From the hills to the city

An urban-dweller’s appreciation of Greek folk music – from various parts of the land – tends to be condescending toward the material as being out of date and out of place in today’s world, or as music that once filled valleys, hills and mountains in the country’s remote periphery but which bears little relevance to today’s industrialized world. Yet, through various artistic approaches, Greek folk music, either pure or fused, has continued to persevere amid a changing musical landscape. Hardcore traditionalists have continued interpreting Greek folk music’s various forms with the maximum possible purity as their objective; more modern-oriented acts are delving into tradition and borrowing elements for contemporary fusion projects; while, to a lesser degree, a third contingent is looking across the borders for intercultural marriages of Greek folk music with other foreign forms, an obvious example being recent collaborations between Greek and Indian musicians. Beginning this Thursday in Athens, the intention of an extended series of performances, each focused on the music of particular regions, will be to deliver Greek folk music in as unadulterated a form as possible. Included on the bill are some of the country’s more renowned folk artists, such as clarinet players Petroloukas Halkias and Stavros Kapsalis, both specialists of traditional forms from Epirus in the northwest. «Greek folk music is managing to hold on as time progresses. We’re talking about roots music that’s been created by the people. It can’t go that easily,» noted the event’s coordinator, Stylianos Bellos, a vocalist, researcher and tutor, who is part of the bill, in a telephone interview. «An effort is being made here to cover the country’s various traditional forms via interpretations by the most authentic exponents available. Naturally, song textures have gradually changed as neighboring musical influences continue to mix inevitably. Whether we like it or not, a traditional song today does not sound the same as it did 50 years ago,» he added. A first batch of dates, titled «Greek Folk Song by the Region,» running through mid-March, will cast the spotlight on music from Epirus, Thrace and Crete. The event’s organizers also intend to add further cycles covering other regions and musical styles. Themes include «Old and New Laiko (urban popular),» «Songs of Greek and Balkan Gypsies,» «Songs from Smyrna,» and «Rebetika.» However, details regarding lineups and dates for these forthcoming events remain undetermined. The venue, Cine Kerameikos, a lavish new facility in the downtown Kerameikos district which has hosted several elaborate, high-budget productions since its launch last year, will be kept simple for the Greek folk music series. «There was no talk of anything like that. Anyway, that’s of no interest to us. The stage will be kept pure and simple like the souls of the people that created Greek folk songs,» remarked Bellos. He has released over 10 albums, most of them focused on traditional sounds from Epirus, since the early 1970s. As much an educational experience on the sounds that were once the musical norm in pre-industrialized rural Greece, as a series intended to entertain, the shows will be preceded by introductory lectures from Bellos. The academic, though, he noted, would not overshadow the emotion behind the music. «These are songs about homelands, bitter sentiment, and loved ones in foreign lands,» said Bellos. «They’re supposed to take the listener on an emotional voyage that emancipates and unites.» First cycle of events (Thursday – March 14): Thursday and Friday, Epirus: Petroloukas Halkias, Antonis Kyritsis, Pagona Athanassiou; March 1-2, Epirus and Thessaly: Stavros Kapsalis, Alekos Kitsakis, Stylianos Bellos, Costas Nakas; March 6-7, Thrace: Chronis Aidonidis, Xanthippi Karathanassi; March 13-14, Crete: Manolis Kontaros, Palaiina Seferia. Cine Kerameikos, 58 Kerameikou & 13 Marathonos, Kerameikos, tel 210.522.2222.