Beyond the Bosphorus



In their latest release, Mode Plagal collaborate with Bosphorus, a group with turkish musicians and traditional instruments who bring forth the sound and experience of the Eastern and Anatolian musical tradition. The symbolism of the Bosphorus straights as a pasage from one world to the another, from one sea to the other and from one continent to a new world. The two groups try with their music to capture the echo of the indescribable sound of this crossroad through time and space.



Press release Hitch Hyke - January 2002
The symbolism of Bosphorus straights as a passage from one world to another, from one sea to the other and from one continent to a new world, has marked through myths the spiritual memory and heritage of migrating tribes as well as that of sea-faring people in the greater basin of the Easter Mediterranean.
Those tribes coming from the South, following the south to north migration of the cranes, believed in the a hyperborean haven and heaven whirling beyond the North Star (Polaris), whereas those arriving from the Ease longed for a Western Paradise somewhere along the shores of the Atlantic. On the crossroads, at the exact point of intersection of the axis, there at the divide between Europe and Asia, a City was founded which it was hoped would reflect the heavenly peace (Irini) and Wisdom (Sophia)- the Byzantine Constantinople, Konstantiniye of the Ottomans- the present dat Istanbul.
The space of all around seems to resound - Aghia Sophia, the Bosphorus, the mosques, the domes, the golden horn, everything seems to whirl around a mysterious and inaudible sound which is perceptible only to those who have managed to emerge free from the murky and channeled waters of urban material existence. Beyond, rises yet another deafening but silent sound, the dirge of a Metropolis which has lost the dream to embrace within her womb all the religions and people suffering tribulations and by this way, becoming admired by all the nations as an example of ecumenicity.
We have tried to capture with our music the echo of this indescribable sound. To achieve this -which is also a game with different musical systems and tunings- two different groups collaborated: Bosphorus with turkish musicians and ancient traditional instruments which bring forth the sound and experience of the Eastern and Anatolian musical tradition and Mode Plagal, a greek avant-garde group which is experimenting a contemporary approach to greek traditional Folk music.
The compositions, besides the traditional songs and tunes, are by the musicians of both groups and are put to the lyrics and poetry of G. Seferis, T. Syrelis and V. Papageorgiou around the theme of "Beyond Bosphorus".
They are interpreted by Vasiliki Papageorgiou, with a traditional Alevi prayer to the 12 Imams by Engin Arslan.
The musical direction is by Nikiforos Metaxas. Bosphorus and Mode Plagal have been collaborating for some time now, Mode Plagla have been visiting Turkey quite often and both groups have given joint concerts the last couple of years in Greece, Turkey -in Istanbul and Smyrni for the 100 years of G. Seferis- in Belgium, Holland etc.
The recordings of "Beyond the Bosphorus" were made in the spring of 2002, in Athens and Istanbul.


Roots World -
'It was bound to happen, someday.'
That was the first thing that crossed my mind when I came across the news that Bosphorus and Mode Plagal were to collaborate on a record.

Bosphorus, a group of Turkish musicians from Istanbul who for almost twenty years now have been studying the musical tradition of that city through its many periods have been churning out amazing records off the mainstream. They have been exploring, among other things, the musical tradition of Greek composers of the city, as well as the interplay between what existed in the city (the Byzantine tradition of the time when the city used to be called Contantinople) and what came after (the Ottoman musical tradition both on the level of court music and popular one.)

Mode Plagal have already been covered extensively in Rootsworld, as they have been following a similar path regarding Greek music, but with an added focus on jazz experimentation.


So, in many ways, both groups have been dealing with the same questions: What does it mean to be at the crossroads between East and West, Now and Then? What have been the results of the influences of other people on the musical tradition of the region? Are there traces of the past to be found and are there any of those worthy of retention for the future? All that and beautiful sounds!

