Avoiding extremes of entertainment

Trying to define what constitutes entertainment these days can prove a difficult task, one made even trickier by the role of the media. Take television, for example, the most powerful medium of all, which does not merely report or inform, but goes so far as to shape current affairs. It tends to limit, or reduce, entertainment to the standards of pop stars such as Despina Vandi and Antonis Remos. Generally speaking, public opinion seems to have been persuaded. To paraphrase a local saying, the better fun had at shows by entertainers such as the aforementioned, the bigger the boredom at concert performances by the more serious exponents of modern Greek song, categorized as entechno artists. This, however, is not necessarily true, as reflected by the current developments at two venues in the capital. At the Metro Club (47 Gyzi & Kalvou, Gyzi, tel 010.646. 1980), the teaming of two acts, Eleni Tsaligopoulou and Nikos Portokaloglou, is proving that quality need not be boring. Tsaligopoulou, renowned mostly for her interpretations of Greek laika songs, and Portokaloglou, a rock-inclined Greek artist, have tossed strict categorization out the window for their current shows. «When I told some friends that I’d finally be performing with Portokaloglou, they asked: ‘So, how are you going to do ‘Tzivaeri’?» Tsaligopoulou told fans at a recent show, referring to a traditional Greek song included in her repertoire. The vocalist’s stage partner immediately replied without uttering a single word, instead by using his electric guitar to accompany her splendidly throughout the number. For their shows, the two have stepped over into each other’s respective fields. Performing his rendition of an old Greek hit, «Do Something So That I’ll Miss the Train» (Kane Kati Lipon Na Haso to Treno), Portokaloglou described the track as the «biggest rock tune of them all.» The seemingly incongruous duo’s crossover performances shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, some of the country’s most important postwar composers, whose work helped evolve and redefine modern Greek song, did not neglect forms that differed from their more customary fields. Let’s not forget that the late, great rebetika artist Vassilis Tsitsanis, for example, also penned waltzy numbers, while another bygone figure, the master composer Manos Hadjidakis, included laika songs in his vast, mostly classically inclined repertoire. As reflected by their performances at the Metro Club, Tsaligopoulou and Portokaloglou, as well as the lineup’s other performer, upcoming artist Giorgos Andreou, are showing equal respect for introspective, soul-searching material and more jovial numbers penned to entertain. Precisely the same is the case at one of the capital’s other venues, the Sfendona Club, (22 Alexandras Ave, tel 010.825.3991-2) where two of the younger generation’s more accomplished vocalists, Yiannis Kotsiras and Dimitris Bassis, have teamed up for a mix of thought and pleasure. At a time when some of their colleagues are doing their utmost to keep audiences seated as a sign of respect for the performing artist and his or her work, the duo does is not possessed by what we could call the «entechno complex.» Attention and order can be respected because of what such performers stand for, but this approach is not that well suited to the Greek musical tradition. Movement and dance, which have been absent from performances of worthy artists for some years now, are making their return through the younger-generation artists. Lending support to this shift are the quality laika songs of yesteryear, which, in recent years, many artistic directors had mistakenly deemed to be outdated numbers with insufficient appeal to draw younger crowds to their venues. Newer Greek pop numbers, they thought, were guaranteed to do the job. But as the Kotsiras and Bassis shows are proving, the 20-something concertgoers seem well acquainted with classic, older laika songs by Mikis Theodorakis, and other aging gems by various singers, including Poly Panou and the late Stratos Dionysiou. The inclusion of Manolis Angelopoulos’s «Those Black Eyes of Yours» (Mavra Matia Sou), on the set lists at both venues is not coincidental. At a time when Greek song seems trapped between the pop-trash hit parade and artificial seriousness, these two clubs have been winning over fans this winter season on the strength of honest, unpretentious approaches freed of unnecessary complexity. Current residencies at both venues run through March 17, Thursdays-Saturdays (10.30 p.m.), Sundays (8.30 p.m.).

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