Athens's diverse cultures meet on the same wavelength
By Alexandra Skaraki
It may be located in the Technopolis cultural complex, at the heart of Athens's trendy Gazi neighborhood, but there is a pregnant silence in the dimly lit basement studio of Athena 9.84 radio station. Then at 4 p.m. this small underground space fills with melodies, words and flavors from around the world. The journey begins and listeners are taken on a journey to other cultures, customs and traditions.
“Athens, Our City” is a live one-hour radio show hosted by journalist Eleftheria Pantziou from Monday to Thursday on Athina 984, the City of Athens radio station. The show is a guide to multicultural events taking place in the Greek capital.
“For me the most important part of the show is that Greeks and immigrants get to know each others' nationalities as well as cultures when socializing. That is what makes the show so special,” says Pantziou.
Last year the Interior Ministry said there were nearly 550,000 migrants living in Greece with residence permits. It is estimated that there are several hundred thousand foreigners in the country without papers. As immigration becomes an increasingly divisive issue, especially due to the rise of the far right in Greece, “Athens, Our City” aims to foster greater understanding between migrants and Greeks, as well as between the residents of numerous nationalities living in the capital.
The show launched in September last year and has drawn inspiration from the work done by Athina 984's foreign-language service Athens International Radio (AIR) 104.4, which has been broadcasting since 2004, keeping the city's foreign communities informed about current affairs and cultural events.
“Having Athens International Radio's programs as examples, Athina 984's management came up with the idea of creating a similar show in Greek that would promote various events organized by the city's foreign communities, focusing on tourism, gastronomy as well as activities for children and women,” said Athena Korlira, editor in chief at AIR 104.4 FM.
“Athens is a multicultural city and Greeks are interested in learning about and embracing new cultures and traditions.”
The process of gathering the information for each show is hard but rewarding work, says Pantziou.
“First of all we need to be informed of the events and activities organized by the migrant communities in Athens, as well as activities by foreign artists living in Greece, and then include them on the show,” says the show's host.
“Athens, our City” has attracted attention as not only residents of Athens listen and call for further information but embassies and community groups – especially African, Albanian, Russian and Latin American – have realized that they can create greater awareness about their events through the program. The show's recently created Facebook page has more than 200 “likes.”
“I was surprised by the number of events going on in Athens as well as our audience’s feedback,” explains Pantziou. «Sometimes the topics are so many that there is not enough time for a complete presentation and we end up briefly mentioning them as part of the agenda.”
“Athens, Our City” also makes an effort to introduce its audience to original pieces of world music, which are carefully selected by Maria Katopodi, a member of the show's production team. Together with Pantziou, they search for music that is not played on any Athina 984 shows or other Greek radio stations, including a wide range of songs from Japan, traditional Chinese melodies and even music played in German churches.
“We provide information on the artist, lyrics and the song's origin: I believe this touch helps the listener understand the song, even if he doesn't speak the language,” adds Korlira.
The show also tantalizes another of the senses as it presents recipes from around the world. “A country's culture is not just music, dances or literature but also its traditional flavors,” says Pantziou. “We try to present the story behind the recipe in an engaging way and give details about each ingredient, encouraging people to search for it in the market.”
This completes the true merging of culture that takes place in this most unlikely of places: A basement studio in central Athens. From there, listeners of numerous cultures are invited to find themselves on the same wavelength.