Eleni Karaindrou produces among the most profoundly contemporary Greek music around right now, with the past 20 years having proven that her work is also very exportable. And the 74-year-old is still going strong, having recently released an album titled “Concert in Athens,” her 10th recording with the German ECM label and producer Manfred Eicher.
Producing albums in this day and age is no easy feat for anyone, especially a Greek artist struggling with the constraints of the crisis.
“The crisis in this field is not restricted to people not having enough money to buy an album, but mainly with international piracy gangs,” Karaindrou told Kathimerini. “I was interviewed by a Swiss music critic 20 days before the new album went into circulation and he already had it in his hands.”
“Concert in Athens” is a recording of a performance in 2010 with guests Kim Kashkashian on viola, saxophonist Jan Garbarek and Vangelis Christopoulos on oboe. The album consists of landmark works by Karaindrou for cinema (including selections from the soundtracks for Theo Angelopoulos films “Ulysses' Gaze,” “The Beekeeper,” “The Dust of Time,” ”Voyage to Kythera” and “Eternity and a Day”), as well as music composed for plays directed by Antonis Antypas and Jules Dassin.
According to Karaindou, she is also planning albums on her work for “Medea,” directed by Antypas at the Ancient Theater of Epidaurus, and on “David,” which is based on the verse of an anonymous 18th-century poet from the island of Chios.
Despite these positive developments, she believes that the arts in general are going through testing times right now.
“I feel that there is a kind of crack in the area of culture. There seems to be no continuity. It is naive to suggest that artists become more creative in times of deprivation,” said Karaindrou. “There are those who say that you don't need much to do theater, you can make a show with just a rag and a small piano. Sure, when we were young, that is what we did. But artists like Lefteris Vogiatzis or Maya Lymberopoulou cannot go back to the days of rags and small pianos. That is stuff for the young.”
Karaindrou has seen her fair share of deprivation and crisis. She was in the resistance movement against the 1967-74 Greek junta, moving to Paris for the duration of the dictatorship, where she also participated in the May 1968 student protests in the French capital.
“What Greece is experiencing today is connected to what all of Europe is experiencing. In my country, of course, we are deprived of any hope that things will get better,” said Karaindrou. “But I believe in Greek will power. The fact that we have not mourned victims from broad social unrest is due to the cohesion of families, due to the fact that grandma's pension feeds the children and grandchildren.”
A grandmother herself, Karaindrou has turned down numerous offers to work abroad and chosen instead to ride out the crisis with her family, limiting her expenses to the necessities.
“I am not interested in luxuries,” she said. “If I had wanted a lot of money, I would have written all the songs that were demanded of me and said yes to all the soundtrack proposals I got instead of just one-tenth of them.”
A modest way of living is ingrained in Karaindrou, whose family hails from the village of Teichio in central Greece.
“I learned as a child to love the essential things in life and not in superficial relationships or hoarding money. My father was man of noble spirit. He started off in a family that wanted him to become a carpenter, but succeeded with great sacrifice to study. The he ran off with my mother. He taught me all about will power,” she said.
The family lived in Athens, in the basement of the school where her father taught in the central neighborhood of Ambelokipi.
“I saw my first piano in the school and said to him, ‘I want to learn,’” reminisced Karaindrou.
Her mother passed away when she was just 7 years old and her father 35. He spent several years looking for a new wife by attending matchmaking events.
“We went to the home of one lady which had velvet curtain and carpets, but I was dazzled by the piano. ‘Take this one, Dad,’ I said to him,” Karaindrou recounted. “He married her eventually, when I was 10 years old. Now that she is alone I have taken her under my wing. I owe it to her that my father had a good life.”
Another pivotal point in her life came during the junta in 1967, when she was detained by the police for her association with Rena Hadjidaki, the daughter of political activist Lili Zografou. She was 19 at the time and pregnant with her son, so she was granted release. She moved to Paris, where she was approached by the Patriotic Anti-Dictatorship Front, a movement founded by the Greek Communist Party in Bucharest, and began helping get people being sought by the authorities out of Greece.
“There were ideological beliefs then. We believed in the left-wing ideology and in social justice. What we are experiencing today is much more insidious. It is uncharted territory governed by people involved in international finance and we have no idea where it might lead,” said Karaindrou, adding that if she had to describe her political beliefs today, she would use the words of Angelopoulos, “a confused leftist.”