A more modern approach to Cypriot music made during previous times

One ranks as one of the country’s leading modern songsmith, the other as one of the finest young musicians, best known for his skill on the violin. A common, restless musical nature drew Alkinoos Ioannidis and Miltiades Papastamou together. Ioannidis’s willingness to explore and keep learning led him to Moscow last year for further studies. His inquisitiveness looks like it could carry on for quite some time, even through Ioannidis, a Cypriot, soon expects to become a father. Papastamou was born in Memphis, Tennessee, but has long felt an attraction for Cyprus, a main factor behind their new release, «Pou Dysin os Anatolin.» It took nine years for the musical pair’s collaboration to produce an album, one influenced by Cypriot musical tradition. The pair recorded aging singers they sought out on the island, and researched various archives. Before releasing their project, Ioannidis and Papastamou tested audiences at the Little Theater of Epidaurus, New York’s Metropolitan Museum, and at venues in Hamburg, London, and, of course, Cyprus. Public reaction, the musicians felt, showed their work could make an impact on today’s listeners. What was the objective? A.I.: To find songs that express how we feel today without turning to entechna (a sophisticated type of contemporary Greek music). They’re played and arranged by two people who grew up in cities and are not traditional musicians. M.P.: If a musician of today can’t reproduce traditional music, it’ll quickly end up being a museum item. What does traditional music have to say to a 37-year-old songwriter and a 40-year-old musician? M.P.: We’ve lived amid tradition, whether we want to or not. Civilization is based on it. We’ve been involved with this material for nine years, so there was something inside us. A.I.: It’s not a return-to-the-roots record. The desire was simple: to play the songs we listened to when we were young. An album like this, however, is not one of those that record companies will fight over to release. A.I.: The same goes for the people. Nobody pressured us. We organized the recordings and material. M.P.: Many people perceive us as creatures from outer space. Things are far more open abroad. What’s it like beginning your career with hit material, two albums’ worth of hits and, instead of taking advantage of this, recording a darker album with your songs? A.I.: I have the luxury of being a snob regarding things I’m not interested in. I put out music according to my artistic terms. How do the two of you work? A.I.: I have to lock myself up at home, read, get bored, play chess on the computer, and gradually enter a calm state… I set rules for myself to not see friends or pick up the phone. It’s a process I enjoy. M.P.: For me, too, there’s a creative period before recording that includes getting lost in time. But when there’s no pressure, nothing gets done. My work is not so much an art form that carries mass appeal. I hope to record three violin concertos that include improvisation. What does it mean to be a musician in Greece? Is it the heavy-hearted kind of guy just strumming chords before the main act, the pop star, hits the stage? M.P.: There are various types of musicians. I’ve seen some that are burned out artistically, and others who play very well without the creative spark. In classical music, good musicians are produced through rules. But it’s the spark that will take you beyond the rules. That’s why most major soloists in classical and jazz music are the type of individuals that were asked what it was they were up to at school. That’s what distinguished them from the collective pool of correctness. [Manos] Hadjidakis, in America, had told me, «Learn well your musical instrument’s technical aspects so that you never have a problem.» Do singers and songwriters give musicians freedom of expression, or are they treated ornamentally? A.I.: I was slightly annoyed by your previous description of musicians. I have another impression. Some people have paid heavily. It is said that becoming a doctor is difficult. Becoming a musician may be even more difficult. You begin playing at the age of 5 or 6, run around like mad to music schools for lessons and theory, study on a daily basis, go [to study more] abroad, or play other people’s music, which is altruistic. I admire them for their dedication. I would have liked to have been a good musician. How creative are these musical fusions of foreign and Greek, East and West? M.P.: When it’s done with artistic objectives, it’s different from when you’re in it for commercial results. If you think, «I’ll use these instruments, or that chord, because it sells,» well you’re burned. That will lead to retarded artistic results. How much do listeners understand about all this? A.I.: They sense everything. Everybody talks about listeners as if referring to a third party of people. We’re also a part of it. So, we all carry responsibilities. Superficial work can be sensed. I think that people consciously consume things made especially for consumption. Perhaps the consumer wants something cheap at a particular time of his or her life… It’s like buying mass-produced tomatoes at the supermarket. You know these differ from your garden’s, but the way life is, you don’t have the space, time, or the right frame of mind to grow your own. Sometimes, when we may not have played as well, I get annoyed when friends from the audience come and say to me, «Don’t worry about it, the people didn’t realize a thing.» If they haven’t understood anything, we’ve failed fundamentally. It’s the worst thing to hear.