CULTURE

A growing guild of local musical talent is now gracing the stages of the capital

Over recent weeks, the respected composer Nikos Xydakis, a reluctant public figure who tends to keep his performances, as well as comments on his work, to a minimum, has been opening up with career-spanning shows at the Gyalino Mousiko Theatro (143 Syngrou, tel 210.931.6101). The performances, highlighted by a rotating cast of vocalist guests, renewed weekly for Friday-to-Monday stints at the venue, have one four-show round to go with two worthy Thessaloniki-based artists, Socrates Malamas and Melina Kana. Both have collaborated with Xydakis in the studio, while, from a wider perspective, all three belong to a growing guild of local musical talent that has had a strong impact on contemporary Greek music. The 16-show series opened with Eleni Tsaligopoulou and Haig Yazdjian, a locally based Armenian, and was followed by the top-selling pair of Eleftheria Arvanitaki and Nikos Portocaloglou. For last week’s quartet of shows, Xydakis was joined on stage by Pantelis Thalassinos and relative newcomer Klaudia Delmer, with whom Xydakis has begun working over the past year. The performances, whose entire repertoire amounts to some 50 songs, have been highlighting Xydakis’s songwriting evolvement since his emergence in the late 1970s with the landmark «Ekdikisi tis Gyftias» album, all the way to more recent efforts, such as 1999’s «Xydakis-Malamas,» for which Malamas, an acclaimed songwriter in his own right, provided vocals for the majority of tracks. Not long after his appealing «Ekdikisi tis Gyftias» release – it reinjected, then largely neglected, old-school laika musical forms to help revitalize interest in older songwriting – Xydakis began developing an interest in a more abstract musical direction, one deeply immersed in mystical Eastern ways, which has kept him far from the mainstream. He has also written prolifically for theatrical productions, another reason for Xydakis’s distance from the spotlight. But the recent «Xydakis-Malamas» album did echo some of Xydakis’s earlier popular-inclined work, despite its dark-toned sentiment. The recruitment of Malamas for most of that album’s vocal duties was fitting considering both artists’ connection to a guild of innovative local talent. Its newcomers have had to overcome their own initial reluctance with guidance from their similar-minded predecessors, but have eventually gone on to create vital material. The «Ekdikisi tis Gyftias» album, for example, which acquainted listeners with the then unknown Xydakis as composer, as well as fellow newcomer Nikos Papazoglou, who sung on the album, was endorsed by Dionysis Savvopoulos, who had found his own way with Dylan-esque protest songs some time earlier in the mid-1960s. In turn, Malamas, today one of the country’s more potent songwriters and charismatic live performers, was hoisted into the public eye, despite his initial hesitancy, by Papazoglou. Malamas, who was making his living working as a guitarist in Papazoglou’s backing band a decade ago, while also nurturing his own material on the side, was encouraged to go public with his songs and technically imperfect, yet passionate, low-toned voice by Papazoglou. His first hesitant steps were made with solo guitar-vocal sets as curtain raisers for Papazoglou’s shows. Malamas, in turn, then introduced the sensual vocalist Kana, a graduate in Greek literature with a musical fancy, when she guested on his second album, 1991’s «Paramythia,» and sung most of the material on the songsmith’s following album, the wonderful «Tis Meras kai tis Nychtas,» a year later. Soon after, Malamas also helped to guide one of this country’s more intriguing songwriters of recent years, Thanassis Papaconstantinou. Despite initial hesitancies and eventual discreet presences that have steered clear of the local «star system’s» common abuse of publicity, the members of this guild have established themselves as deeply rooted musical forces in contemporary Greek music. The current series of immensely popular shows by Savvopoulos, admittedly one of this pack’s more flamboyant members, and Papazoglou at the recently launched Cine Kerameikos venue (58 Kerameikou) comes as solid proof. The four-hour-plus performance and its huge cast – which includes a Bulgarian all-female choir and the entire lineup of the scintillating Greek ethnic-jazz group Mode Plagal, among countless other talented musicians, including Fuat Saka, an accomplished Turkish artist, and some choreographed dancing, all performing before a heavily ornamented stage setting – may verge on the extravagant, or be a concert of «Ben-Hur» proportions, as one exhausted participating musician comically put it backstage a few nights ago, but the production stands primarily on musical merit. Whether it’s Savvopoulos performing some of his old protest songs from the 1960s, pioneering Balkan-infused work that nowadays sounds very relevant amid the world music circuit’s tendency for global fusion, or Papazoglou rendering splendid work of his own, or the two of them delivering Greek classics by the likes of Akis Panou, Apostolos Kaldaras, Manos Hadjidakis and Mikis Theodorakis, the music’s power definitely overshadows the stage setting. Moreover, this is a fitting time to have Greek, Turkish, and Bulgarian artists sharing the same stage considering the current evaluations of the UN plan to resolve the Cyprus problem by relevant parties, as well as Balkan conflicts of the past and not so distant past. Though originally scheduled to run until early in the new year, the prospect of an extension to the Savvopoulos and Papazoglou shows right through to Easter is currently under consideration.