Taking local music on a worldwide tour

In keeping with the growing World Music market, a considerable number of Greek acts are beginning to enjoy exposure abroad and are finding foreign audiences far more receptive as a result of a heightened interest for music from exotic lands – or anything unfamiliar to the industrialized West. Album sales have risen in European and Asian markets, as well as in the USA, while concert appearances by Greek artists abroad have become more frequent. Ironically, many of these artists operate here on the fringe, overshadowed by the numerous ephemeral acts which are churned out, manufactured and stylized by the local pop industry. However, they are becoming appreciated by the discriminating foreign ears of listeners eager to tune into fine work for its quality and artistic conviction, regardless of origin. I believe that Greek music possesses all the drive and potential to do well internationally. Greek album sales do well in foreign markets, without, of course, registering phenomenal numbers, said Thalia Iakovidou of Musurgia Graeca, the World Music-oriented division of local record company Lyra, home to many of the country’s quality acts. Some artists are faring very well indeed, with Savina Yiannatou at the forefront, followed by Kristi Stasinopoulou and Mode Plagal, added the label’s official. Now a frequent performer abroad, Yiannatou, one of the country’s most gifted vocalists, has enjoyed chart success on European World Music charts. So, too, has the Athens-based ethnic jazz act, Mode Plagal, which will soon be releasing its third album, just called Mode Plagal III. Stasinopoulou’s most recent album, 1999’s Echotropia, an intriguing blend of rock, psychedelia, Greek folk and electronica, was last year’s highest Greek achiever on foreign charts. The album reached number six on the influential World Music Charts Europe (WMCE), which is compiled through votes cast by European radio producers. I think that foreign listeners are beginning to realize that Greek music is not just about the bouzouki, syrtaki and Zorba, but a much richer musical field, Iakovidou remarked. They’re discovering both older and newer forms, whether it’s the folk music of Thrace with its peculiar rhythms, rebetika, or Cretan music and that of other islands, and, of course, more modern styles, such as entechno or pop, she added. With the upcoming Athens Olympics now just three years away, Iakovidou noted, the potential does exist to develop an even greater interest in Greek music by foreign listeners. But the labels must collaborate and coordinate their efforts, while state support, which is lacking, is also necessary, she said. Considering the potential for increased exports of Greek music and the abundant musical talent already accumulated under the Lyra label, its Musurgia Graeca division is currently launching numerous albums, those it considers capable of transcending the confines of Greek expatriate communities into broader foreign markets. The following are some of Musurgia Graeca’s more recent releases as well an imminent release by Mode Plagal: TSIAMOULIS, KARADOUMAN ‘Where Nostalgia Hurts’ Shunning the political differences that have kept neighbors Greece and Turkey at odds for ages, the acclaimed Greek multi-instrumentalist of folk instruments Christos Tsiamoulis and his Turkish colleague, soloist Kh’Alil Karadouman, a master of the zither, join forces here to lay down and mesh their views of shared musical traditions with Where Nostalgia Hurts. A live recording, the album is the result of shows performed in Athens in 2000. The duo are joined by an ensemble of accomplished Greek musicians, including ney player Haris Lambrakis – a member of vocalist Savina Yiannatou’s superb band, Primavera en Salonico, as well as that of up-and-coming ethnic fusion group, Occasional Dream – and Socrates Sinopoulos, a young virtuoso of the lyre of Constantinople. CHAINIDES ‘The Barefoot Prince’ On their latest release, The Barefoot Prince, the Cretan balladeers Chainides continue to weave delicate craft in a double CD featuring mostly original material that has been heavily influenced by the island’s stirring musical heritage, as well as the occasional traditional number. Besides this sextet’s core membership, the album features guest appearances by numerous talented performers, including fellow Cretan Psarantonis – who, incidentally, is currently enjoying considerable exposure abroad for his own radical interpretation of Cretan tradition, one that involves truly passionate, unbridled improvisation, primarily with the island’s traditional lyre – and the Athens-based Cypriot artist, Alkinoos Ioannidis. MODE PLAGAL ‘Mode Plagal III’ Mode Plagal is hipper than any American record I’ve heard in a longtime, is how one critic at the respected US trade magazine Modern Drummer responded to ethnic-jazz combo Mode Plagal’s self-titled debut release back in 1995. Not surprisingly, the reviewer also gave the album a five-star ranking. The Athens-based group, which has lived up to early promise with an excellent follow-up, 1999’s Mode Plagal II, an album that served to further enrich the band’s intricate sound – an outstanding fusion of Greek folk, mainly from the country’s north, with jazz, funk, rock and calypso elements – is back with a third album in a similar vein, due to be released in the next few weeks. But, unlike its predecessors, where the material was mostly instrumental, Mode Plagal III features a formidable cast of some of the country’s finest female vocalists, including Savina Yiannatou and Yiota Vei. PSARANTONIS ‘Idaeon Antron’ Since he emerged with his debut album back in 1973, Cretan virtuoso instrumentalist Adonis Xylouris, better known as Psarantonis, has shunned the limelight and proffered few words about himself. Introverted and uneasy, he consistently unleashes his inner thoughts and feelings through an intuitive musical talent. A maverick player with an unorthodox, often aggressive technique on the lyre, Psarantonis has won acclaim and also prompted purists to question his often distorted interpretations of the Cretan tradition. The intensity of his delivery recently prompted one euphoric German critic to describe him as the Greek Jimi Hendrix. After pushing his penchant for improvisation to extremes on 1997’s instrumental escapade, Nogo, Psarantonis pulled the reigns in, slightly, for his most recent release, Idaeon Antron, by disciplining his playing around the vocal tracks. The album features his daughter, Niki Xylouri, a regular collaborator, on two tracks, as well as two of his sons, Giorgis and Charalambos Xylouris, on a variety of instruments. The unassuming Cretan’s artistic conviction blitzes his obvious virtuosity – the ultimate standard for most musicians – to the point of irrelevance in one of the local scene’s more exaggerated cases of passion over technique. HAIG YAJDZIAN ‘Yeraz’ A self-taught musician, Haig Yajdzian has poured devotion into his craft to win the respect of his peers both as a virtuoso instrumentalist on the oud and as an intriguing songwriter. His latest album, Yeraz, Yajdzian’s fourth, and his first with Lyra’s Musurgia Graeca division, the artist says, is the culmination of a musical journey that began in 1994, the year of his debut release. On Yeraz, Yazdjian blends a combination of old traditions from the East with more contemporary views of the West.

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