The latter is where Beyond the Bosphorus succeeds effortlessly: this is a compelling, seductive record that doesn't sound academic at all, while it combines music from three different musical traditions; the learned Eastern musical system (the ancient one), the folk tradition of the Alevi communities, and the western-influenced one, as is noted in the beautiful and very informative trilingual liner notes (Greek, English and French.) There were times that this record sounded pop. At others, it reminded me strongly of Morphine (the band from Boston) or an ethnomusicologist's pet research project. On "Oceania," the last song, the U2 of the late 1980s comes to mind. All that and it never sounds forced, grotesque or garish.

As in the previous collaborative work of Mode Plagal (the Yorgos Margaritis CD recently reviewed), this record sounds like Bosphorus, possessed by Mode Plagal. The way in which they go in and out of the picture, blending in or coming to the forefront, depending on the musical needs or whim of the moment, is fascinating.

Apart from the usual high musicianship of Mode Plagal (who use saxophones, electric and acoustic guitars, drums and bass) and the exquisite learned virtuosity of Bosphorus (who play kemenche, rebab, violin, ney, cello, kudum, bendir, kaval, saz, kanun and tanbur), Vassiliki Papageorgiou, who sings on almost all the tracks, should be singled out for particular praise, as her laid back, spacey yet curiously earthy voice is often the highlight of a song. Providing a stylistic unity to the record which otherwise would have been torn apart by its various musical influences, Papageorgiou inhabits the role of the narrator of this fascinating musical journey, as she sings about love in the city, important Islamic religious feasts, Sappho and most of all about the city: Konstantiniye/Istanbul.
Nondas Kitsos
More info: http://www.rootsworld.com/reviews/bosphorus.shtml

Kindamuzik.net - July 2003
According to the extensive accompanying booklet, the musicians in this album attempted to harmonise three tone systems which can be found in Istanbul: the classic Eastern from the Ottoman and Byzantine traditions; the one of the Anatolian folk tradition; and the well-known western tone system. Deep nostalgia, a common characteristic of these eastern sounds, is the central point of contact. It was this nostalgia that managed to connect all these different traditions with each other and made the music on this album sound as a whole.

(…) That the common point is nostalgia point and not an explicitly analysed technical arrangement, says a lot about the approach of the music game itself. The attempt to combine different traditions with each other sounds seldom strained. On the contrary, listening this album goes together with an admiration for relaxed and almost natural way this happens.

This is a collaboration album of two separate groups. The members of the group Bosphorus from Istanbul have been studying since 1985 the various musical traditions of this city. One central point for them is the influence of Greek music and traditions on the Turkish music development. Mode Plagal from Greece, on the other hand, aim more explicitly towards renewal. Their mix of Greek folk, Balkan music and jazz has made a clear point on their previous albums, but also during their live concerts in the Netherlands. If you add to all this the miraculous, quite voice of Vassiliki Papageorgiou and the nostalgic declaration of love to Istanbul is complete. The result is no easy album, also due to the many influences. However, without doubt, it is an impressive release within the fertile developments in ethnic jazz.
Bas van Heur
More info: http://www.kindamuzik.net/mars/article.shtml?id=3484

Maria Paravantes, Athens News - 28/03/2003
IN DARK times like these, when reality is more like fiction and in the face of Bush Jr we see the menacing Sauron of Tolkien tales emerge, there seems to be little room for hope, let alone understanding between peoples. But it is in times like these that art, principally music, can both pacify, unite and prove that wars rage on not in the people's hearts but at the tips of madmen's fingers. It is in times like these - when all hope in humanity has died out - that small samples of mutual understanding can go a long way. One such example is a disc called Beyond the Bosphorus - the collective effort of jazz outfit Mode Plagal on the Greek side of things and traditional group Bosphorus on the Turkish side.

How could musicians hailing from such different cultures come together in harmony when atrocities have been committed against their peoples? When their political leaders conceal a shared past and immerse both nations into hatred? By looking to their common (and yes, peaceful) history and taking it into the future.

