Kristi Stassinopoulou + Stathis Kalyviotis

8. 5. 2004 | Rubriky: Články,Interviews, reviews,Multilingual

Your “Secrets of the Rocks ” booklet is really very secretive. You mention places like R…, G.., and E., For the foreign travellers to Greece, could you explain what these places mean to you? And are there still some deserted islands in Aegean or Ionian seas?

Kristi– In my first album, back in 1986, there was a song that was speaking about one secret beach near Athens, where no cars could arrive. People had to climb for one hour inside a rocky pine forest in order to reach this natural sea paradise, where there were no umbrellas, no bars and lights and of course no… bathing suits. Few people knew Ramnunda then. But that song of mine became a radio hit. And next summer, the beach was filled with people. Unfortunately some of them would leave their garbage there. Others were bringing their loud cassette recorders. Others were wearing bathing suits and maybe looking at the nude naturalists with a bad glance. I didn’t feel good with what had happened to that secret beach due to my song. I felt responsible. This is the reason why both Stathis and I didn’t want to put on the cover of our album the whole names of those few secret, remote beaches of those faraway, not yet exploited by tourism islands, where we often like to live for some days with our tend or even without a tend, just with our sleeping bags and where The Secrets of The Rocks were written.

Yes, one can still find some such places on some small, remote Greek islands. I suggest to those who may be interested, to travel south and search for them. It’s much nicer when you discover a beautiful, hidden place by your self, than when you are told by someone else or have read about it.

Stathis-I’m sure there must be in the Czech Republic too some similar “secret” places near rivers or lakes or whatever , where people can go and enjoy nature.

In your concerts, you explained baglamas was prohibited in the 20’s. Could you tell more? Were musicians put into prison? Did the prohibition also included other instruments, like saz or bouzouki?

Kristi– It was in the mid 30’s when the string instrument bouzouki and the vocal improvisations on eastern scales, called amanes, were prohibited by a new law of the dictator of the times called Metaxas (nothing to do with the famous Greek Metaxa drink!). In 1922 many Greek refuges from Minor Asia had come to Greece in terrible condition. They would gather in those small private places, backyards or taverns, that were called tekes and smoke hush and play their rembetika songs of sorrow and pain with their bouzouki. But at that time the dictator Metaxas didn’t like this eastern atmosphere and mentality. He kept saying and he was also trying to impose this to the rest of the people, that Greece belonged to the west and not to the east. So he made this law and the rembetes were often captured and put in jail. It was then that they started to use baglamas, which is like a bouzouki, but much smaller. Because of it’s small size they could keep this instrument hidden inside the jail and under their coat when on the road. I really cannot tell how they were able to “hide” it’s ear piercing, crying sound when they were “secretly” playing it.

And by the way, hash smoking was also important part of the rembetika tradition. You mentioned this habit during your Prague concert, in a different context. Does the connection between herbs and music have different level/meaning in Greece, than in the hippies and rasta culture?

Kristi– It has exactly the same meaning in certain kinds of Greek music, like in rembetika, and in some of the laika songs, which is a continuity of rembetika. I wouldn’t say hash smoking has much to do with other kinds of Greek music, like with dimotika, which means the traditional songs of the rural areas of Greece. Remember that rembetika were songs of the city.

Stathis Rembetika has to do more with the Blues culture.
Ross Daly once told me about a lira player who catches bees, puts them into plastic bag and then plays their “music” on his instrument. On you Prague concert, you mentioned a bouzouki player who learns music from imitating nature. Could you explain more about this method?

Kristi -It’s funny because in our previous album Echotropia, we have a song called Beehives, in which Stathis has recorded bees in a field and then turned their recorded buzz into a rhythm loop.

In the show I was talking about Giorgos Zambetas, a very famous songwriter of laika songs who has passed away.

He was a very interesting figure and some of his sayings and lots of stories about him are often mentioned. One of these, was that when once he was asked in an interview, how he had learned to play his bouzouki, he had answered, “by listening to the frogs”. It’s not a method of learning. It’s just to have open ears and listen to the environment around you. There is music everywhere. And as Aristotle had said, art is an imitation of nature. If you listen to the sounds of a jungle, all those birds bubbling rhythmically, you can tell why music from Africa and from South America is so rhythmical. Listen to the wind which never stops for days on some Greek islands and you will feel why in traditional Greek and in Byzantine music there is always one monotone sound backing up the main melody, giving that psychedelic feeling of dizziness. Rock music is also the music of the environment of it’s era of cars and loud machines. And nowadays, isn’t it electronica, what we are listening to all day? Mobiles ringing everywhere and little computer sounds all around us?

A sailor’s question: When you told the story behind Calima, you talked about all this humidity and headache coming from this southern wind. The same situation is explained in the Visconti’s film Death in Venice, when scirocco comes and makes the main hero suffers even more than you suffered at Canaries. So, is Calima more like scirocco or like Livas?

