in size, with a high heel and an unusually sharply pointed toe, which as a variation curves upward or is squared off. The hair is cut very short, sometimes shaved close, with a part from the far right or left, although fashion trends in Moscow are turning the tide, with some men growing their hair longer in the back of the head and bangs. The posture of rabiz men is usually poor, slumped shouldered, or they squat low to the ground, with their forearms resting on the knees. Those who can afford an automobile drive the Lada 2107, 112, or Niva sport utility vehicle, although now relatively new European as well as Japanese sedans are common. The Ladas are most always painted bright white, with the exception of the 112, featuring black tinted windows and premium shiny chrome wheels, not to mention custom license plates.
As prejudice as this description may seem, young men throughout the country’s capital fit it to a tee, while others living in rural areas strive to achieve the same look. Accordingly, the rabiz lifestyle has taken true form amongst young men who call each other “akhper,” or as abbreviated “aper,” a slang word meaning “brother” and who are often negatively labeled as “apero.” Not surprisingly, people in society who do not condone the rabiz lifestyle find it as being in bad taste.
Woman who are considered rabiz are less obvious to spot, nevertheless a particular fashion sense is attributed to the stereotype. Facial and eye make-up is almost always heavily applied. The hair is occasionally dyed in dirty to light blond shades, sometimes in streaks for contrast against the natural dark hair color that most Armenian women are born with, and if the hair is curly it is usually straightened. In clothing shocking colors are preferred—reds, blinding bright whites, or hot pinks particularly. Short acid-washed or artificially faded jeans are worn very tight that rise up to the knee. Tight mini-skirts or pants, usually black, are fitted as well. Blouses are taut or loose but cut low from the neck. For footwear, long boots or pumps with unusually high, thin stiletto heels are preferred, and the toe is usually pointed sharply.
Rabiz transforms to a degree as men age. The pot belly, varying in size and shape, protrudes over the belt line in a primitive display of wealth and affluence. German luxury cars are a prize reflected by the vast number that can be found in
But there is no clear definition of the term as it applies to culture. Young Armenians living in
The Armenian language has even been directly affected by rabiz culture. A new vernacular, which could be considered as a sub-language, has developed. Words are pronounced with exaggerated deep “o” and “a” vowel sounds, and the resulting effect seems as if the speaker is chewing on what is being spoken. An automatic expression used in the contexts of “give me a break,” “giving you a break,” or as a term of endearment, but is literally translated as “I take your pain,” is incorporated in such frequency during conversation that the term no longer takes on any true meaning. It was introduced in casual speech long ago by
In architecture, new structures being constructed by businessmen, who arguably conform to the rabiz standard, are most always ostentatious in design and do not match the monumental Stalin-era buildings that surrounds them—which are incidentally being cruelly destroyed. Neon in various hues is the preferred form of luminance, not only on business signs but in interiors as mood lighting. Shiny surfaces in the forms of mirrors, dark glass, highly polished stone tile, or marble are predominant in both exterior and interior décor. The buildings themselves stand as symmetrical blocks with smooth planes and little to no distinctive ornamentation, contrasting with that often found on older apartment or retail buildings throughout the city designed with a classical European architectural influence.
Thus society is being polarized not only socio-economically, as a new middle class has clearly taken hold, but culturally into two camps—those who reject traditional Armenian culture and those who strive to preserve it at all costs. The rabiz evidently are increasingly influenced by the general look and gruff habits associated with Russian mafia portrayals on television and Hollywood-produced gangster films. They do not adhere to the arts and culture that is uniquely Armenian, namely displayed in music, painting, sculpture, and architecture. The attitude that is fostered, an indifferent, to-hell-with-it chauvinist stance, affects those who coexist in their immediate surroundings, both young and old. It affects the older generations in that they are appalled by the phenomenon they now encounter daily, while the new, budding generations regard the rabiz as their heroes.
Rabiz also transcends political spheres as well. The orchestrators of big business in
It cannot be predicted how long the rabiz trend will continue. Some believe that the song form will eventually lose popularity, and seemingly the culture and lifestyle associated with it will also wither away. However, the latest music being played by Yerevan-based radio stations and in video clips on television demonstrates that Armenian popular and rabiz styles are already fusing. A clearly emerging alternative popular culture amongst youth is defying rabiz, and Western pop music is steadily gaining in popularity as well. There already are established, near cult-like movements formed by those who prefer rock or jazz music genres. But such individuals are victimized by the rabiz society that still predominates.
Whether the ramifications of rabiz on a political scale will be suppressed, however, depends on the citizens of