"Constantinople is the city of cities... the central axis of the world," Bosphorus Greek founder and creative director Nikiforos Metaxas told the press during the album's presentation. But this CD is much more than a tribute to the "eternal city that can never be conquered". It not only has elements of an illustrious past, when Greeks and Turks, Orthodox Christians and Muslims, sang and danced together as one. It carries the freshness of the West, thanks to audacious improvisers Mode Plagal, and the aura of a once bustling Constantinople (today Istanbul), thanks to eight-member outfit Bosphorus.

"Tradition is lost when it becomes a museum piece," Vangelis Vekios, production coordinator says. And that's what both outfits wanted to avoid. "The album is an experiment," Metaxas says, "and of the contemporary groups, Mode Plagal were the only ones we could work with due to the uniqueness of our music."

Beyond the Bosphorus is indeed an appealing experiment. Traditional instruments of the East - the ney, bedir, kudum, kanun and rebab - join the more "Western" sax, drums and bass to create an aural palette and transport listeners to the Asia Minor coast.

Metaxas explains that Bosphorus - formed in 1985 by Greek and Turk musicians in Constantinople - attempts to "fathom the sound of this privileged place at the crossroads of nations, seas, religions and continents". And that's what this album is all about.

Maria Paravantes


Folk Roots - November 1999
How closely connected can American jazz and Greek folk be? Can Greek folk absorb jazz beats without being diluted?

Mode Plagal are an exciting Greek folk-jazz band. Their first album mixed free funk with traditional songs from Thrace and Macedonia (the original one, not the former Yugoslavian). But things are quiet different here. Mode Plagal quit far-out jazz improvisation in favor of the song format even when they do not use lyrics. Secondly they play 70's jazz funk in the style of Miles Davis and early Kool & The Gang, inspired by the joyful and communal spirit of Greek panygiria. "Funky Vergina" begins as a mixture of jazz-funk and Northern Greece folk, turns to Afrocuban and back to Greek folk. "Miles' Leventiko" mixes "So What" with the "Leventikos" dance from Epirus. They turn the "Kalamatianos" dance into a Charlie Parker bebop song. "Kalanta" starts with "Afro-Blue" played in a hi-life style. And just when you are ready to decide that King Sunny Ade was from Salonica, they explode in a jolly folk style ending in acapella. The album continues like this, with Theodoros Rellos using his sax as Greek klarino and all the musicians play for their right to pary.

It's been a long time since I heard such a groovy Greek album that really defies categorisation. I cannot think of a better Greek act for Womad to consider and you can't find a better live band in Greece.


Folk Roots - November 1999
How closely connected can American jazz and Greek folk be? Can Greek folk absorb jazz beats without being diluted?

Mode Plagal are an exciting Greek folk-jazz band. Their first album mixed free funk with traditional songs from Thrace and Macedonia (the original one, not the former Yugoslavian). But things are quiet different here. Mode Plagal quit far-out jazz improvisation in favor of the song format even when they do not use lyrics. Secondly they play 70's jazz funk in the style of Miles Davis and early Kool & The Gang, inspired by the joyful and communal spirit of Greek panygiria. "Funky Vergina" begins as a mixture of jazz-funk and Northern Greece folk, turns to Afrocuban and back to Greek folk. "Miles' Leventiko" mixes "So What" with the "Leventikos" dance from Epirus. They turn the "Kalamatianos" dance into a Charlie Parker bebop song. "Kalanta" starts with "Afro-Blue" played in a hi-life style. And just when you are ready to decide that King Sunny Ade was from Salonica, they explode in a jolly folk style ending in acapella. The album continues like this, with Theodoros Rellos using his sax as Greek klarino and all the musicians play for their right to pary.

It's been a long time since I heard such a groovy Greek album that really defies categorisation. I cannot think of a better Greek act for Womad to consider and you can't find a better live band in Greece.




www.modeplagal.gr