CULTURE

Esteemed composer returns with poems that fuel his songwriting

Nikos Xydakis has always considered it difficult to merge melody with overtly romantic lyrics. The respected composer’s concern has been to make the words sound convincing, especially if they have to do with poetry. Yet despite his unease, Xydakis has written truly beautiful melodies for poetry. Now, on his latest album, «Grigora i Ora Perase» (How Fast the Time Went), Xydakis has finally turned to the ancient lyric poetry of Sappho, translated by the Nobel Prize-winning Greek poet Odysseus Elytis. The new album also includes a chorus song by Euripides, translated by K.H. Myris, as well as compositions based on three poems by Dionysis Kapsalis and another by Costas Karyotakis. The singer Eleftheria Arvanitaki, a longtime friend and collaborator, provided the album’s vocals. Commenting on the project in an interview with Kathimerini, Xydakis, who made a major impact with his debut album, 1978’s «Revenge of Gypsy-dom» and has since proven both prolific and eclectic, described the new album as difficult to make. «Grigora i Ora Perase» floats at its own pace, detached from the music industry’s demands. Art, Xydakis remarked, is a slow-moving process. How did this project start off? It was a long time ago. I’d generally started to have a preference for pieces and excerpts, something that I’ve done with the material of Solomos and Vyzinos. At some point, I found myself with Elytis’s poems and excerpts of Sappho. The project goes back 10 years and some of the songs were tried out at live performances some years ago. It’s very difficult, these days, to write songs of romance supported by romantic text. Besides the hesitancy, there were also objective difficulties. In most love songs, the words sound fake. So, I spent time thinking about how I could record such material and make it accessible. I wanted to feel that the words were convincing, contemporary. You’ve worked so closely with certain lyricists that some songs seemed like they were written by one person. What made you turn elsewhere? I generally find turning to poetry as being totally negative. I can understand wanting to look at certain poems, or cooperating with a poet at a given moment in time for a certain perspective. I’ve never written music for complicated poetry or poems that needed to be read straight from the source… The common characteristic of the poems that I’ve selected [to turn into music] is that they’re close to the music, in a way. This project seems like one created by a satisfied person. Do you feel this way? I think I am. More recently, I’ve felt like I’m onto something new. And that hasn’t just begun now with the release of this Sappho project. Where are the [music industry’s] new standards leading us to? Perhaps an overall cleanup. I think that the music quality is also in bad shape. People nowadays may not seek answers to their problems in song. Let’s not forget that a large portion of music is made for entertainment… What annoys you most? That communicating via text is difficult. Today, anything you do that lacks romance is taken as depressing material. It’s like you’re not supposed to address anything else… How do you get on with technology? Terrible. I’m totally hopeless. I can see the new musical horizons being opened up by technology, but I’m useless as a user. I’m currently adjusting. Did it help to test the new material on audiences, as was often done in the past? You always get a direct response to something that hasn’t been affected by the studio or the flow of advertising. I saw that the material was well received. I’d waited for years both to do these songs and make a record with Eleftheria [Arvanitaki], which I took as a calling to work with her, even though the requests have always been for us to do a more popular Greek (laika) project. They wanted «Revenge of Gypsy-dom: Volume II.» But I got my revenge with this one! Is it annoying to be asked, years later, to repeat the success of a landmark 80s release? I would never be able to work this style professionally. Not even as an obligation for a kind of music that I got to know inside-out. I simply worked on a project, like anything else. It’s insignificant that the songs happened to be laika. I’d feel incredibly bored to do it forever. Back then, we did the »Revenge of Gypsy-dom,» and it seems that it turned real. I was frightened by [the degree of popularity]. When something reaches a peak, it is in danger of turning baroque, or into artificial decoration. I didn’t want to reproduce the feeling…