Khumkhuma (L*), Խամխամա, Teen, Khamkhama, Tin Tin – Tom Bozigian brings a Kurdish/Armenian dance ‘home’.

*a Living dance is a 1st Generation dance that is still performed in the country of origin (or immigrant communities) as part of a social event like a wedding where others can participate (not for an audience) by people who learned the dance informally (from friends and relatives by observation and imitation, not in a classroom situation). For more information, click here and here.

Tom Bozigian was born in Los Angeles in 1938. Both parents were Armenian; one a child of refugees from the Anatolian Genocide, the other an émigré from the Armenia of the Caucasus Mountains. Tom spoke only Armenian until age 6. At that time, the main centers of Armenian culture in the USA were New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Fresno, CA. When Tom was 5, his family moved to Fresno. There, Tom began speaking English and dancing Armenian.

In 1957, when Tom was 19, he learned the dance Khumkhuma (kh = gutteral ch as in Bach. khuhm-khuhm-ah, which he says means “drunk”) from Jimmy Haboian, an Armenian musician who had moved from Detroit to Los Angeles. Jimmy said he learned the melody and dance from Kurds in Detroit, who requested he play it for them at dances.

In 1972, Tom’s passion for things Armenian led to an invitation from the Soviet Armenian government and the Society for Cultural Relations with Armenians Abroad for Tom to study at the State Choreographic School, Sayat Nova. Tom accepted in order to show Armenians in Armenia dances of the diaspora in America, and to learn how to stage traditional dances. During his 3-year stay in Armenia studying classical, Russian character and Armenian dance, Tom participated in regional field research filming and recording provincial songs and dances throughout the country. Much of this was coordinated with the Yerevan State University Ethnographic Institute. When Tom returned to Fresno, he made the decision to devote his career full-time to the preservation, performance and instruction of Armenian song and dance.

Tom Bozigian in personal correspondence. “During the 3 years spent in Armenia, I taught many of my childhood dances to a variety of groups throughout the country…..In 1957 I learned Khumkhuma from Detroit Armenians [who had] moved to California bringing the dance with them, and taught it in Armenia to Yerevan’s Radio Ensemble my first year there. Yes, it was borrowed by Detroit Armenians from the Kurdish community. The Kurdish name is “Khimkhimeh”. An Armenian in Yerevan who spoke Kurdish gave me the Khimkhimeh story popular among Kurds in communities throughout the world. I put the story into Armenian and I sing it in my CD #1 Best of Tom Bozigian.

That CD is available here:

For lyrics in Armenian, transliterated Armenian and English, click here.

In 1976, Tom to went to Detroit to record his second LP, and to learn more about Khumkhuma. Detroit had a large Kurdish as well as Armenian population. Kurds and Armenians had been living as neighbors (mostly friends, sometimes enemies) for centuries in Armenia, often learning each others’ dances, so it was natural that they mixed with each other in their new home the USA. While in Detroit he danced Khumkhuma/Khimkhime at a party made up of Armenians and Kurds (Tom says they told him “Some people here are Kurds, but I don’t know which ones.”) In Detroit Tom discovered the Kurds called the dance Khimkhime (a woman’s name in Kurdish). Whether the dance was ‘originally’ Armenian or Kurdish I have yet to discover.

In 1978, he taught Khumkhuma at Stockton under the name of ‘Teen’. In a recent telephone conversation with Tom, he said the name ‘Teen’ came from John Filčić, whose record label, Festival Records, was the first to offer a ‘single’ suitable for the dance Khumkhuma. John found music labeled ‘Teen’, and thought it best if the dance had the same name as the name on the record, so the dance became known by the music – Teen. Later, Armenian-Americans found yet another song suitable for the dance, and labeled it ‘Tin Tin‘. Tin Tin is the music used by the Armenians of the Arax Dancers YouTube above.

In 2008, Tom and his wife Sheree King taught Khumkhuma (Teen) and 7 other Armenian dances at the Salt Spring Festival. An excellent studio-quality DVD of the Festival can be purchased here.

2016, Khumkhuma becomes a ‘hit’ in Armenia.

In searching the internet for YouTubes of Teen, Tin Tin or Khumkhuma, I could find nothing from Armenia dating before 2016. Then kaboom! I also began noticing YouTubes of Tom Bozigian among the Armenian dancers. I wrote to Tom to confirm a hunch I had about his being responsible for this explosion in popularity, and sure enough, he was!

In 2016, Tom made one of his yearly visits to Armenia (he maintains an apartment in Yerevan) and reintroduced Khumkhuma. This time it caught on, becoming something of a rediscovered lost gem. Along the way the Anglicized spelling in Armenia was changed from Khumkhuma to Khamkhama.

Tom Bozigian (3rd from left, singing along to his recording) demonstrates Khamkhama to Gagik Ginosyan (4th from left) and members of KARIN. 2016.
Students from Ayb school in Yerevan perform dances taught by Tom (3rd from left, white t-shirt). 2016.
Performance of KARIN, 2016.
Dancing in Armenia to Tom’s recording, 2018.
Lebanese Armenian superstar singer Viken Dishgekenian , 2018
A táncház in Hungary, 2021. Introduced from Armenia.
The music gets an update, 2019 by Katl. 1598529 Records DK

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