Notes ringing out at Thiseion

« That’s rembetiko,» a foreign tourist exclaimed after hearing the sound of a bouzouki at a small taverna in the Plaka district on a recent night in Athens. Without doubt, rembetiko, an early 20th century song form that expresses feelings from deep within the heart, is capable of having an emotional impact on listeners from beyond the local frontiers. One of the form’s better modern-day exponents, Maryo, a frequent performer at various festivals abroad in recent years, is currently singing at free outdoor shows in the capital as part of the Athens Municipality’s wider offering of street-music performances celebrating the Olympic Games. From the newly revamped Syntagma Square, down the Ermou pedestrian shopping street to the tourist districts of Plaka and Monastiraki, locals and visitors pack the alleys and squares nightly for the free concerts and events. Maryo has already performed several shows at Thiseion (opposite the train station) with two remaining, tonight and tomorrow. «I’m approaching these shows with great enthusiasm and a feeling of responsibility. I feel like I’m the host with guests at home,» said Maryo, born Maria Constantinidou. The singer spent over three decades entertaining crowds in her hometown, Thessaloniki, before eventually winning over Athenians on the strength of sturdy winter club residencies over the past five years. Besides rembetika, her repertoire also includes smyrneika (songs from Smyrni) and old-school laika (popular Greek music of the 1950s and ’60s), and nisiotika (traditional songs from the Greek islands). Songs by two legendary rembetika and old-school laika composers, Vassilis Tsitsanis and Yiannis Papaioannou, figure prominently in Maryo’s sets. As a singer, Maryo delivers without flamboyance but is loaded with authenticity. Usually jovial on stage, where she has often contended she feels very much at home, Maryo is a natural entertainer with a wicked sense of humor. Maryo’s dislike for the studio, as opposed to the stage, was accentuated by the release of her «Ta Laledakia» album in 2000. After refusing to lay down its tracks in a studio, Maryo recorded the album within the familiar surroundings of a Plaka venue, Perivoli tou Ouranou, where she was, at the time, performing one of several winter residencies. When asked how she felt the capital’s foreign visitors were responding to her performances on the Thiseion stage, Maryo noted: «They’re listening to our material with great pleasure and, more importantly, respect. The fact that they don’t understand the lyrics is irrelevant because these are songs that express feeling. Our visitors seem moved by the melodies. They see the locals dance and they also want to make an attempt.» Right after her Thiseion shows, Maryo will perform at international festivals in the Netherlands and Belgium, where she has accumulated a following on the world music circuit. Then, when back in Athens, the singer will prepare for a new winter season at the Harama club, an historic venue on the local circuit, in the Kaisariani district. A new album, a collaborative effort with Cretan balladeer Loudovikos ton Anogeion, is also expected in early fall. Maryo’s performances on the Thiseion stage begin at 11 p.m. and are preceded by two other extremely worthy local acts, violinist Kyriakos Gouventas (10 p.m.) for a presentation of songs from the Greek islands, and Mode Plagal, a truly exciting fusion act that masterfully blends Greek folk with jazz, rock and even calypso. The group, which has released three delightful albums of its own and, most recently, a fourth collaborative release with Bosphorus, a Greek-Turkish ensemble based in Istanbul, has played at various festivals in Europe as well as the Middle East. Gouventas, the violinist, is better known as a member of renowned vocalist Savina Yiannatou’s regular backing group, Primavera en Salonico, throughout their fruitful collaboration over the past decade, which has seen the outfit grow from a local fringe act to one widely recognized both domestically and abroad. Besides his work with Yiannatou, which includes an upcoming release on the high-caliber German label ECM, Gouventas has also proven a highly sought-after musician for various other local productions.

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