Mediterranean musical journey over two nights at Herod Atticus

Now well into its summer-long stretch, the annual Athens Festival of drama and music has already presented several high-profile musical productions, the most recent being a career-spanning show by the veteran singer-songwriter Dionysis Savvopoulos last week. Next on the festival’s musical agenda is a production fronted by one of the country’s other major musical figures, Giorgos Dalaras, who will lead a multinational cast through a repertoire covering the Mediterranean basin over two nights at the Herod Atticus Theater this coming Monday and Tuesday. Dalaras, the country’s most prolific musical act for over three decades, will be joined by Dulce Pontes from Portugal, Eddy Napoli from Italy, Reyes Martin from Spain, Cheb Mami from a small village in southwest Algeria, Mira Anwar Awad from Israel, a soloist on oud, ney and a variety of other instruments from Morocco and other Arabic countries, as well a group of hand-picked musicians for a deep dive into Mediterranean sounds. Pontes, one of Portugal’s most renowned vocalists, will render a selection of her homeland’s traditional fados. The aptly named Napoli, one of Italy’s best-known figures of traditional material from Naples (or Napoli), will merge on stage with Awad, an Israeli vocalist with an interesting Palestinian-Bulgarian background. The production will also include a dance performance from Macarena Giraldez Losada. Titled «30th-40th Latitude,» the ambitious production intends to shed light on the various types of Mediterranean musical forms as variations on the region’s wider culture. Though stylistically distinct, the region’s various musical forms that gradually emerged over the years do share common historic roots. It is the upcoming production’s intention to convey many of these similarities through Mediterranean music and the feelings it conveys, both in times of joy and happiness. Dalaras, who will spearhead the «30th-40th Latitude» performance, has long been fascinated by neighboring Mediterranean sounds, as well as the more geographically distant styles they helped shape. Back in the mid-1980s, for instance, long before the «ethnic» scene became chic for listeners in the West, he released «Latin,» an immensely popular album that topped local charts for a considerable period. Prior to that, in 1975, reflecting his deep-rooted interest in music, he had put out «50 Years of Rebetika,» an album through which he helped preserve and popularize a largely neglected part of the country’s musical heritage. More recently, Dalaras also shed light on another fading form, estoudiantina, the type of orchestras that appeared in Istanbul and Smyrna in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of the upcoming production’s other main performers, Pontes, the Portuguese fado singer, has, like Dalaras, also cast the contemporary spotlight on a style of the past. Pontes is one of several young Portuguese acts that have worked and popularized the fado, made famous worldwide by her late compatriot, Amalia Rodrigues. She showed signs of a future in music early on. The 35-year-old artist won top prize at a national song festival in Portugal back in 1991. A year later, Pontes released her debut album, «Lusitana.» By the time of the release of her second album, «Lagrimas,» in 1992, one of Portugal’s biggest sellers, Pontes had begun making an impact beyond her own national frontiers with well-received performances in various parts of Europe, the US, Japan, and Brazil. A track off the «Lagrimas» album, «A Cancon do Mar,» originally sung by Rodrigues, was included on the soundtrack for the Hollywood film «Primal Fear,» which starred Richard Gere. Her ensuing releases have depicted an interest in exploring new tones, new instruments, as well as vocal experimentation in various languages and song traditions. In seeking prospective collaborators, Pontes has traveled extensively, recorder in hand, in search of musicians she admires. These far-ranging efforts became apparent on her more recent fifth album, «O Primeiro Canto,» whose elusive sound and style does not conform to conventional form. «I am more interested in the feeling than in the technique,» says Pontes. «At the end of the day, nobody is an impenetrable island,» she adds, referring to her ambitious musical endeavors. Working with Dalaras and the rest of the cast for «30th-40th Latitude» is the latest of these.