Singer steps away from fanfare and back to music’s grass roots

Now preparing for an upcoming series of shows in Athens, to feature – in his own words – «music without the fanfare,» Yiannis Kotsiras said the low-key idea resulted from a clash of musical worlds he experienced while watching television. «I was enjoying Haris Alexiou singing when an advert for a compilation album by Eleftheria Arvanitaki came on, which made me think of all the wonderful songs we have,» said Kotsiras. «But before this thought had even begun taking shape, the stars of a trash TV talk show appeared promoting the ‘skyladika’ [superficial and ostentatious Greek music clubs and acts]. And it made me wonder why we accept what goes on around us – the opposite of substance.» The outcome of these thoughts, a 10-night series dubbed «Contra-canto» at the tasteful Zoom venue in the Plaka district, begins on March 21. Kotsiras will present material that he rarely performs, as well as favorite songs. This [choice] comes as a surprise? Songs like «Mama gernao,» sung by Tania Tsanaklidou, or «Ximeroni» by Haris Alexiou; they’re songs that make the difference during a dead-end period in music. Of course, it’s a dead end we created ourselves by choosing the mediocre as if it were good. What does this mean to a singer? That he or she must carry on singing the same songs; that new songs cannot be found. It’s a vicious cycle. Songwriters don’t offer their work anymore because they can no longer live from music. Is that what drove you to write songs? It was the need to express myself. I can’t be compared to a good composer. I released two or three songs because the ones being played were worse. In an age where half of the acts claim to be artists and the other half are running off to reality TV shows that ridicule music, how do you feel as someone who started off differently? I’ve essentially stopped watching television for about a year and a half now. I feel indifferent to it. I feel concerned about my reaction, but if I get involved, I’ll lose my objective. I want to make the best possible music I can, like when I started off. That’s going to be the bottom line of the [upcoming] shows – like a personal confession, or how I would want today’s music and nightlife to be, in other words, sparse. The colleagues I’ll be performing with, Dinos Georgountzos, Antonis Mitzelos, and Tassos Papastamos, share my view. Are audiences receptive of the sparse approach you described? It is said that they want noise and action. I see that most people feel concern about social welfare and paying off the mortgage. They’re the kind that concern me. What’s the new album you’re working on going to be like? It’s not going to compile songs by various songwriters – just two. With the exception of my previous album, I’ve always favored this more family-oriented approach to music making. This one’s going to be rock-tinged. Your previous album, «Taxidia filia» sold well but also generated negative comments. Because of the album cover and its designers. My choices annoyed certain individuals from the field who have withdrawn from active duty. What annoys you most in all that you see around you? That a lot of artists are working in other domains. I met one of the country’s most significant contemporary lyricists in a bookshop where he works as a salesman. Also, some singers who act like clowns. The spotlights must focus on the songwriters again. That’s how Greece made cultural progress in the 60s, 70s and 80s. An awful lot changed when the singers took over. Truth must be told, most of us are narcissistic and we don’t rely on substance but image instead. You’ve also been through this, haven’t you? I’ve seen how easy it is to get carried away. The situation will keep worsening as long as the mass media promote singers who really aren’t singers. There’s such a shortage of labor for important positions in our country. But everybody just picks up a microphone and sings. They’re a joke and television uses them for commercial purposes. Would you give up the mike for other work? I can do the nitty-gritty. I’d do it again if needed. What would you have preferred to have avoided or done over your career’s 18 years? There was a period in my life when I brushed my personal life aside. A huge mistake.

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