After a successful release, the minimalist folk duo discusses about travelling & storytelling, the Greek crisis, Greekadelia and the evolution of Greek folk music in an exciting, exclusive interview with Freegan Kolektiva…
Freegan Kolektiva: You just delivered a captivating and successful album (2 months No.1 in the World Music Charts of Europe). How do you feel about the result?
KRISTI: Thanks for your good words. It’s a nice feeling to know that there are people out there listening to this CD and sharing the same joy, like the joy we felt when we were creating it.
STATHIS: We feel quite happy with this, it gives us courage, especially in these difficult times.
Freegan Kolektiva: What inspired you during the conception and recording of Greekadelia?
STATHIS: We are always amazed with the “soul power” of the old recordings which is something usually lost in modern albums. Our effort was to reach and keep that feeling.
KRISTI: A feeling of going-back-to-the-basics. Listening and learning from the old masters of demotika songs [Greek: δημοτικά, a host of Greek folk music forms] is like walking on the steps of a yearlong opened pathway. There is a connection with the subconscious memories of childhood, a connection with nature, which is so apparent in these songs.
I also enjoyed very much working as a duet with Stathis who did the recordings all by himself at our home, using very basic equipment, very few channels, determined to creating this psychedelic “wall of sound” only with the use of very few instruments – this gave us a feeling of freedom and independence.
Freegan Kolektiva: When I watched your performance roughly a year ago the feeling of “exploring life” was revoked in me. It seemed like you are researching around the world and you bring us wonderful stories illuminated in your songs…Is my intuition right?
KRISTI: More than a singer, a musician, or anything else, I feel I am a story teller, collecting stories and experiences that I like to share with other people through art.
STATHIS: There are many feelings inside of us that we like to share. I am happy that we managed to revoke some of the good ones.
One can be sitting still in one place, but travelling at the same time. Travelling inside, travelling in the past, travelling in the future.
Filmed at the magical Greek island of Astypalaia (where FK’s spirit was partly nurtured as well) from 2003′s album Secret Of The Rocks:
Freegan Kolektiva: Your previous album ‘Taxidoscopio’ has to do with travelling the world. I personally know many constant travellers and sometimes they seem to be suffering from “not belonging to any society” or feeling that “the ideal place is always elsewhere”. Considering that at the same time you are getting deeper in your Greek roots, what do you think about the balance between travelling the world and delving into your own culture?
STATHIS: Travelling, among other things, is also helping me to observe the small changes happening in a global scale. It also helps me realise and enjoy the real beauties of the place where I live. It was in South East Asia, back in 1986, when I first realised that the music heard and played there was the same Anglo-Saxon pop music heard and played also in my homeland. I didn’t like this homogenization. I felt that the planet was slowly tending to become a… boring place. The balance between travelling the world and delving in your own culture is simple: Be yourself. I am not trying to be “traditional” or “modern” or whatever.
KRISTI: Travelling has to do with space, but also with time. One can be sitting still in one place, but travelling at the same time. Travelling inside, travelling in the past, travelling in the future.
As for this common and natural human feeling of “the ideal place being always elsewhere”, I am trying to get rid of it and cultivate inside me the opposite feeling: “The ideal place is always where you find yourself!”
Freegan Kolektiva: I am afraid that I cannot escape this one – it is the constant question I get when I am outside of Greece… How do you experience the current situation in Greece (economic and not only crisis)?
KRISTI: Like all Greeks we are also facing big economic problems. We are paying unbelievably large taxes, which are nowadays actually larger than our real income. But because we are musicians, belonging to a music scene which is not the mainstream scene here, we are kind of used to this economic instability and uncertainty about the future etc. Therefore we know a bit better how to handle all this – anyway, we have been living a very simple life. But all our friends who had a stable job and are now unemployed, are desperate, depressed and hopeless. The fact that I have travelled a lot around the world, especially in countries that have experienced recent civil wars, or a collapse of their systems, makes me a more aware of the results of such things on humans and on societies. I am therefore trying to be more positive and to spread the feeling of compassion and unity in our society and not let hatred make things even worse. Fanaticism is rising and this leads always backwards… if not in even worse situations…
STATHIS: When you travel, when you read history, or read the news, you realise that until now we have been very lucky compared to other countries or to other eras. Is it maybe now our turn to suffer?
