CULTURE

Newcomer unloads hardship, ‘sense of loss’ into fine work

Melina Aslanidou is enthralled by all that has been happening to her of late. The girl who became known at Thessaloniki’s Mylos arts complex with the band Apenandi and later through her rendition of the classic «Ti Sou k’ana kai Pinis;» (What Have I Done to Drive You to Drink?) is making headlines. Like many of her contemporaries, she is now in Athens pursuing her career; she has already performed with Giorgos Dalaras at the Zygos Club, is currently on tour with Dimitra Galani, while winter expects to see her with Eleftheria Arvanitaki. Amid all these new, much-esteemed acquaintances, Aslanidou has also had the pleasure of cutting her first solo album, and it’s a good one to boot. A compilation of songs by well-known lyricists and composers, «Perasma» (Passage) contains songs by Lavrentis Mahairitsas, Takis Bourmas, Thodoris Papadopoulos, Lina Demopoulou, Smaro Papadopoulou and Foteini Lambridi, among others. Twenty-eight years old, Aslanidou is slight in build and with a face that alters according to her emotions, both on stage and before the lens. Her voice is distinctively that of a laiko singer, with characteristics of its own. A three-year stint at Mylos’s Petrino concert venue was her first real break. It was there that the public first heard her and began commenting on the «emotion in her voice.» «It’s true that the atmosphere there was warm and direct. It was like the old times when people would get together in small music taverns; it had the same sincerity and spontaneity. It had the atmosphere we were taught by the older generation, which is described in books referring to Vamvakaris, Papaioannou and Zambetas,» she says. Daughter of immigrants She remembers always having a song on her lips ever since she was little. «I used to get stuck on songs and would drive my parents crazy trying to learn them. My parents have nothing to do with all this; they’re farmers. Only my mother showed a certain sensitivity to music and painting. I probably got it from her,» Aslanidou recalls. A child of immigrants, Aslanidou was born in Stuttgart, Germany, and grew up in Yiannitsa, northwest of Thessaloniki. «My parents left in search of a better future, like so many others, but they soon returned because they didn’t succeed. I was two-and-a-half years old and don’t remember much, except for the fact that they were always hard at work. My father worked on farms and my mother was a laborer.» The events that led Aslanidou to where she is today began, timidly, when she was 18 years old. «This is the time when kids become independent, when they leave home and try to make it on their own,» she says, adding that her single passion was for singing. Her friends used to tease her over her fixation: «The least you can do is go somewhere where you’ll be heard by others,» they told her. She began gradually, trying her luck in Thessaloniki’s live music taverns. She hid her efforts from her parents for two whole years. «What was I to tell them?» she explains. «They wouldn’t have accepted it. They had different dreams for me. You know, to become a doctor or a lawyer… When I revealed the truth to them, they reacted badly. But I was adamant: My love of music is so huge that nothing can change it. They ended up respecting this and were soon proud of me.» Invitations Aslanidou kept a level head despite the compliments she was receiving about her voice and invitations she was being enticed with. One of these was to sing on the big live music circuit, a proposal made by an agent. «I was wary from the start. I like singing, not showing off and posing.» As soon as I saw the venue, I told him, ‘This does not express me.’ He even showed me video tapes, saying, ‘This is what the girls do.’ My instincts screamed ‘No!’» These factors led to early appearances in small venues, «without microphones, a small table, three people: a bouzouki, guitar and vocals. This was the first band I worked with and we used to perform old songs; Eskenazy, Ninou, but Orfeas Peridis and Dimitris Papadimitriou as well,» she says. Her three-year stint at Mylos began with her first real professional invitation, extended by Christos Mitretzis. «We worked unbelievably long hours,» she reminisces. «We orchestrated songs the way we wanted, respecting their original executions and imbuing them with our point of view. This won the public over. I remember that we often sang until seven o’clock in the morning, and in the first year, we did this six days a week.» Journeys Now Aslanidou lives in Athens, and travels to Thessaloniki frequently. «It’s like I’m keeping up a certain level of resistance,» she says. Is she tired of having to share her time between two cities? «Not at all. I like the Athens-Thessaloniki journey.» Furthermore, she is over the initial period of stage fright. «It was not easy. One moment I was in a small loft playing with friends, and the next I found myself on stage alone; I had to close my eyes to be able to sing,» admits Aslanidou. She no longer closes her eyes on stage. Quite the opposite, she likes looking her audience in the eye. «I like to feel that they are sharing my songs, that we are communicating.» «I feel like I’ve been given the world,» says the singer whose passion drove her from an early age. The first song she remembers is «Ade Madalio kai Madalena,» performed by Haris Alexiou – a singer who was, and still is, her idol. «My mother really loved Manolis Angelopoulos, Eleni Vitali, Rita Sakellariou. I still remember the day she came home with an autograph of Rita’s. We also listened to Glykeria, songs from Smyrna and traditional Black Sea Greek songs, because I have roots in the Black Sea region.» The first time she was asked to sign an autograph was memorable. «It was tender, because I was mostly asked by children. It’s like being confronted with the future,» says Aslanidou. Fulfillment Aslanidou does not believe that music has diametrically opposed genres. «There are no limits to songs,» she argues. «Music rises above everything else and is above all labels. Music is like an endless ocean. The more shores you visit, the better. They broaden your horizons.» Aslanidou feels fulfilled. «I have a sense of unexpectedly good closure. Mahairitsas, Bourmas, Nikolakopoulou, Antypas, Spathas, Dalaras and Galani are a blessing for a beginning. I would be ungrateful if I didn’t feel good about it,» she says. Aslanidou cannot, however, describe what it is about her that makes her stand out. Those who hear her sing speak of «something extra» in her voice. But there is an explanation for everything. «I was born in Germany and I also came to know Sweden, where my mother’s parents lived. They were all immigrants. I carry a sense of loss within me. I come from a family that has had a very hard time and has moved around a lot.» Maybe she’s right. The Black Sea, Yiannitsa, Germany, Sweden, Thessaloniki, Athens; a passage everywhere.