CULTURE

Expanding sound of Savina Yiannatou captured on live CD

More often than not, live albums seem to surface as needless additions to discographies as a result of their lack of new content, or their tendency to ape older work with dashes of crowd noise mixed in as the bonus offer. Miles away from all this, the uniquely gifted vocalist Savina Yiannatou’s latest outing, «Terra Nostra,» which was recorded live in Athens late last year, depicts an evolving artist interested in expanding older material along with her musicians. Also, half the songs selected for the live album, her first, do not feature on any of Yiannatou’s previous albums. Culling just under 75 minutes of material taken from Yiannatou’s three-hour performances at the Sfendona Club last November, «Terra Nostra» highlights the vocalist’s maturing partnership with Primavera en Salonico, her regular backing band. Having now worked together for close to a decade, the give-and-take of their collaboration is clearly beginning to b ear fruit on stage. No longer content to offer faithful renditions of traditional songs, mostly from the Mediterranean basin, Yiannatou and her band have gained enough confidence, as well as appetite for adventure, to stretch their material beyond its usual confines to cover new ground, with plenty of scope for improvisation. «The improvisation has intensified, and I’m glad about that. Nowadays, we’re listening to each other a lot more carefully and have loosened up. We’re improvising far more but not always for the better,» Yiannatou pointed out during a telephone interview. «I think that we all eventually wanted it to develop this way, but for each one of us the improvisational factor began surfacing at different stages.» The presence of improvisation was a key factor behind the selection process for the live album’s songs, Yiannatou said. Other factors that determined the choices included an interest in presenting bilingual work – in this case, songs performed with an Athens-based Tunisian singer, Lamia Bedioui – and a balanced musical presentation of Primavera en Salonico’s members, the vocalist added. Prior to «Terra Nostra,» Yiannatou and Primavera en Salonico had released three albums, «Spring in Salonica,» «Songs of the Mediterranean» and «Virgin Maries of the World,» which not only established the singer and her group locally but increased the demand for their material on the World Music circuit. These days, she spends just as much time performing abroad as she does at home. She notes that she never anticipated the current popularity of her work, nor was it a motivation behind her efforts. «It’s taken me by surprise. I’d simply begun doing something that I liked. The increased exposure has definitely made it easier for me to do certain things that I’m interested in doing,» remarked Yiannatou, an unassuming, soft-spoken individual whose vocal delivery, the result of both natural talent and disciplined work, can take her on trips that swing from ghastly mayhem to delicate affection. The stylistic and geographical diversity of her material, Yiannatou admitted, can often be the source of confusion. «I often feel that I’m on contradictory ground, and sometimes feel guilty, because of not really knowing where I belong. Thoughts like ‘What am I doing here,’ others about competence, and so on, often enter my mind,» Yiannatou admitted. «I seem to be compromising myself musically. But acceptance, both from colleagues and listeners, helps a great deal,» she added. Earlier in her career, long before critical and public acclaim began gradually flowing her way, the vocalist had considered focusing on other fields of interest, like graphic arts or radio. Before her career took off, Yiannatou had presented shows combining music and literature. Collaborations with the avant-garde artist Lena Platonos in the early 1980s, when she was still in her early 20s, and Cretan composer Nikos Mamangakis several years later encouraged Yiannatou to carry on, the artist said. Despite her ensuing critical and commercial success, Yiannatou and her musicians appear determined to steer clear of complacency. «Where we’re going to head toward from here on, musically, is an issue currently concerning the group. I feel that some sort of a cycle’s been completed, as well as the urge to go on without getting complacent, finding a new way out, revitalizing,» Yiannatou said. «I don’t want us to lose what we’ve accomplished so far.»