The beauty of diversity

Though now in his mid-40s, singer/songwriter Nikos Portokaloglou is still exploring the relationship between Greek laiko music and rock. His most recent album – the soundtrack for the film Brazilero by Sotiris Goritsas, which is about to hit mainstream movie theaters – is another exploration into the two musical styles that have captivated him since he was a young performer, namely laiko and rock. However, Portokaloglou has not fallen into the trap that other Greek musicians of his generation have; he has not gone for the endechno (music played and penned by skilled musicians, also termed art music) scene, although his diverse influences range from Talking Heads and the Rolling Stones to Tsitsanis and Hadjidakis. Kathimerini had the opportunity recently to speak to him. In Goritsas’s last film, Balkanizater, your music seemed to have a starring role rather then forming a backdrop. What were you trying to accomplish in the Brazilero soundtrack? I tried to make the music as simple as possible. My previous experience taught me that the music for a film must be minimalistic. I wanted my music in Brazilero to have a sense of cohesion, while in Balkanizater, it was like a collage of completely independent elements. How would you define laiko today? There is a lot of ambiguity surrounding the subject. The music we call laiko today has little to do with what we listened in the 1980s. Though endechno has done very well in concert this summer, record sales show that the public is snapping up laiko pop music. How do you explain this? In a live concert, the public looks for a deeper connection to the artist that will withstand the passage of time. The main problems facing record sales, as I see them, are pirated albums and access to music through the Internet. The issue this summer is simply that no single song really stood out. Are you saying that the endechno scene is not going through a crisis, as many argue? Good quality music, though I don’t like making comparisons, suffers from conservatism and nostalgia for the past. On the other hand, in pop you see a desire to embrace the trendiest new elements, be they in music or dress styles. There is something crass about this, but also something interesting; they look ahead. They want to be rooted in their own time and not defend a guilded past, as endechno does. Do you defend them? I better understand someone who makes a blunder while trying to be modern than the self-assuredness of someone living in the past. I feel closer to those agonizing over living in the present. A distinct preference for light entertainment seems to dominate, however. What do you think is the significance of this let’s just party attitude? It’s a fiesta of airheaded glamour-seekers; a new type of propriety. What’s the counterproposal though; depression? I also want to party, just differently. My roots are in laiko and pop, not in the sit down quietly and watch me display my skills style. You mentioned that you listen to laiko music. Do you think that the sentiment of original laiko in the period after the dictatorship is being lost in the process of modernization? The Greece of its refugees is long since lost. As an unrepentant rocker, I only started listening to Greek music in 1978, when I went to study in Europe. The issues that concern us change over time. Beyond songs, though, what we are really missing is a dialogue over how we want to be defined. We consider many things as being evident when they are not. I don’t think we have evolved much from the time after the dictatorship, when we were all standing, fortified, behind our ideologies. Your generation of artists, 20 years ago, was considered a new alternative in music. How do you see the energy of your youth today, now that you are 43 and a father of two? How do you see that period when everything was changing? I am also changing… Most people miss their youth and the nonchalance of student life. I had to work for a living when I was 20. Now I have more enthusiasm and drive than I did at 25. I dedicate more time to my music, to my friends, to reading – things I never did when I was young. I don’t miss anything.

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