CULTURE

In the mainstream, but detached

Six years ago, Yiannis Kotsiras was singled out as a good and promising vocalist for Greek popular song, or laiko music. Things have since changed for the singer who first emerged in 1990 singing laiko and rebetika. Kotsiras has since gained wider exposure by working with composer Evanthia Reboutsika. Moreover, world-renowned composer Mikis Theodorakis entrusted the singer with reinterpretations of some of his classic works. Kotsiras’s album releases lead the local market’s pack in terms of sales during an acutely difficult time for the music industry. As a live performer, Kotsiras is a major crowd-puller and a consistent filler of venues, but you won’t find this quality-conscious act performing at clubs where the country’s reckless nightlife antics run wild. Kotsiras seems well aware of the publicity game, but he hasn’t succumbed to its more superficial options such as the morning talk shows on TV. This winter season, the 34-year-old singer is performing alongside seasoned artist Haris Alexiou. His most recent album, «Xylino Alogaki,» released last spring, will be followed by an imminent DVD release whose footage includes a concert at the Katrakeio venue in Piraeus. Do you think there will come a time when we will view albums? No. [DVD] is a medium for sound and picture, like video cassettes in the past. They’re not a surrogate for sound or the CD, but simply also provide a picture. Music alone creates images. DVD simply provides you with the opportunity to have the concert you’ve witnessed at home, in high-quality format. There are limits to the imagery of music. In recent years, we’ve increasingly relied on image rather than sound. Technology at the disposal of music is a good thing, but not vice versa. It’s true that songs are being written for film, or video clips, as it is also true that vocalists are being fashioned to serve TV imagery. I’m interested in picture when it converts to image in the songwriter’s frame of mind. Every year we see lots of singers not only conscious of their image but constantly seeking to reinvent themselves, as if they’d rather forget who they were the previous season. This is a reflection of our times. You can’t play with an oil lamp when lasers and holograms are being used. You use the oil lamp as a nostalgic effect, not as reality. The reality in 2003 is the hologram. All this makes us feel like we’re living in a fabricated «photo shop» world. Well, we are. Back in the times of the first modern Olympics in 1896, Spyros Louis ran barefoot. Nowadays, athletes run with air-cushioned shoes for greater comfort and better performance. And, of course, they’re wearing about a hundred advertisements. Has it ever occurred to you that you don’t recognize your own image? I won’t deny it. There’s hyperbole in newer ways: Computers, and their ability to make corrections, are a new game. The perfect thing, of course, is the real thing. A 50-year-old woman without wrinkles is fake and ugly. I would never be charmed by that. I’ve seen myself touched up and I didn’t like it. I wasn’t shocked, but it wasn’t real. Every wrinkle has its time. If you get rid of it, you’re nullifying the mirror. Your albums top sales, and you’re one of the major draws on the nightclub circuit, but not its more rampant side, with antics such as «flower-tossing.» In other words, you’re part of the mainstream while being detached from it. How do manage this bipolar state? I try to project my work more than I do my own self. I don’t want them to know me because of the way I dress or get my hair cut but because I sing. That’s what I was like before I emerged as a recording artist. Music these days gives the impression that everything’s the result of careful calculation. And I’m not only referring to the worst exponents but leading ones, too. It was always like this. In the recording industry, everything comes at a price from the moment you walk into a studio. The contributing artists get paid, which stands to reason, as does the singer, and the result’s promotional campaign also costs money. If it’s TV advertising, it’s expensive. The only thing that comes for free is the sentiment you’re left with from a good song. The emotional reaction. There’s a prevailing opinion that Greek song has become more lightweight since singers began coordinating recording ventures. I don’t consider my work to be lightweight. A song reflects its songwriter and performer. Who has the upper hand in the studio? Do you respect the creative team [songwriters, lyricists, arrangers]? Of course. I’m the third person, whose purpose is to express the creative team behind the material. Besides, we’re in an era when albums require the songwriting contributions of many; «Xylino Alogaki,» my most recent album, is the work of one songwriter and one lyricist – Lavrentis Maheritsas and Isaac Sousis [respectively]. What do you consider to be laiko [popular Greek] today? Definitely not whatever includes bouzouki… Today’s laiko has changed. Lefteris Papadopoulos [a veteran lyricist] has said that had he written «Aponi Zoi» or «Ftohologia» today, he’d probably have oranges thrown at him. Not because they’re not important, but because they function more as a memory. A laiko song can come from an act like Active Member [hip-hop]. Laiko, then, is the song form that describes today’s state, contemporary events, love, the environment’s problems, anxiety over the Olympics. In other words, whatever affects the common man’s sentiments. You have the ability to make ’60s era laiko [the form’s golden era] sound modern. Is there a formula or does it come naturally? That’s how I approach them. When I sing old songs, I don’t consider them as history. And I don’t try to imitate the older generation. I’ve experienced the material of older generations, but I’m not an oldie.