It took Bei Ru three years to complete his sophomore album. Indeed, "Saturday Night at the Magic Lamp" was an ambitious project for the San Fernando Valley-raised producer. Bei Ru's first album, "Little Armenian (L.A.)" was made from a treasure trove of vintage, Armenian records to create a sample-based patchwork of funky-psychedelic tunes. After the album's release, when I interviewed him for L.A. Weekly, he noted that there was no intention to create another album like "Little Armenia." Finding the perfect style for the follow-up took time.
"I had an idea for the album and it was almost done and then I scrapped it and worked on a whole new thing," says Bei Ru (real name: Baruir Panossian) over coffee in Hollywood. Ultimately, it took a couple different tries to create the right album. Bei Ru estimates that he had about 100 songs that could potentially land on an album, but he didn't have a concept. "I did want it to be concept-driven and tell sort of a story and take the listener somewhere," he says. "As a fan of music, that's what, my favorite types of albums are like that."
In the end, Bei Ru found his concept. "Saturday Night at the Magic Lamp" is inspired by a record from an Armenian bandleader that included banter bits that welcomed guests to "the Magic Lamp." On Bei Ru's album, the Magic Lamp became a venue whose place is hard to pinpoint. "You don't know if it's from the future or the past," he says. "It really made sense to me because the music itself seemed like it was otherworldly, from some other dimension, like there were futuristic influences and vintage influences and it seemed like it would be a really cool way to present it as a night at some club from somewhere that doesn't exist."
Once Bei Ru had the concept, the record came together without much difficulty. "The reason that the album was taking so long in the first place was because it wasn't making sense to me," he says. "Once I found this concept and started working on it, it was moving. It revealed itself to me after a while."
With "Saturday Night at the Magic Lamp" pointing to a time and location for the album's action, Bei Ru could work through that pile of tracks he had built. "I approached all the songs with this concept," he says. "I would move things around and rearrange them to fit in and it worked perfectly." Bei Ru knew which songs to use. He brought in musicians -- a guitarist, bassist, multiple keyboardists and an oud player -- to flesh out the pieces. The electric oud, played by L.A.-based musician Antranig Kzirian, became crucial to the sound of certain tracks. "I feel like the oud is a really underrated instrument, especially electric oud," says Bei Ru of the stringed instrument. "It just has this really cool, unique sound to it." It also gives a distinctively Middle Eastern vibe to some of the electronic tracks on the album.
The song titles give an idea of what goes down inside the Magic Lamp. "Dance of the Drunken Thieves," "Sweet Temptress" and "Electric Belly Dance Trance" are just the start. The mix of Middle Eastern, particularly Armenian, sounds with modern disco and hip-hop beats lends itself to a party atmosphere.
When Bei Ru started work on the album, he thought about making a darker collection, one that would tap into the unease that came with recession and other major societal problems. However, he got some good advice to the contrary from a friend, artist Vahe Berberian. "The music doesn't have to be dark and dreary for people to connect to it," says Bei Ru. "Something more lively can open up some kind of revolution so to speak. "
Now that album is done, Bei Ru is taking the Magic Lamp on the road. Recently, he took the outdoor stage at influential Lincoln Heights party Low End Theory. It was a small-scale gig, just Bei Ru and a limited assortment of gear, that got packed crowd dancing. After that, he headed to Kuwait to take part in a Red Bull Academy music event, with dates in Lebanon and Jordan to follow.
Bei Ru plans to book more gigs with his full band in February and March. Saturday Night at the Magic Lamp is out now as a CD and digital release. A vinyl release is planned for later this summer. Also, listen for Bei Ru's music in the film, "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night."