Unconventional songwriter refuses to court popularity

Isidoros Papadamou, one of the country’s more unconventional artists, who has been happily making music from the sidelines for well over two decades, originally with the cult rebetiko-surrealists, Heimerini Kolymvites, and more recently as a solo performer, will make a rare visit to the capital from his quiet home on the outskirts of Thessaloniki for two small-scale shows this weekend. A talented songwriter and bouzouki player who played a key role supporting the songs of Argyris Bakirtzis, frontman of Heimerini Kolymvites, Papadamou abandoned his former group in the mid-1990s to focus on his own material. Despite cutting himself off from one of the country’s biggest cult acts, Papadamou has remained unperturbed. After releasing two albums of material – most of it based on authentic laika foundations with peculiar personal touches – on Ano Kato Records, a tiny independent label based in the country’s north, Papadamou went further down the offbeat track last year with the release of a commendable third album, Tou Diavolou ta Lychnaria, his most recent release, which he refused to distribute to stores. Instead, Papadamou opted to give the album out for free only to genuinely interested listeners, as a form of protest, or expression of disgust, as he declared at the time, at what the artist views as the prevailing vulgar state of contemporary Greek music, and the music industry. About 3,500 happy fans got their copies. Not surprisingly, a year later, Papadamou still stands by his word. My detachment from the music industry was a step toward freedom. I felt liberated. I don’t care about publicity. The purpose of making music is to communicate, not achieve commercial success, to truly touch and move listeners, Papadamou said in a telephone interview. I’m content with a modest audience, one that really listens. In general, people go out to loosen up and be entertained, not to listen. Fortunately, we don’t make a living from music, and as a result, are able to choose the course we take. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not elitists. We have respect for what we do, he added. Papadamou abandoned his high school teaching job after a 12-year career and switched to crafting various stringed instruments. He works from home where he has also set up a studio in which he records his songs in a casual fashion with close associates, including his two siblings, Andreas and Anastasia, and former bandmate, guitarist Giorgos Tamkatzoglou. Along with young vocalist Nicoletta Dimitriou, they will back Papadamou in the upcoming shows. Besides the older material, Papadamou will present several new, unreleased songs to be included in a fourth album. At the current rate of production, it will be completed in about a year, Papadamou said. Like its predecessor, it will not be available at music stores. It will, however, be sold at cost price at shows and through mail orders directly from the artist. Right now, my son and I are recording the foundations of new songs during our spare time, and keeping whatever seems to have struck the right mood. Sometimes, I envy those artists who go into the studio with everything prepared for them, who take about a week to do an album, Papadamou remarked, almost ironically. But I think you need to push yourself if the work is going to offer any sort of uplift, genuine satisfaction.

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