CULTURE

New musical collaboration to breathe life into stale scene

Numerous common elements link the seasoned vocalist Margarita Zorbala with songwriter Nikos Zoudiaris – modesty, a serious-minded approach to music, and now, a shared enthusiasm about their first collaborative effort. An album currently being worked on is expected early this fall. Zorbala, who was born and raised in the former Soviet Union before relocating to Greece as an 18-year-old in the mid-1970s, quickly immersed herself in deep artistic waters here as the vocalist on several albums of Mikis Theodorakis. «When your career begins with a composer of this caliber, you make five albums and tour the entire world with his band, it not only determines your course, but transforms your character as well,» said Zorbala. That fervent beginning, however, eventually led to the vocalist’s disappearance from the scene, in the early 1990s. «I began singing out of love for music. I don’t consider singing a profession. At that point in my life, I felt that singing did not concern me,» she said. «For me, it’s a need of the soul, and, because I no longer had that need, I fell silent. I had to rediscover Margarita as well as start singing from scratch.» Considering Zorbala’s strong presence in contemporary Greek music from the country’s return to democracy in 1974 until today, her opinion of the state of the local scene counts. «I respect the contemporary scene and, over the years, have understood that each era has its representatives. We can’t go on living in the past,» Zorbala remarked. This may be true, but there is no denying one of the characteristics of this era, the reglorification of the old in the form of cover versions of classics by younger artists. Discussion on this trend prompted Zoudiaris to make a critical comment. «Amid all this covers business going on, I see careers and overblown egos. There are lots of good songwriters around these days. Why don’t they [the newer singers] use them? But they prefer well-worked material, which involves no artistic stimulation, only commercial [considerations],» Zoudiaris said. «You’ve got to take risks and experiment to come up with things. When the only thing occupying your mind is how you’re going to sell 80,000 or 100,000 albums, nothing happens.» Commenting on the contemporary scene, and its flood of tasteless hits, Zorbala attributed the trend to long-running record company policies that have focused on nurturing singers alone, not the entire creative process. «Record companies began punting on singers about 20 years ago. Up until then, you had composers, lyricists and opinion, which is why worthwhile songs were being released. But when all the weight fell on the singers, we took a wrong turning. We’ve reached a dead end, and the result of it all is a barren scene, because it’s not just about isolated songs,» Zorbala remarked. «The composer must present an entire body of work. We can’t cull songs from various composers, toss in a couple of older ones and adorn them with new arrangements, all for the sake of making a hit record. Despite all this, I believe that Greek music has lots of life left in it.» Putting the heavily promoted singers in the limelight, Zoudiaris said, has changed collaborative dynamics. Singers, these days, he asserted, expect to be served by composers on their terms. «I’ve had proposals aimed at fostering their careers, for penning hit songs,» said Zoudiaris. «It’s different with Margarita. She’s above career-related anxiety. Besides, she’s not just an interpreter, but also a musician. She’s full of music. Also, she’s a European singer, which eradicates restrictions.»   It is this sense of freedom that is inspiring new material for their forthcoming album together. Zoudiaris, who in recent years helped bring the popular young artist Alkinoos Ioannidis onto the scene by writing the songs for his first two albums and also penned the material for Apostolos Rizos’s debut album, said he felt challenged working with Zorbala. «The difference with Alkinoos and Apostolos was that they experienced passion within passion. Margarita combines the knowledge of a mature person with the passion of a youngster,» Zoudiaris said. «I find that this helps, but it makes me anxious, too. I don’t know how our record together will fit into her record collection, alongside the others,» he added. Zorbala said she felt a strong urge for new music in her life. «I’ve been a singer for quite some time, and of the 20 albums I’ve released, 15 involve reinterpretations. I’ve always been forced to sing songs after they’d already been interpreted by great singers. I’d been requesting fresh material, but for some reason, would never get it. Perhaps I was also to blame,» Zorbala said. «Now I’m leaning on Nikos, while knowing that the result will be very good.»   The new album’s release is scheduled for early November, coinciding with performances by the two, along with Rizos, at Psyrri’s Sfendona Club.