Women’s voices raised at Athens venue

On again for the fourth consecutive year, the Women’s Voices festival at the capital’s tiny Fones venue, which began over the weekend and runs until Sunday, promises an eclectic series of interesting events by various fringe artists for the attentive listener. Included on the all-female agenda are two of the country’s more renowned artists, the aging yet effervescent musicologist/performer Domna Samiou, as well as Savina Yiannatou. The event, which, like the venue itself, has been providing an open-stage policy without artistic constraints for scores of performers over the past four years, opened on Saturday with a 10-member female vocal ensemble from Epirus, northwestern Greece, singing traditional polyphonic songs from the region. A music-and-poetry tribute to a late radio producer, Rinio Papanikola, followed on Sunday. «The festival’s purpose is to experiment by bringing to the fore female artists who, like the event itself, like to experiment. You won’t find any divas here,» said the venue’s artistic director, Marianna Lyra. «It’s about presenting artists interested in exploring their vocal capabilities, or ones that have gone back in search of their authentic roots,» she added. After a one-day break yesterday, the festival resumes tonight with the actress Kerasia Samara who will be putting on a period performance that combines songs, news and comments pertaining to the times between 1946 and 1966 in Greece. She will be accompanied by the pianist Giorgos Kokoyiannis. The vocalist Katerina Papadopoulou, who has been releasing low-profile material for over a decade now, much of it focused on traditional music from Asia Minor and neighboring regions, will present a set in a similar vein tomorrow. She will be joined by a top cast of musicians including Socrates Sinopoulos on the lyra, a stringed instrument played with a bow. To her credit, despite a flourishing career both at home and abroad – on the world music circuit – in recent years, the gifted vocalist Savina Yiannatou has not shunned performing shows, usually experimentally inclined, at smaller venues. A frequent performer at the Women’s Voices series since its launch, Yiannatou will be performing on Thursday, accompanied by her Athens-based Tunisian colleague Lamia Bedioui. A word of warning, though. Fans familiar with Yiannatou through her more recent breakthrough albums – «Virgin Maries of the World,» «Songs of the Mediterranean» and «Spring in Salonica,» all with the backing of her excellent ensemble, Primavera en Salonico – can, by comparison, expect musical derailment. As is customary at her smaller shows, Yiannatou’s set on Thursday will be based primarily on improvisation, during which the artist tends to forsake melodic and rhythmic regularities for a bumpier, soul-searching ride of bizarre sounds and non-existent, imaginary language. Or, as Yiannatou warned her audience before dipping into her set at an older Women’s Voices festival: «I know how long I can last, but I don’t know about your limits.» There will be nothing obscure about the white-haired, 73-year-old Samiou’s message on Friday. Right on time for the carnival season’s festivities, the highly respected veteran artist who has spent decades researching, recording, and performing traditional Greek material endangered by extinction, will present her work’s more jovial, provocative side – traditional Greek carnival-season songs, or Apokriatika. Based on traditional melodies, the lyrics of these songs, which could not make more blatant references to the human body, or certain parts of it, had been originally penned as a form of escapism for the masses during the carnival seasons of yesteryear, when proper social conduct would be temporarily upturned. The entire second half of Samiou’s show will be based on such material, some of which she had recorded for her «Ta Apokriatika» album in 1994. These will be preceded by songs from Asia Minor, the land of Samiou’s ancestors, in the first half. Throughout, Samiou will be backed by a high-caliber trio on the politiki lyra – which was played in Constantinople – violin and percussion. On Saturday, two interesting, lesser-known artists, Sophia Noiti and Irini Daskalaki, who occasionally join forces for doubleheader shows, will perform songs from the handful of albums they have each released in recent years. Noiti, a jazz-blues singer, has developed a reputation as Greece’s «black voice.» A creative interpreter, Daskalaki tends to render reconstructed versions of other people’s songs. The festival will close on Sunday with the actress Marianthi Sontaki, who has also studied classical song, performing music from theater and film linked to various productions from various parts of the world. Sontaki will be backed by a cello-piano-violin trio. The Women’s Voices festival is one of three annual festivals organized and hosted by the small venue. It also stages a percussion event every January, and another series for soloists, local and foreign, which, incidentally, will begin late next month. Women’s Voices festival, to Sunday. Fones Live Cafe, 9 Artemonos, Neos Cosmos, tel 010.927.0628. Performances begin at 10.30 p.m. Women’s Voices festival, to Sunday. Fones Live Cafe, 9 Artemonos, Neos Cosmos, tel 010.927.0628. Performances begin at 10.30 p.m.

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