Musician, artist and activist
Fairytales tells us about how the handsome prince saves the beautiful princess from the dragon, but in this fairytale the rescuer is not a prince. In this fairytale the hero is a girl. A brave girl who saves her beloved princess from the evil dragon. This fairytale is told by Tsomak in one of her feministic and radical songs played by the band Pincet.
The first that comes to my mind when picturing Tsomak Oga after meeting her at her small, cozy and artistic pub named D.I.Y at Pushkin Street in central Yerevan is enthusiasm and punk.
I drink a cup of tea on one of her bench-like sofas and listens to her telling me about her how the Rriot grrrl movement that took start in the US in the beginning of the 90s, has inspired her through life and her music. Riot grrrl is an underground feministic punk rock movement that is often associated with the third wave of feminism. The lyrics of the girl bands addressed issues such as rape, domestic violence, sexuality, racism and patriarchy and emphasized female empowerment. Famous band associated with the movement is Bikini Kill and The Butchies among many others. Tsomak’s first band named Incest started in 1999 and attracted attention as the first girl band in Armenia. Their sensational and fiery performance in daring costumes that also is a common signature among riot grrrl band, in a combination with their political lyrics brought commotion in the conservative Armenia.
“One time I was dressed as a priest, another girl to a dead fiancé and the third as a soldier. Another time we only wore underwear.”
Tsomak is the singer and guitarist in band that consists of three female members, but plays four different instruments. She has released three albums since 1999; one with Incest, one solo album and one with her current band Pincet. Since 1999 the Armenian society has changed and so has she as well as her sound. She describes her music in the beginning as punk with fairly angry lyrics but over the years it has softened and with a new name the band today plays more electronic alternative punk. But the lyrics have not lost their personal touch and continue to be political, radical and feministic.
I ask Tsomak if her pub, which is welcoming gays, have ever been under threat by the many Armenians that do not accept gay people. She tells me it happens sometimes but they have face control to prevent these kinds of threats. And it does not seem to have scared off people since the pub is crowded during all my visits. It is an admirable initiative and work she and her fellow workers are doing when running this sort of pub in a homophobic society as the Armenian.
Tsomak is not only a singer and an owner of her pub; she is also an artist and activist. Her focus is on women’s rights and LGBTQ-rights (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) but supports all kinds of activism. She volunteers at Women Resource Center in Yerevan, a NGO with focus on violence against women but also offers a popular sexual and health education for young girls among many other things. She has also been one of those responsible for organizing the Youth Alternative Festival in Armenia twice and has organized other similar festivals.
“In 2003 I was thanks to this send to a festival in Venice representing Armenia.”
Pincet has performed mostly in Armenia and in Georgia but played at Istanbul Gay Pride Parade last year who had more than 10 000 participants. I ask her if her goal is to become internationally known, and it seems like it is a dream of her but for now she is too busy with her pub. She will soon focus more on music again and her next project is also to open a store where she will print her own T-shirts. Tsomak seems to be a very dedicated woman and I am sure next time I am enjoying Armenia, I will have a t-shirt store to visit.
Tsomak tells me about a friend’s young daughter who sometimes put on a cap and letting a thin strand of hair fall out and pretending to be Tsomak. Small girls seem to be inspired Tsomak and so am I. My last question for Tsomak is therefore if she has any role model. The founder of Bikin Kill Kathleen Hanna is of course her answer and she shows me a book of her idol, standing in a central spot of her pub.
I thank Tsomak for her time and the inspiration she has given me. I also thank her for her positive attitude against my article as well as pictures. This is not my last visit at D.I.Y and hopefully not my last meeting with Tsomak Oga.
Cathérine Söderberg, Intern at Society Without Violence, Yerevan, Armenia.