Stifled artistically, the domestic music circuit today is struggling to recover its lost inspiration of times past

It may not be the end of an era for Greek music but, without a doubt, the domain is no longer what it used to be. For decades, Greek music was ruled by greats such as Manos Hadjidakis, Mikis Theodorakis and a host of others, including Stavros Xarhakos, Yiannis Markopoulos and Thanos Mikroutsikos. Then, in the 1980s, came a younger generation of songwriters, including the Katsimichas brothers, Nikos Portokaloglou, Lavrentis Macheritsas, Socrates Malamas and Dionysis Tsaknis, who weren’t young, but their work did address matters related to angst-ridden youth. Other subcategories in the circuit of old included the pure entertainers who worked their magic at nightclubs to conjure up moods of unbridled passion and joy. There were also the steam-engine performers, such as Giorgos Dalaras, Haris Alexiou and Dimitra Galani, whose steady supply of appealing work functioned as a cog for the entire industry. Anything anyone could ask for from the scene was seemingly covered, but what have we now? With the exception of «Odysseia,» his new release which broke years of creative silence, the aging Theodorakis has taken a back seat and is content to follow his orchestra’s performances. Xarhakos conducts at KOEM, the State Orchestra for Greek Music. Mikroutsikos has been extracting continued success out of his classic older work, «Stavros Tou Notou.» Most of them have stopped writing new material. Unlike most, Dionysis Savvopoulos has publically contended that he will never write again. The generation of gifted songsmiths that succeeded these older greats are now in their 50s, and, admittedly, are not what they used to be. Their newer work no longer astonishes or provokes the listener – neither in terms of the music and lyrics. But there are exceptions. When Alkinoos Ioannidis, now just under 40, and Malamas perform together, as they have done over the past year or so, they manage to stir up a feeling of invigoration. Taking a look at the glitzier, pop-focused Greek music scene, top sellers Anna Vissi and Despina Vandi no longer electrify. These days, Helena Paparizou, a Eurovision winner in 2005, is the scene’s star, at least for now. But her stardom is, by comparison, less imposing. The country’s unabashed commercial hit-makers and nightclub stars are currently struggling for infectious tunes. Nor are the established and more respected singers enjoying good and carefree times. In recent years, it seems that many of the country’s better vocalists are aping the moves of the worst – simply because the latter are proving to be more popular. Cypriot pop singer-songwriter Michalis Hadziyiannis seems to be the only one easing his way through the overall crisis. This prolific figure of easy-listening pop music is definitely talented, and has managed to figure prominently on both the pop and quality-conscious sides of the domestic music scene. A gifted songwriter, Hadziyiannis has stood at the forefront for at least four years now and packs in the crowds at shows. For his shows this winter season, at the Vox venue in downtown Athens, he is joined by an unlikely choice, the traditional Greek-inclined singer Glykeria, as a guest star. Otherwise, all others seem to be stranded in awkward hesitation. The singers are on the lookout for a decent tune from the songwriters and lyricists. The record labels, which have stopped taking risks for well over a decade now, are adopting the more cynical perspectives of their parent-company multinationals. Meanwhile, the Internet is establishing itself as the future for music sales; music stores are closing down one after the other, and a growing number of deals are being struck between the music industry and mobile telephony companies. These days, fame no longer stems from the delivery of a catchy hit tune to the masses, but is more the result of PR efforts, often tasteless and unethical, on TV. The most recent album by the ubiquitous, top-selling yet quality-conscious George Dalaras, «Me to’na podi st’astra kai ta duo stin kolasi,» is not one of the better examples of his immense body of work. The project sounds like a collection of imitations based on previous work by more recent pop stars such as Antonis Remos, Yiannis Plutarchos or Hadziyiannis. Listening to the latest project by Alkistis Protopsalti, another seasoned artist of esteem, feels like you are being bombarded by repetitive, unimaginative pop music. The highly regarded Haroula Alexiou chose to put out two live albums, while her peer Dimitra Galani opted to release a Greek-language collection of contemporary popular songs from various parts of the world. All in all, most industry figures and listeners seem to agree that real creativity is lacking, the result being an abounding number of releases that were born of commercial intention rather than soul-searching needs. To put it simply, most songs being released here are simply meaningless – they’re just tailor-made numbers for various music styles and target markets. Back in the 80s, the songwriter Takis Mousafiris used to boast about writing songs that were tailor-made for the vocal requirements of various singers. These days, the singers are demanding new songs along the lines of preceding hits by colleagues. Most contemporary CDs give the impression of being aimless collections of attempts at hit tunes. A recent release by Nikos Xydakis and Eleftheria Arvanitaki, «Grigora i ora perase,» stands as a refreshing exception. But it took 10 years to complete, so the material here may not be that recent. Knowing well that her records don’t sell, the long-serving singer Tania Tsanaklidou has remained aloof on the issue. Instead, she has focused on occasional live performances, pouring out her feelings at intense shows that have packed the low-key Metro venue in the downtown Gyzi district this winter. A forthcoming release by the talented and unassuming songwriter Thanassis Papaconstantinou with veteran colleague Savvopoulos, and joint performances by the two at the Polis Theater in February stand as this winter’s most exciting pieces of musical news. The two have much in common. Both admit to not being musically educated; they heavily rely on their musicians; and base their work on poetry; borrow elements from various musical traditions, including rock, jazz, popular Greek («laiko») and folk. Despite their lack of training, their work is highly distinctive and catches the listener by refreshing surprise.