Veteran vocalist embarks on musical journey for latest work

Culling music from various parts of the world, Maria Farandouri’s latest album sounds like a musical patchwork. «Mosaic» presents 14 songs from Armenia, Israel, Turkey and the UK, as well as Greece, all penned by noted songwriters. The geographically disparate collection is brought together by the voice of Farandouri, the lyrics of Magda Papadaki, arrangements by Makis Ablianitis, and a fine cast of musicians. They include Hariprasad Chaurasia and Glen Velez, as well as locals Giorgos Maglaras, Manos Achalinotopoulos, Yiotis Kiourtsoglou, Vangelis Karypis, Nikos Sidirokastritis, Ross Daly, and members of the choir Mystery of Bulgarian Voices. This musical mosaic, as the artist herself describes it, is loaded with guest appearances. Artistic capabilities of this personnel aside, there are plenty of stories to be told about the lives of many cast members. For example, the Turkish artist Fuat Saka, who was introduced to Greek audiences through a collaboration with the veteran singer-songwriter Dionysis Savvopoulos, returned to his homeland from exile in Germany to marry the girl he had been forced to leave 20 years earlier. Ahuva Ozeri, the contributing Israeli songwriter backed by an entire past of her own in Israel, had spearheaded an entire musical movement in the 1970s. A song she wrote about a friend lost in war touched a nation of suffering mothers so much that many of them poured out lyrics about their own lost children which Ozeri turned into songs. Commenting on the album, Farandouri described the material as being something that locals could relate to. «These are sounds that we Greeks have in our DNA. The idea was prompted by Alkis Vafias of [record label] Libra Music, who operates as a producer in the old sense of the word – in other words, the individual who searches, thinks about which songs match which voices, and so on,» noted Farandouri. For the seasoned artist, the behind-the-scenes record industry is nothing new. She gained international recognition during the 1970s; at the time, foreign press had described her as «the Mediterranean’s Joan Baez.» Back then, of course, the term «ethnic» had not been coined. However, long before the emergence of the organized ethnic music circuit, Farandouri had begun exploring musical fields beyond the local terrain. Whether she performed «Canto General» to the poetry of Pablo Neruda, or poetry by George Seferis and Odysseus Elytis to the music of Mikis Theodorakis, or music by the Cuban composer Leo Brouwer, or even, in more recent years, Smyrneika, rebetika, and other traditional forms, Farandouri was out exploring faraway styles long before the fashionable «world music» scene became a part of our lives. As a result of her active presence during the political turmoil of Greece’s military dictatorship (1967-1974), Farandouri, in the eyes and minds of many, is regarded as a protest singer. Yet she is not just that, as admirers abroad are well aware. For instance, Farandouri recently performed a set of compositions by Manos Hadjidakis and Mikis Theodorakis, as well as Byzantine music at Denmark’s Sculpture Museum in a room with significant ancient monuments. «These events are always interesting. They look for authentic emotion… I remember when I first heard the songs of Ahuva Ozeri they reminded me of Sotiria Bellou,» recalled Farandouri, referring to the old rebetika legend. «With her [Ozeri’s] songs on the CD, we tried to make the material more universal. They’re both songs and journeys at once which sing about love, but not in a commercial sense… The political references are not made in a populist way, but a more poetic one,» she added. Farandouri’s previous critical material now seems to have become more allusive. «Every era has its ways. With ‘Persephone,’ [Nikos] Gatsos and Manos [Hadjidakis] condemned through poetry. Here, of course, we don’t have anything similar, but there is material of suggestive nature,» said Farandouri. «You see, people have grown tired of the old way. It has now become more esoteric, like the singers who have turned to their egos. We can’t fool ourselves and say that nothing is happening. Noteworthy artists are producing commendable work. But lyrics need to be improved,» she added. When asked to comment on the world’s current problems, Farandouri remarked: «What are you supposed to accuse, our good lives? What’s occurring is tragic. Problems do exist, but how do you express them? [Lavrentis] Maheritsas [a fellow artist] put it well by saying: ‘I don’t like America, but I like living like an American.’» Returning to her latest album, Farandouri said its repertoire required her to deliver them in revised vocal fashion. «What characterizes me has not changed, but wherever it was needed, I sang with a finer, more expressive, and, at times, deeper voice,» she said. The singer did not offer an optimistic view on the «ethnic» music circuit’s future. «As is the case with anything that’s interesting, it’s been commercialized. I think the trend, not the substance, is close to its end,» said Farandouri, while pointing out that she believed truly inspired styles would survive the globalized music scene’s leveling effect. «Potent music will survive. We may not have the sparkle of Latin America’s musical tradition, but we have Byzantine music and rebetika.»

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