Kristi Stassinopoulou

fRoots, review by Ian Anderson

Heaven & Earth HE18/Resistencia RESCD 201


Kristi Stassinopoulou was kind enough to send us a preview of Taxidoscopio early last summer, which was how we managed to have that track on fRoots 27, six months ahead of release. Just to clear up any confusion, at that point we’d said it was titled Taxidia (Journeys), but then came the realisation that there’d already been another album by the same name. The significance of the title and its new mutation was that these are mostly songs written on travels – snapshots, sketches and reflections gathered up “in vans and airplanes, in airport lounges, in dressing rooms, hotel rooms and bamboo huts” – around Europe, North America and Brazil, Armenia, India, out there and at home.

Kristi and partner Stathis have long had a world vision in their music, which has kept them somewhat underground in Greece as their international appeal has grown. But what they’ve evolved over their last two albums has gone beyond fusion, a slightly retro psychedelic feel and specific spicing. It has turned into a completely unique, utterly recognisable and forward-looking style of their own. And in that distillation, it seems to have become more distinctly Greek – a strange, other-worldly Greekness, for sure, but a 21st century Greekness that’s modern within its own culture, out there, ahead and rooted rather than just banging off some local language version of what the globalised industry dictates. No predictable Greek rock, Europop or hip-hop here then.

Taxidoscopio’s predecessor, the much loved The Secrets Of The Rocks, was an evolution put together in their home studio that even Kristi was unsure about when they’d completed it. But this album carries on confidently from where it left off, that wonderfully heady mix of traditional instruments with their muted wail, the subtle pulses of electronica, the languid, half-whispered vocals. It was a vision that Kristi’s friend and manager, the much-missed Thalia Iakovidou, really believed in and I’m sure would have been thrilled to see forging onwards now with such focus. The last three tracks are dedicated to Thalia’s memory, all the more treasured for that.

In the strange ways of the musikbiz, there are two slightly differently presented versions of the album available, neither made in Greece. Both have notes and lyrics in Greek: take your pick between Heaven & Earth’s with the translations into English or Resistencia’s into Spanish. Either way, the music’s the same (and awe-inspiring) and the packaging classy.

Kristi & Stathis may not be household names in Greece, but they surely have their influence. Those half-whispered, poetic vocals crop up regularly from Photini Papadodima, the singer with new Greek band Eleusis, whose attractive, outward-looking fusion of Greek, African, Indian and wider Balkan musics sometimes reminds me of the earlier days of their local spiritual predecessors. Papadodima (actress, film director, dancer) and main collaborator George Palamiotis (widely travelled and experienced muso) have mixed the texts from Orphic and Homeric hymns, Greek and West African songs with traditional instruments from Greece, balafon and ngoni from Burkina Faso, a little modernity in the rhythm section, and the mixing skills of the mighty Temple Of Sound team of Count Dubulah & Neil Sparkes. It’s an end product where you can still feel the joins and perhaps hear the calculations, but as another pointer to where modern European musicians can go with one ear in their own culture and another out there in the globe, it’s an enjoyable and occasionally intriguing project. I look forward to hearing how they too may evolve something truly of their own with time.

Ian Anderson