We are kind of used to this economic instability and uncertainty about the future. Therefore we know a bit better how to handle all this – anyway, we have been living a very simple life
Freegan Kolektiva: Considering the scale of social problems ordinary Greeks face, the upsurge of fascism etc. I would expect that Greek artists would be at the frontlines of social uprising – is it at the end that art has lost some ‘edge’ after the 1970s?
KRISTI : I don’t believe in revolution, I believe in the evolution of the human mind. I believe only this can bring real social change and not just a change of the ones on power. As for the Greek artists of the 70’s who were in the front line of social uprising, I am old enough to have also seen, in which kind of frontlines they found themselves later in time, until nowadays…
STATHIS: In these difficult times I don’t want to push people to fight one another for any reason, I’m interested in what unites people and I strongly believe that music has the power to do this.
Freegan Kolektiva: Do you think art is a potential inspiration for social change?
KRISTI: Of course art is an inspiration for the improvement of human nature, to start with. Societies are formed by individuals and changing ones-self to the better, we are changing one part of the society, which is certainly reflecting also to the rest of it. This is a good start… This, I think, is where we should all be starting from.
STATHIS: If you look back in the 60s and 70s, pop and rock music of the times made a big social change. On the other hand, Germany of the 30s was the country where most of philosophers, musicians, writers etc were born and living, but this did not stop Nazism from rising…
“I’m interested in what unites people and I strongly believe that music has the power to do this.”
Freegan Kolektiva: Describe us your daily musical activities
KRISTI : A vocal practice on scales in the morning, waking up my breathing and my hearing of vibrations, a very useful thing to do. This has become a kind of a meditation for me. Then practicing the instruments, either alone, or playing together with Stathis, trying to improve my technique. I have been very lazy with this all my life until now, but nowadays the study of music makes me feel well and centered. In the evenings we play, record, experiment, write new music and songs, etc together with Stathis. When friends who are also musicians are in our home, we play altogether.
This is the nice part of our everyday work. There is also a not so beautiful part, which has to do with a lot of “office work”. It’s the management part like organizing the tours, etc, which we are doing all by ourselves and sometimes it becomes really time consuming. But unfortunately, since the passing away of our manager and very dear friend Thaleia Iakovidou, who was a person of the same wave length like ours, there has been no other person that we liked and trusted enough, to become our new “representative”.
STATHIS: In general, we have periods of time when we are extremely stressful with all these and periods of time when we are doing absolutely nothing.
Freegan Kolektiva: There is a great diversity of folk styles in Greece (demotika). How do you come in contact with all those styles? Do you think these styles are preserved or that they can be even pushed into the future?
KRISTI: Although the media is not presenting it at all, demotika music, songs and dancing is an alive scene in Greece and involves some very important musicians and singers. The various different styles just go on existing locally, without the need for any publicity, any record labels, managers etc. Panigiria (Greek: πανηγύρι, village folk festivities) are alive and a lot of people are enjoying them. The evolution in this type of music comes by itself, based mostly on the needs and the habits of the folk musicians and not so much on an artistic prospect. I do not like so much some of the ways the demotika songs are nowadays presented in panigiria, but that’s just my own taste, other people may very well enjoy them. Then there is also a very interesting trend within certain groups of younger musicians, who are very much leaning towards our tradition, and that is very nice and moving. Only sometimes, these young musicians are so much dedicated, they are falling in the trap of becoming too academic, which is then leading to the opposite end of the string.
