Reviewed by James Karas
If you think a program titled The History of Greek Song – Part II is some boring lecture for students of culture, you could not be more wrong. It was in fact a highly entertaining (and informative, if you will) concert at the Greek Community’s Polymenakio Centre on March 1, 2020.
The performers are part of ChiJazz, a band of eight talented musicians and singers all of who are “amateurs” if only because they have other professions. I go to the original meaning of the word amateur which denotes love for what one does accompanied by great ability.
I hazard to state that the soul of the group is Athina Malli who plays percussion and baglama but above all sings. She has a strong, mellifluous voice that when she lets go overwhelms the musicians and captivates the listeners. She is a total performer who throws her arms up in the air, gestures triumphantly and establishes direct contact with the audience and has them sing along or wave their bodies in unison. They are in the palm of her hand.
Yiorgos Sountoulidis sings solo or accompanies her on a guitar. He has a fine, light tenor voice and gives a superb performance. I will mention the other musicians who make up the band. Yorgos Vasileiou plays bass guitar, Fotis Mihalarias plays drums, Rania Babassi plays flute and percussion, Dimitris Petsalakis is on bouzouki, lyre and guitar. Petros Pehlivanoglou plays bouzouki with Sophia Smyrnioudi on keyboard as well as singing. They are all capable not only of playing well but energizing the audience. Major achievement.
Yiannis Dimitriou, Katerina Tsekarea and Irene Stubos were the well-rehearsed MCs who provided context to the story of Greek song. Irene Stubos and Rania Babassi are the artistic directors and driving force behind the event. Sine qua non.
The wide ranging program started with art and popular (laika) songs by the likes of Stavros Xarhakos (Mana mou Ellas), Yiannis Markopoulos (Auton ton kosmo ton kalo) and Manos Loizos (O Dromos). It continues with “heavy” popular songs by Akis Panou (Gia koita me sta matia) and the iconic singer Stelios Kazantzidis. This was followed by songs classified as “light popular (elafrlolaika) by Mimis Plessas (An a’arnitho agape mou).
Greek songs of the 1960s came under the influence of rock and the French New Wave and groups like the Olympians and Charms sprang up singing Greek songs influenced by pop rock. Representatives of the era are composers like .Yiannis Spanos (Aspra karavia), Arleta (Mia for a thymamai m’agapouses) and Yiannis Argyris (Ela mazi mou).
They continued with songs from the 1970’s and 1980’s from composers such as Kostas Chatzis (Aeroplano), Loukianos Kalaidonis (Mikros Iroas) and Dionysis Savopoulos (Zebekiko). This is only a partial list of the songs that they performed, some in the entirety and parts of others.
The Greek community at times feels like a cultural desert. If so, then there are numerous oases springing up across the sand. The crisis in Greece of the past decade drove some of its best children away. The Hellenic diaspora is the beneficiary of that exodus as it was in the 1960s when the military junta had the same effect. Most of the members of ChiJazz are highly educated, newcomers to Canada.
The Polymenakio Centre was full to capacity. It felt like the “old” immigrants were welcoming the “newcomers” and enjoying a major component of Greek culture.
The History of Greek Song – Pert II organized by Pronia of The Greek Community of Toronto was presented on March 1, 2020 at The Greek Community of Toronto.