NEW YORK, October 2014 – The live streaming at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center was a moment of synergies: Speaking from after-hours Athens, legendary Greek poet-lyricist Manos Eleftheriou was engaged in conversation with composer Pericles Kanaris, standing alone on the Lower Manhattan stage. Somewhat inevitably, the discussion turned to the Greek crisis. “We don’t need your financial, but your moral support,” noted Eleftheriou, stirring emotions among an audience chiefly comprising members of the city’s Greek-American community.
This evening was not about the recession, though, but about songs – the kind that bring generations and cultures together, in this case through the lyrics of Eleftheriou and music penned by the young composer. Billed as a premiere and a tribute, the evening was a curtain raiser for “Aoratos” (Invisible), a CD featuring unpublished lyrics which Eleftheriou entrusted to Kanaris based on “intuition,” as the poet recently revealed on the radio. For Kanaris it was an opportunity to add to the history of Greek music through a project featuring both Greek and foreign artists.
Performing the album’s title song, rocker Vassilis Papaconstantinou was warmly received on stage. He was followed by Costas Makedonas and two new-generation vocalists, the dynamic Rita Antonopoulou and up-and-coming Lamprini Karacosta. As Kanaris joined the singers, the performance was complemented by a visual dimension to “Aoratos” created by acclaimed Greek artist and New York resident Lydia Venieri.
Whether tender (“I had lit up all the stars/for you, my love, to warm you up”) or harsh (“Whom should I envy and for what/when the future is the past/and the world a fraud?”), Eleftheriou’s words were “wrapped up” in Kanaris’s music. The album’s seven tracks are defined by their multiformity: a Greek identity with global sounds, where zeibekiko meets balladry, Latin and rock. In the second part of the concert the artists paid tribute to Eleftheriou’s long career.
What does “Aoratos” bring to the Greek music scene?
“My generation. ‘Aoratos’ is the road taken by a person whose Greek roots have been embellished by non-Greek elements after living in the US for 20 years – the last 12 in New York. My university years, my work and collaborations, along with the sounds with which I grew up are all reflected in my work. These are the raw materials you add to the mill, the exposure to this sort of melting pot,” Kanaris told Kathimerini English Edition.
On the eve of the performance, cross-cultural creativity was rampant at the dress rehearsal at Gibson Studios in Hell’s Kitchen (the site of some landmark recordings, including Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”). During a press conference earlier in the day the singers had talked about relishing the opportunity to interpret new Eleftheriou songs and highlighted Kanaris’s creative perseverance.
“As far as I’m concerned poetry is the truth. What we go through on daily basis is not reality, but a convention,” noted Papaconstantinou.
Meanwhile, in terms of music, distance definitely makes the heart grow fonder.
“I grew up with Greek song and Eleftheriou was a leading figure. Undoubtedly I came to appreciate it even more after I left Greece and I got involved with it to a large extent because I missed it here in the US,” said Kanaris, who founded Greek music ensemble Synolon in New York in 2008.
Born in Athens in 1971, the composer studied music and philosophy in Britain and the US. His credits include music for films (documentaries, animation, movies), “Project Innocence” (originally for film), which was debuted by pianist Panos Karan at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 2007, the Metropolitan Museum’s first CD compilation of Greek music, “Music of Greece,” and the title song of popular Greek music show “Stin Ygeia Mas.”
“When a person is born and bred in Greece, with all the sounds and the language embedded in his DNA, I don’t see how he or she could express themselves more honesty without employing these ingredients in his work,” said Kanaris.
How did the Eleftheriou collaboration come about? “A common acquaintance heard my music and acted as a go-between. When I first met Eleftheriou he told me had stopped writing lyrics, ‘Those days are gone,’ he said. ‘No one bothers with songs these days.’”
The two kept in touch, and one-and-a-half years later Kanaris discovered Eleftheriou’s poems in his letterbox. “When I saw them I said to myself, ‘This is what my life is going to be for the next few years until this becomes a record,’” Kanaris recalled.
After setting words to music the composer met with various Greek record company executives. They were full of praise, says the composer, but no one seemed ready to take on the risk of production. His decision to undertake the project himself, in association with Canadian producer and mix engineer Roman Klun, offered him a sense of freedom: Recording sessions with vocalists Papaconstantinou, Makedonas, Antonopoulou and Karacosta (who did one album song each with Kanaris singing the other three) were organized in Athens, while more recording sessions took place in New York with musicians from around the world.
Among the CD’s highlights is a collaboration with Grammy award-winning producer/engineer Neil Dorfsman who mixed the title song. “I was intrigued from the start, loving the idea of merging seemingly disparate elements into something new, emotional and relevant,” noted Dorfsman, who has worked with Dire Straits and Sting among others, in a statement.
Australian guitarist Ben Butler, Greek cellist Giorgos Kaloudis and Armenian-American composer and oud soloist Ara Dinkjian also perform on the album.
Following the New York premiere Athens is next, while the CD is available online at iTunes, Amazon and elsewhere. Does Kanaris fear an eventual comparison between new arrival “Aoratos” and Eleftheriou classics?
“I’m curious, yes, but not afraid, because that would mean being afraid of who you are,” he said. “The criterion for a song is whether it has the power to move different people with different tastes in music. A good song always ‘speaks’ to the person listening. That is the challenge.”
[Kathimerini English Edition]