Shake, rattle'n'roll Greek-style in UK
Athens News - 25/07/2003
BY MARIA PARAVANTES
Mode Plagal and Krotala take a part of their homeland with them to theRhythm Sticks Festival in London on July 26. Both bands took time out ahead ofthe event to speak to the 'Athens News' about music, globalisation and theideal audience
Mode Plagal (L-R): Thodoris Rellos, Kleon Antoniou, Antonis Maratos and Takis Kanellos
A FRESH breath of Mediterranean air will flow through hazy London on July 26, when two Greek bands take the stage for the annual Rhythm Sticks Festival, bringing the city's South Bank alive with the vibrant aural colours of Greek tradition past and present. Fusion outfit Mode Plagal - known mostly for their downright funky improvisations of traditional demotika - and playful percussionists Krotala plan to treat Londoners to a music that goes beyond the stereotypes of "fun in the Greek sun with a bouzouki".
They don't call themselves a traditional outfit and don't like it when people confuse what they do with something they're not. They don't play the sales game but they do have avid fans. Mode Plagal will impress because they have fun doing what they do. Two members of the 13-year-old group, sax player Thodoris Rellos and guitarist Kleon Antoniou, talk to us about what's more important - "naming music or making music, naming the feel or feeling the feel, borrowing traditions or making your own..."
How would you describe your music?
Kleon Antoniou: Very generally, I'd say fusion, but when you say fusion your mind immediately goes to the jazz-rock scene of the Berkeley school, which really isn't what we're doing. I'd say fusion because it's made up of different elements of various types of music.
Your influences include Bulgarian clarinettists, Africans, Coltrane...
KA: ...traditional Greek music, rock, blues and funk.
Are there clubs that cater to this fusion jazz?
KA: Right now no, we're going through a tough time concerning jazz in Greece. There is a very limited number of clubs where you can do your thing.
Globalisation and music?
KA: The first is an economic system - imperialism. The second is all about internationalisation. Music is international, it is global.
Does national music stand to lose its identity now that everyone is borrowing and integrating foreign elements into their music?
KA: Not necessarily, I think that globalisation in that sense has more to do with pop music, which is the same everywhere, rather than local traditions and styles.
World vs ethnic: What do you do and is one of the two 'cheaper'?
KA: We do world music, I'd say. Unfortunately, the ethnic scene got a reputation that raises suspicions. You could easily say someone is doing ethnic music if they add an electronic or acoustic element. There's a misunderstanding. I prefer the term 'world' music because it's global music, it reaches out, it's 'music of the emigrant'. It's a fusion of the city's sounds, of the traditions uniting in urban centres.
TR: In the '80s, I remember chatting about ethnic music with fellow musicians from other countries and there was a great interest. Then, as time went by, the labels tuned in to the musician's need to put his work into an international language (jazz, rock, blues, soul, R&B) and add elements of his homeland in order to express something from his own background. Producers came about and presented this in a square (logical) form to a certain beat, turning it into a dance hit and offering it with the ease they offer Polynesian or Mexican cuisine, pizza... and then all of a sudden we had a plethora of sounds.
It's obvious you draw your inspiration from demotika.
KA: It's part of our musical existence and our actual existence... I grew up with this music from my parents.
TR: It's like a question I asked myself: 'What would your father have to say if he heard the music you make?' and I thought to myself, 'That's the real reason I wanted to make music, so I could see what my father would say or someone of a different generation.' And I can't really say what influences me or why I do this or that because, you know, sometimes if you analyse too much, it stops being art.
Weren't you afraid that by experimenting with Greek traditional music someone would turn around and say: 'Well, look, you've distorted our folk song'?
TR: Of course, in the beginning we were afraid this would happen. But as time went on, we've grown to know that what we're doing is ours, it's our experience and we're able to use it as independent material. That's when you start working with it much more freely, and through this freedom you discover yourself. This way the listener understands you better, there's no pretension.
KA: There seems to be a misunderstanding. Tradition is not dead. Tradition doesn't stop somewhere, it continues. For me tradition is a personal state of being and is everything one hears in his lifespan, whether that's Fela Kuti, Halkias, Hendrix - that's what was handed down. It doesn't mean we're doing Greek tradition or any other particular genre. From the demotika we draw the themes, which give us the reason to play. A 'tsamiko-reggae' is perfect because we'll play both, satisfying our past and present alike. That's how we grew up... in an environment where we would hear traditional music from our grandparents but also, as restless youths, anything coming from abroad... rock, jazz, funk. We grew up with different styles of music. We're also located at a cultural crossroads, there is so much diversity in local traditions. Every 200km there is a different style of music to be heard.
