Metal-leaning rock band System Of A Down will headline Souls 2004, a benefit concert to be held April 24 at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. Proceeds from the event will go to organizations that work to eradicate the atrocities of genocide, including the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), which supports legislation in the U.S. Congress to recognize the Armenian Genocide that was perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Tickets are $45 and go on sale March 12.
“We want to basically educate people about the denial of the Armenian genocide,” leader Serj Tankian tells Billboard.com. “One and a half million people were killed, and a government — Turkey — continues to deny it. There’s overwhelming evidence of it, including testimony from my own grandfather. Every Armenian family tree is incomplete because of the genocide. Hitler got the cue from the Turks. They were allies in World War I. Hitler basically said to his advisors, ‘Who remembers the Armenians?’ If you let something like this occur without full recognition, then it is liable to happen again.”
April 24 was chosen because it will commemorates the 89th anniversary of the genocide. The members of System of a Down — Tankian, guitarist Daron Malakian, bassist Shavo Odadjian and drummer John Dolmayan — are all of Armenian descent, and have been very active in supporting this cause.
“This is personal, this is not just political,” Tankian says. “We want to educate, but at the same time we want to put on a great show for everyone. We haven’t played in a while and we’re excited to raise some funds for the cause.”
Tankian realizes that many fans will be unfamiliar with the Armenian genocide, and accepts the fact that not everyone will leave with a newfound awareness. “All of us music listeners appreciate music in different ways,” he says. “Some people listen to lyrics more, and some are more into the groove. Each person is going to take away whatever they want to take away from it, but it’s a very important cause because it’s a humanitarian cause. It affects so much of the 20th century history.”
Tankian says the group is still firming up details for the show, including support acts and how to present the political message. “We’re working on all the details and getting different acts,” he says. “I can’t talk about it because it’s still being confirmed. We’re also going to have some video presentations and poetry and it’s going to be pretty diverse. It’s not going to be a typical metal show. We thought about speakers, but we’re on two minds about it. There’s a good aspect to it, but then there’s a boring aspect. The possibility is still there, though.”
The band also challenges the Bush administration to keep what it says was a 2000 campaign promise to acknowledge Armenian genocide, and is urging members of the U.S. Congress and House of Representatives to schedule votes for SR 164 and HR 193, measures which would do just that. Additionally, Tankian runs the Web-based activist group Axis of Justice with Audioslave’s Tom Morello, and says the organization has big plans for the current election year.
“We do a radio show, and we’re going to start do two a month,” he says. “We may even try to do it bi-weekly. As far as the election, we haven’t taken any particular side. I don’t think John Kerry and President Bush are the same, but certain issues that are important to Axis of Justice, like universal health care and labor issues and genetically modified products, probably aren’t going to be supported by either. Our real problem in the U.S. is the stronghold of the two-party system, and their lack of opening up to independent voices. It’s hard to qualify a two-party system as a democracy.”
These are issues, Tankian says, that fans can expect his band to continue to address. He refuses to reveal any specifics about a new record, but says something will be released by the end of the year.
“There will definitely be a bunch of interesting topics that will come up,” he says. “We’re still writing, and we hope to start recording soon, but it may be anywhere from a month to three months before we’re in the studio. It’s safe to say the record will be released this year, and we will probably start touring later this year. We’re going to play a couple new songs at the benefit, but we’re not going to give too much away.”