STATHIS: I’m a city boy. My first contact with demotika came when I was a punk rocker and went to a pontiaka fiesta (Greek: ποντιακά, music of the Pontic Greeks). I was blown away by the power of the music and the dance. And the same happened to me later on, while travelling together with Kristi in isolated villages of Greece and listening to the spontaneous glendia (Greek: γλέντια, revelries that usually involve food, wine or raki, impulsive music and dancing) and panigiria taking place in the local kafeneia (Greek: καφενεία, the traditional cafeterias which serve as the meeting points of all vellagers). This music is active, it is evolving and everything that is evolving is pushed to the future.
Although the media is not presenting it at all, demotika music, songs and dancing is an alive scene in Greece…The various different styles just go on existing locally, without the need for any publicity, any record labels, managers…This music is active, it is evolving and everything that is evolving is pushed to the future.
Freegan Kolektiva: Do you think that young people in Greece feel part of their traditions? All around the world, especially in urban societies, youngsters want to detach themselves from traditions – at the same time traditions revive within ‘alternative’ circles.
KRISTI : All the new, innovative things, come from what is “called” alternative circles. It is those circles that are pushing art and literature and ideas and ways of thinking forwards. Urban societies have become too tough, so it is natural that the “best minds of this generation” are turning their interest to traditions. As long as this trend is a moving-forward-through-the-past trend, I like it very much. When it goes together with conservatism, I don’t like it.
STATHIS: In Greece traditional music was combined with dictatorship, conservatism, the priest of the village etc. The last years this is changing, many youngsters that in previous years they would have been listening to rock music they are bored of the same totally commercial industrialised so called “rock” sound and they are discovering, playing and studying traditional music.
The last years this is changing, many youngsters that in previous years they would have been listening to rock music they are bored of the same totally commercial industrialised so called “rock” sound and they are discovering, playing and studying traditional music.
Freegan Kolektiva: According to me, there are not many artists in the current world music scene that sound like you. What do think? Are there any contemporary artists or a particular ‘scene’ that you feel related to?
STATHIS: I’m happy with what you are saying, although it is not our intention, it’s not our purpose to try to sound different.
KRISTI: But also, we never imitated anybody in our music, at least not consciously. We are somehow in our own “cloud” and we like to do things in our own way and with our own taste. Still, we do not mind at all that our albums are classified under the term “world music”, since this term is very wide and includes a lot of different genres from around the globe.
Freegan Kolektiva: Your sound features an unusual combination of instruments like laouto [Greek lute], Indian harmonium, live looping. How did you come up with this?
STATHIS: The laouto is the main string instrument of Greek traditional music. I love the combination of harmony and percussion sound that it has. I also love electronics and the variety of sounds one can create through them.
KRISTI: Years ago I had seen some of my early “heroes” using the Indian harmonium. Personalities like Nico, the German lady singer who had also co-operated with the Velvet Underground, like Alen Ginsberg, who was reading his poetry accompanied by the drone of a similar harmonium. So I very much wanted to get one Indian harmonium myself, and it was years later, that I managed to find and buy one in one of our trips to India. I started playing with it at home and that was it, I felt like this instrument was breathing together with me, embracing my voice and the lute of Stathis in such a warm way. It has become one of my best friends now.
Freegan Kolektiva: Do you want to share with us any other Greek folk artists that we definitely need to check out?
STATHIS: Domna Samiou, Stelios Foustalieris, Giorgos Koros, Petroloukas Chalkias, Psarantonis, Michalis Zografidis, Solon Lekas to name a few. Among the more recent bands, Mode Plagal is my favorite.
KRISTI : I would more or less name the same musicians and many many more. But I would like to add also: You asked us of “any other” folk artist… We do not think of ourselves as folk artist. What we are doing, as was written somewhere, is re-inventing folk music. If we had tried to play the songs exactly like they were originally played, we simply wouldn’t be authentic ourselves… We are remaining authentic, by presenting the demotika songs in our own way, and we just hope and wish that our recordings and our gigs will turn the attention of the listeners also to the old, original versions of our folk tradition.