CULTURE

On folk pop and popular song

A new song stands out among the mediocrity on the radio: «Me ta Matia Kleista» (With Eyes Closed) by Panayiotis Kalandzopoulos. A song, as he himself says, that has «something Italian, something Balkan within it.» Mainly, however, it’s the feeling, something difficult to find in music these days, as is Yiota Nenga, a new voice of popular song, who will sing all the tracks on Kalandzopoulos’s new CD, due for release soon, which, from the small sample he played us, is reminiscent of old 45rpm records. Panayiotis Kalandzopoulos wrote and recorded the disc in his basement home studio and it will be released by Cantini, as he and his wife, Evanthia Remboutsika, have named their record label. They will release their own music as well as that of many young people on this label, even hip-hop artists, who can no longer tolerate the multinational labels that have taken over Greek music. The songs with Yiota Nenga have the working title of «1957,» one of Kalandzopoulos’s favorite years, not simply because that’s when he was born but because it has this «black-and-white feel» that he likes. And, musically, this is where Kalandzopoulos has been recently. «I like being able to reproduce a bit of Tsitanis’s and Kaldaras’s zeibekiko – music from the 1950s, but with contemporary lyrics.» The name Cantini (an Italian word from canto, meaning song) «is the highest chord on the bouzouki, the guitar and the violin on which the melody is played.» It was not chosen randomly. From their «mono-national» label they will release his orchestral «Uuie» and her music for Tassos Boulmetis’s «Politiki Kouzina.» And while they have been congratulating themselves on their «homemade» plans, the Japanese company Zabima has requested their permission to release some of their music in that country. How did you write «Me ta Matia Kleista?» It was three years ago in the autumn, Evanthia was away in India and I had just read one of Brian Patten’s love poems, which I really liked. I read it over and over and realized how brazen people in love are. From the first moment, I had a gut feeling that it would make a wonderful song. I met Yiota at a spring audition where we heard dozens of voices. We had heard so many youngsters. As we were leaving, there appeared a plump girl wearing a heavy coat who said, «Sorry I’m late.» We couldn’t just tell her to leave. She sang «Afti i Nychta Menei» by Stamatis Kraounakis and we decided to stay. Yet, behind the wind instruments, the composition also has a hidden popular song quality. Was this a deliberate choice? I always wanted to write popular songs. As a youngster, I was a bit of a rocker. At home, though, my parents had the girls from the village, as we called the girls who helped with the housework in those days. They would listen to Stelios Kazandzides. I lived in a Greece that was caught somewhere between «Yesterday» and «Oxi, oxi, mi me Paratas.» I’m trying to capture that black-and-white feel that I experienced then once more. Today’s era is overflowing with fake sentiment. They’re all yelling… at the theater, on television, the singers. They are trying to convince us that «I’m in love; I want you; I’m looking for you.» What can be considered popular song today? I am tired of labels, it’s a waste of time. I’ve set the mark by which to judge things, whether something is fake or whether it’s true. What’s just a pose and what is lovable. Since we are on the subject of song as a reflection of society, what does the prevalence of folk pop today signify? There is a whole world that thinks it lives through television. These people run to the reality shows, even if it’s just to clap in the audience. But there’s a difference between telling lies and believing them. The first requires imagination, the second, self-deceit. The society of television has managed to convince people. The truth is something else though. The world of television, where folk pop predominates, is a world that wants to live in a soap opera. Even so, when things get tough, as with the war in Iraq, we saw some of the trash on Greek television clean up a bit. When we eat too much, the stomach draws the blood and it doesn’t go to the brain. When someone is very full, he rushes to whatever’s cheap. He doesn’t think much, he doesn’t see the need for love, only sex. At [songwriter Stavros] Kouyioumtzis’s funeral I saw a lot of people, famous and ordinary, greet each other. They wouldn’t have done this elsewhere. When someone comes face-to-face with death, he comes down to earth. The handshake, one’s look become real. We become normal. Did you see the poster of folk pop singer Valantis with the peace sign? They’re vultures. Like some others I saw on television with anti-war videos, etc. They are cashing in on people’s basic feelings. These types exist in politics as well. Some in the governing party have smiles as wide as their ears from the anti-war protests. They think that things will go well, that people will return to the Left and to the Communist Party. We have to watch out for the merchants in art and politics. We are talking about the lives of children here. These same lives will bring votes, sell records, fill concerts. Do you write differently, as time passes? I have a slightly clearer image of who I am. I often begin as though I am designing scenery. How a painter thinks when painting a portrait. I start from a rhythm, a chain of chords. I set my boundaries so I can’t go beyond them. By working a song too much, is one in danger of destroying it? As important as a sense of when to build and when to knock down is realizing when you should leave the song alone. It’s like the work of a sculptor or master craftsman: If you bang the chisel a little too much, you might break what you are creating. People have the impression that a song is recorded in one take by the singer in a studio. A song is not like a coffee, a cigarette and a «see you later.» That ended when 45rpms came along. With four-track, six-track and now with computers things are different. Time-consuming, but the result is perfect. It’s my way. Of course, Polly Panou in the 1960s wouldn’t have sung better like this. People were in shape then, they would sing for hours. Do you know what it means to play the clarinet for three consecutive days and nights? Do today’s singers and musicians work according to a schedule? They resort to different methods, which produce a new result. I record on several tracks for many days, i.e. the singer performs one song 15 times. Then I take a phrase, a syllable, an «r,» and unite it all using technology. Frank Zappa once said that composing is a process whereby one person makes a million decisions as to what goes in and what stays out. This relates to the product and the purchaser. On stage, however, there is no montage. If your stock is of value, then you have to verify this constantly.