CULTURE

After 38 years up north, Maryo enjoys Athens

Maryo, the popular rebetika singer from Thessaloniki whose fame in more recent times has spread to Athens as well as major cities around Europe, has just released a live album, «Maryo at the Perivoli tou Oranou Club,» which documents the artist’s successful, ongoing stint at the club in the capital’s Plaka district over the past two years. Now well into her third consecutive winter residency there, Maryo’s performances marked her arrival in the capital after nearly four decades of performing continuously in Thessaloniki. «I definitely miss my hometown. But as we all know, everything is happening in the capital. Athens is where the wheels roll. I haven’t forgotten Thessaloniki. Let’s not forget, I worked there for 38 years straight,» said a typically jovial Maryo from the club’s backstage. «People tell me, ‘You’ve abandoned us.’ But that’s where I’ll end up; that’s where my family, home, and beloved friends all are. This line of work, though, requires you to be everywhere.» Her recent popularity abroad has led to numerous shows around Europe, culminating in a «Touring Artist of the Year» in 1999, courtesy of the European Forum of World Music Festivals. Maryo’s album of that year, «The Grand Dame From Greece,» also made it to the Top 20 of the European World Music Charts. Ironically, immediately prior to all that, Maryo had remained virtually unknown beyond her hometown. The international break for the singer – who, before her present contract with the local Lyra label in 1987, and already almost 30 years in the business, had released just a handful of singles in the early 1970s – came after a festival performance in Stockholm in 1998 prompted foreign media attention and put Maryo on the burgeoning World Music map. Maryo’s latest album features excerpts from her live show, mostly old rebetika numbers, with the oldest dating back to 1936, by legendary figures such as Vassilis Tsitsanis and Yiannis Papaioannou. «Performing songs live projects the real character of the songs, their liveliness and spirit,» said Maryo, who had also avoided the recording studio for her previous release, 2000’s «Ta Laledakia.» It, too, had been recorded at the Plaka venue on a mobile recording unit within two days, but not before an audience. As a singer, Maryo uses no frills. She delivers without flamboyance but is loaded with authenticity. Despite her joviality and wicked humor on stage, Maryo admits to feeling slightly tense, notwithstanding her extensive on-stage experience. The same goes for when she is recording. «I usually feel quite awful every time I’m about to record, as was the case for this live album. I was strung out during both nights it took to record it. Generally speaking, even when you’re not recording and playing to an audience, things tend to be that way. How can you remain ignorant of an audience that’s honored you with its presence?» Maryo said. «Whether I’m recording or performing for an audience, I’m giving a piece of my soul. So, of course, I’m going to be a little nervous every night, especially when I’m not feeling too well. But, you know what, I’m honest with the audience. I’ll tell them: ‘I’m feeling a little tired tonight. But it’ll be all right. We’ll get through the evening.’ We’re close, we have friendly ties, and that’s important.»