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Hollywood Music Center

An Interview with Mher Panossian

If you take a look through your personal collection of Middle-Eastern recordings and DVD's
chances are many were produced by Hollywood Music Center. They are known for having a consistently high standard - from the packaging and production to the talent behind and in front of the camera. Curiosity about the company and the people driving it led me to Mher Panossian, who was kind enough to answer my questions.

Salome: Who 'is' Hollywood Music Center?

Mher: Movses Panossian, my father and I run the company. My father was raised in Beirut, Lebanon, constantly surrounded with music and dance. I grew up in Hollywood, in a diverse, ethnic neighborhood. Our Armenian background and Lebanese influence gives us the knowledge and ability to present authentic Middle Eastern music.

Salome: How did Hollywood Music Center become conceptualized?

Mher: Movses Panossian, started HMC in 1982. We started as a small record shop on Hollywood Blvd., yet we would produce Armenian and international music on our own label. I would get on the bus every day after school and come help at the shop because I loved the music.

In the 90's, when bellydance was once again growing in popularity, we began to release bellydance music and videos from Setrak Sarkissian, The Salatin El Tarab Orchestra, Bassil Moubayyed, Nadia Gamal, and found ourselves very passionate about the music and dance. My father traveled to Egypt, Lebanon and Syria, recording traditional bellydance music with master musicians. He enjoyed doing this very much as he had studied and followed traditional Arabic music his entire life. I started frequenting bellydance festivals around the world and found myself captivated with the world of bellydance.

Salome: How has Hollywood Music Center changed over the years?

Mher: In the beginning, our customers mostly looked for classical, cabaret and pop. As styles such as tribal fusion grow in popularity, we adapt so our repertoire matches our customers needs. For example, we regularly work with over 10 DJs and producers such as Naked Rhythm and Roger Abboud to create house, hip-hop and techno remixes of Middle Eastern music. We enjoy the dynamic side of it all as it keeps things interesting.

We also hold annual video shoots where we produce our own instructional and performance DVDs - we've had the pleasure of working with talented artists like Aziza, Jillina, Ansuya, Amar Gamal, Virginia, and are constantly discovering new talent.

Salome: How many products do you have out on the market?

Mher: We have over 200 CD and DVD releases available on the market. We export these products to over 40 countries, and enjoy this international aspect of our business very much.

Salome: Which do you enjoy more, producing music or dance DVDs?

Mher: They're quite different. I enjoy producing the DVDs more because we love working with the dancers. Producing performance DVDs is like a non-stop party. Anyone who has been to one of our video shoots can tell you about the excitement, cheering and endless zaghareets - not to mention the shish kebab party dinners on set. Performance DVDs capture the dancers in their element. Instructional DVDs are more of a collaborative effort between the dancer and producer, with a focus on the best way to communicate the material to the viewer.

Producing music seems easier compared to the work associated with video. It's usually very late at night, but we keep it exciting.

Salome: What are some of your favorite DVD's and albums you've produced?

Mher: Electric Oasis is a favorite because I had a chance to collaborate with DJs and remix Bellydance music. Over the past two years, I've worked with musicians in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Athens, Rome and Beirut to put together Electric Oasis 2, which has Middle Eastern Chill Out and Dance music with modern grooves.

I also enjoy some of the orchestrated albums such as "A Tribute to Om Kalsoum" and "Belly Dance Classics" by the Cairo Orchestra, because I find myself moved by the force of a traditional orchestra.

As for DVDs, The new Bellyqueen DVD "The Bellydance Experience" is a favorite because it offers something innovative and fresh, with amazing talent such as Kaeshi and Amar Gamal. Also, the "Bellydance Underworld" DVD holds a special place in my heart as it was an adventure to produce and is so well-recieved by the community.

Salome: What is your future vision of Hollywood Music Center?

Mher: Our love for traditional and ethnic music will always remain, and preserving it will always be our mission. We've come a long way with our business, and consider ourselves lucky to have the pleasure of working with music and dance every day. We have exciting plans in place and much to come...stay tuned!