Bridging cultural differences

For close to two decades now, Nikiforos Metaxas has pursued an interest rather uncommon on both sides of the Aegean, namely deep-rooted academic studies on the differences and similarities between Greek and Turkish music. His objective has been to strive for musical bridges between the historically rival nations. Based in Istanbul for his work as one of less than 2,000 ethnic Greeks in a city of approximately 17 million, Metaxas has inevitably lived the life of an odd man out in order to delve into his uncommon bilateral musical quest. To date, the results of his long-running investigation, manifested mostly as albums and performances executed by his Greek-Turkish ensemble, Bosphorus, have appealed mainly to specialized audiences. A little recognition every now and then goes a long way to provide impetus for the cause. The latest injection of moral support came recently from a Brussels-based non-governmental organization that focuses its efforts on the diplomatic equivalent of Metaxas’s musical concerns. The non-governmental organization (NGO) European Center for Common Ground (ECCG), recently named Metaxas as this year’s winner of its «European Award for Bridging Differences through the Arts.» Metaxas traveled to Brussels to receive his award at a ceremony late last week. The Congo-born-and-raised Metaxas has been based in Istanbul since 1985. He had initially traveled to the city on a one-year scholarship granted by the European Cultural Center of Delphi for studies in Greek-Turkish musical differences as well as neglected traditional instruments. But once that year was over, Metaxas, feeling that he had merely skimmed his complicated subject’s surface, decided to stay on. These days he considers himself a local resident of Istanbul, a city with a dominant Greek past that ended in 1923 following a massive population exchange policy between Greece and Turkey to defuse bilateral tension. Metaxas, as musical director, has been at the helm of numerous albums released by his Greek-Turkish ensemble Bosphorus, as well as other related side-projects. Much of Metaxas’s work has focused on comparisons between Byzantine and Ottoman musical traditions. More recently, Metaxas, a traditionalist figure who tends to be apprehensive toward newer trends, both in music and beyond, took a bold step – considering his work’s purist essence – in opting for an electrified sound that emerged intentionally from a collaborative album with the younger Athens-based «ethnic jazz» act Mode Plagal. The album, «Beyond the Bosphorus,» released early this year, was made as a bid to capture Istanbul’s contemporary mood, as Metaxas has noted. Incidentally, the recording’s cast will meet on stage for the first time since the project’s release for a performance – with free admission – in Athens this Saturday at the French Institute. Bosphorus and Mode Plagal had performed together in Turkey prior to their joint album’s release, while the Athenian combo has played shows of its own in Turkey. Moreover, members of Mode Plagal, who have fused Greek folk tunes – mostly from the north, reserved as a potent jazz-funk-rock-calypso cocktail – on three albums to date, have frequently traveled to Istanbul to study Byzantine music under Metaxas and other tutors. The joint Bosphorus-Mode Plagal album project, which makes up the main component of this Saturday’s show, led to a spillover of styles that merged the Istanbul-based ensemble’s acoustically played traditional styles from the East with Mode Plagal’s adventurous take on Greek folk music. The ECCG, which awarded Metaxas for his work, is a non-profit organization that has operated in the field of conflict prevention and resolution since 1995, from Brussels, its home base. The NGO has strived to link its efforts with various European institutions, EU governments, the UN, and local and international NGOs, with the aim of introducing techniques of peaceful conflict resolution in high-level tension areas. To date, ECCG activities have included work on programs that have covered Greece, Turkey and Cyprus; western and central Africa; the Balkans; Ukraine; and North Africa and the Middle East. Upcoming ECCG initiatives include the third annual Common Ground Film Festival in the USA, organized in collaboration with international partner Search for Common Ground, a Washington-based NGO. The festival, to be held at George Washington University late next month, focuses on films dealing with diversity and conflict, and will feature films set in Rwanda, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Pakistan, the Middle East, and Northern Ireland. The recently established annual film event’s aim is to offer audiences a broader perspective of conflict by presenting diversity and conflict in a balanced way. Bosphorus-Mode Plagal: Saturday, 8.30 p.m., French Institute in Athens (31 Sina, Kolonaki, tel 210.339.8651). Free passes for the concert are currently available at the French Institute and the Goethe Institute in Athens (14-16 Omirou, tel 210.366.1000).

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