TR: In Greece, music changes along with the landscape. Mountains, plateaus, seaside, islands, mainland...
KA: ...even if it's the same music, it's played differently depending on the spot.
For a while Greeks tended to look down on demotika?
TR: That happened for two reasons: one was the colonels' junta [of '67] which played only demotika and people connected it with that. The other reason is that the people who left their villages wanted to show that they were now 'civilised' city-dwellers. They strangled their village identity.
Are there channels through which you can communicate your music?
TR: The few stations that do exist in Athens are in a critical state, slated to become music stations run by playlists. There are very few knowledgeable producers who go to work with their own albums. There seems to be a system behind radio that wants to control what's being played.
So if I want to listen to something other than the mainstream?
TR: Try to worm out where this type of music is being played or go to certain record shops. You have to look for it. Alternative styles of music were never easily accessible. That's how it was in the past too, only back then the media weren't all-encompassing and controlling. A good album would get round through word of mouth.
Where labels start music stops?
KA: Let's be realistic, labels are profit-oriented businesses.
Of course, they're interested in making money and paying their staff. So they get an artist to do this or that. But artists accept. It's their fault too. It's not always that they have something to suggest.
Would you 'water down' your demands or principles?
TR: There's always the insecurity we feel about maintaining previous sales levels. We're living in the age of figures and I really don't know if these figures are facts. Do they really represent reality?
The ideal audience?
KA: One that doesn't know what to expect.
Can Greek music go abroad?
KA: Of course it can. But I think it's a minority issue. When you have minorities playing their music in a host country, people become accustomed to the sound and the rhythms. It's a matter of time.
* For the buff: Mode Plagal, II and III
Krotala (L-R): Vangelis Karipis, Andreas Papas and Petros Kourtis
FOR years behind the scenes as session musicians, all three of these guys decided to show the world that percussion is not just beating a drum. They call themselves "myth's children, history's sound" and claim to "come from the immortal sound of Greece" giving rhythm to today, Petros Kourtis enlightens us.
How do you describe your music?
It's music with the colours and sights that are borne of the sounds percussion instruments make when placed into a composition... it's music that has percussion and rhythm at its core and has no need to impress or exaggerate during improvisation. That's why the element of melody is so obvious in most our pieces.
Can a percussion project work on the market?
Of course it can. Especially for people who can appreciate a music that 'takes the road less travelled' and doesn't need verse to support its existence.
Sometimes a need to express oneself or an urge to bring forth a rhythm or an instrument.
Globalisation and music: Is local music losing its identity after the introduction of 'ethnic'?
When you respect the art you do and don't do art to impress, or for profit, then globalisation can do no harm and you, in turn, will not harm the music. In the end, you will be judged by the people and your conscience. I don't think local music will be lost but I'm sure it will change, if this hasn't happened already.
How did you decide to play with Mode Plagal?
It was the idea of the organisers. And it was a welcome idea since we're friends. We feel the result will be interesting and hope that audiences will like it.
So what's on for Rhythm Sticks?
We'll present works off our latest album and we've also prepared new pieces to play together with Mode Plagal.
Are there channels through which you can communicate your music?
It really boils down to the efforts each of us make to promote our material. With the help of our label we've been able to secure a small presence in the media. I can't really say there are stations where one can listen to this kind of music, other than [public broadcaster 93.6] Kosmos. That's where our music is mainly played and to a much lesser extent elsewhere. Many years will pass before instrumental music gets the attention it deserves in Greece.
Labels and music: Friends or foes?
On the one side there's the artist's need to see his work come to life. On the other, labels need to make money from this. The relationship between the two is sometimes like a roll of dice. I think the producer is the secret to success, something still unknown in Greece. Patience and goodwill is what you need here; faith and a stomach of steel.
What do you expect from your concerts abroad?
A good turnout of course, an experience and, if we're worth it, a person who will see and hear the group and give us a chance in Europe and a chance to present the other face of this country, an image that is still 'syrtaki, souvlaki, kamaki, bouzoukaki' [slogan of the 70s]. An image, which unfortunately, many foreigners still have of Greece.
The ideal audience?
A person who loves music and can listen to it with eyes 'wide shut', which means a listener who doesn't value art depending on the spectacle accompanying it, doesn't select a CD based solely on its cover and turns to music as a means of uplifting the soul. Above all, a companion of music and not merely an admirer.
* For the buff: Krotala
Mode Plagal and Krotala take the stage at London's 'Queen Elizabeth Hall' on July 26 at 7.45pm. Admission at 10, 12.50 and 15 pounds