By Taleen Babayan
FLArmenians Guest Contributor
ASBURY PARK, NJ — The sixth annual “Return to Asbury” kef weekend returns to its historic roots, as Armenian music legend Onnik Dinkjian headlines the popular summer event, scheduled for Aug. 25-27.
The kef music of Onnik and his son, internationally renowned multi-instrumentalist Ara Dinkjian, will evoke the 1950s and 1960s, when Armenians originally gathered in Asbury Park and socialized on the beach, danced to kef music, played tavlou (backgammon), and spent their summer weekends filled with Armenian spirit and camaraderie.
The event, which was revitalized six years ago, brings back that same sentiment highlighted by the musical talents of the Dinkjians as well as the new generation of musicians, including Steve Vosbikian Jr., who grew up listening to both Onnik and Ara, and says he considers it an honor to share the stage with them.
“It means everything to share the stage with these men, both of whom are not only fine musicians but fine family men who have taught us about much more than music,” said Vosbikian, the event’s music development director and a descendant of members of the Vosbikian Band, who played kef music in Asbury Park decades ago. “Onnik and Ara are our kings and our fathers. They are an important part of our Armenian musical culture and identity.”
The weekend will kick off with a happy hour at the beachfront Watermark on Friday evening, followed by a day of fun and games on the 7th Avenue Beach. The joyous kef concert will take place Saturday evening at the famous hotel The Berkeley.
“Armenian music is a commonality in Armenian communities and the tie that binds us,” said committee member Arsine Kaloustian. “This event is a vital part of maintaining our cultural continuity, and also forging friendships, networks (and sometimes marriages!) that cross not only state lines but sometimes international lines as well.”
“Return to Asbury, which is an independent event led by a small committee, focuses on music, dancing, and a good cause,” noted committee member David Norian. All proceeds for the event will benefit Armenian music education, specifically to donate musical instruments for Armenian school children and keep the kef going well into the future.
“Return to Asbury is about people and place, and if we can bring the legendary voice of Onnik back to Asbury Park, for it to be heard again in the halls and in the air that once was filled with these same sounds, then we have achieved the goal we started out with five years ago,” Norian said.
“Return to Asbury” will take place Aug 25-27, 2017, with the big kef dance on Saturday, Aug. 26 at 8 p.m. For tickets and more information, please visit: returntoasbury2017.eventbrite.com.
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NEW MILFORD, NJ – Members of the Return to Asbury Kef Weekend organizing committee were invited to participate in a ceremony at the Hovnanian School where they delivered Armenian musical instruments to school children. Funds to dedicate these hand-made-in-Armenia instruments were raised at the 2016 Return to Asbury Kef Weekend – an independent, non-profit event that takes place annually in Asbury Park, New Jersey. This year, the organizers decided to use the proceeds specifically for Armenian musical instruments to perpetuate Armenian music in America, and to carry forward the Armenian Kef culture for the next generation of Armenian American youth.
The 5th Annual Return to Asbury Kef weekend took place on August 5-6, 2016 at the city’s beautiful new hotel, The Asbury. Arsine Kaloustian, Taniel Koushakjian, Alan Minoyan, David Norian, and Steve Vosbikian organized the event, with the support of Florida Armenians.
“As the Chair of Return to Asbury for the last two years, it was my pleasure to be involved in the planning of this event for a third year, alongside such a dynamic group of Armenians who are all so dedicated to giving back to the community,” stated Kaloustian. “We tried to focus this year’s event, not only on the kef music that we all love to listen to on the beach, but also on looking forward to the future. It is vitally important that we pass our music and traditions down to the next generation if we want to avoid events like Return to Asbury from fading away into silence. This music and this event truly belongs to all of us,” Kaloustian said.
As part of the dedication ceremony held on Wednesday, November 16, 2016, renowned Armenian American musician Steve Vosbikian gave a musical demonstration, playing a variety of instruments to help inspire the students to become future musicians.
“The purpose of this event was to perpetuate Armenian music for our treasured Armenian youth, and I want to thank everyone who attended and supported this event,” stated Vosbikian. “This is only the beginning. Our hope for next year is to expand on this concept and bring the gift of music to even more of our youth,” Vosbikian said.
All of the proceeds were used to purchase 35 new Shvis for the music education program at the Hovnanian School. The Shvi is a simple Armenian woodwind instrument that is a stepping-stone to learning more advanced Armenian instruments such as the Duduk or Zurna. These professional Shivs were handmade in Armenia by Master “MKS.” Each instrument is professional grade and has been specially crafted with a two-piece design to ensure accurate tuning.
“Happiness through musical education was the motive and I couldn’t have felt that more by seeing how happy all the children were in the auditorium,” Alan Minoyan said. “Super inspiring to see the music of Return to Asbury Kef weekend leading to more music. A kef broke out at the assembly today!” stated David Norian.
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The aim of the Return to Asbury Kef Weekend is to continue the tradition of Armenian music and culture in a city that has been an iconic historical gathering place for Armenian Americans dating back to the 1940s. For about three decades, Asbury Park was an annual summer gathering spot for Armenian American families from New England, Mid-Atlantic, and Mid-West communities, but faded in the late 1970s. It wasn’t until 2012 that Armenians made their return official.
“This day took lots of planning and determination. I’m not surprised, but I am definitely grateful. Thank you Steve Vosbikian, Taniel Koushakjian, Arsine Kaloustian, David Norian, Alan Minoyan, and everyone else who made sure we would bring the gift of music to our children,” Hovnanian School Principal Shakeh Tashjian wrote in a Facebook post following the ceremony. Founded in 1976, the Hovnanian School is a private, non-profit, multi-lingual Early Learning Center through Eighth Grade day school in New Milford, New Jersey.