Kristi- I love this talk about the winds and their names! So in Venice it is the scirocco wind that bothers them. I didn’t remember this interesting detail from that beautiful film. Scirocco in Greece we call specifically the wind that comes from south east. They say that it can sometimes become dangerous for boats because when the night falls it becomes very strong. Livas is a very hot, burning wind that comes from the south and brings to the Greek peninsula the sand of the Sahara desert. This creates headaches to people. You wake up some mornings and there may be sand on your car, your balcony, the streets. In the Canary island the wind which is creating similar effects comes from the east, because these islands are on the Atlantic ocean opposite the west coast of Africa, so the wind of the Sahara is travelling from the east to the west to arrive on top of them and blur the atmosphere of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, where I learned about all these.

Czech people are not familiar of Greek music. What you would recommend from past? Do you have any personal heroes on the Greek scene?

Kristi– I would recommend albums of rembetes Vassilis Tsitsanis and Marcos Vamvakaris, to mention 2 of the most wellknown and goodquality, authentic rembetes, and of the songwriter Manolis Chiotis, who innovated the style of bouzouki playing and somehow started the scene of laika songs. I would also recommend albums of authentic, traditional, rural Greek music. All the albums of Mrs. Domna Samiou, the lady of Greek traditional music, a very impressive singer herself. Travelling around Greece for years, she has gathered and put in albums some of the nicest songs of various areas of Greece, performed mostly by herself and by some of the best traditional musicians of Greece. I would also recommend the songwriter, lyra player from the island of Crete, Psarantonis. In his own magical way, he is the living tradition of Cretan music. I would also recommend the 2 famous Greek composers that have become classic, Manos Chadzidakis and Mikis Theodorakis. Their songs and music is a somehow more sophisticated approach to the tradition of rembetika and laika songs.

Stathis– Other personal heroes are Anestis Delias from the rembetika era.He was Keith Richards of the rembetes but he was not that lucky and died young.

Dionysis Savopoulos also is a figure that especially between 1970 to 1980 was my hero. He was the first Greek songwriter who combined rock music with Greek and Balkan traditional music and created a new sound.

What kind of “formal” musical education did you get? Conservatory, Byzantine music school?

Kristi– I went to both and learned a little of both kinds of music. But I am not a very much formally educated musician, mainly because I am lazy. As Stathis is often telling me, I became lazy, just because I am able to any time open my mouth and sing, which needs less practise than to learn an instrument and anyway you can make music just with this.

Stathis– I ‘m learning music mostly by myself. Listening to music, playing with others, imitating my hero musicians! I also studied in a Conservatory at the 90’s.

And how did you develop your art of writing lyrics? Do you have any favourite poets, drama writers, novelists?

Kristi- Writing comes out of me very naturally since I was a child. I never say to myself you have to sit down and write a lyric, it’s the lyric itself which is violently waking me up and makes me get out of bed, go find a pencil and put it down, so as to get rid of it and relax and be able to sleep again. By the way, the same thing is happening to Stathis with most of the melodies he has written. As for readings, I very much like one Greek contemporary poet by the name Iannis Ifantis. I love and I would recommend to a foreigner the classical novels of Alexandros Papadiamantis, the “Greek Dostoyefski”, who lived in the beginning of the 20th century. I know some of them have been translated at least in German. In German there is also a translation of a long novel of Zirana Zateli, a very magical, contemporary Greek woman writer.
From abroad I love Tom Robins! I also enjoy Clive Barker’s fantasy fiction. But I don’t read much fiction anymore. I mostly like to read theoretical books about various subjects that interest me, like Yoga, Nature, Eastern and ancient Religions and rituals, mysticism, history, travelling.
There seem to be a newly found understanding between Turkish and Greek musicians and audiences. How the Greeks see Turks now? And how do they enjoy Turkish music?

Kristi– Greek and Turkish music have always been interacting with each other. Greeks and Turks are neighbours, so of coarse they get influenced by each other and nowadays they often play music together. You often find Turkish songs with Greek lyrics in the Greek music market and Greek songs with Turkish lyrics in the Turkish market. I think Turks and Greeks have become friends finally. We have so many things in common and in some cases, our music resembles very much.

Stathis– Turkish and Greek musicians where always cooperating. We are lucky that politicians and generals from both sides, have finally decided to keep on a peace process , so the audiences are positive now . There are no frontiers between musicians . And between all artists I presume.

Do you have any projects besides your band?

Kristi- I must admit that I don’t feel the need to mix with any other musical project, at least not now. I enjoy very much what we are doing together with Stathis: Writing songs in various places and then recording them in our home studio. Bringing our band to play on top and then edit and change things and try this and try that and argue and then come up with an album and then with rehearsals with the band and live concerts and more new songs etc etc. This whole thing is very fulfilling for me, because through our own songs and our own productions we are able to express our own truths, our own secrets, ideas feelings, in our own, personal way.

Stathis– I agree

The setup of your band changed since Echotropia times. What did make you to switch the setup?

Stathis– We have switched the set-up a lot of times. We don’t want to be a replica of ourselves.

Kristi- We got tired of our previous folk-rock sound of our live shows and wanted to experiment more with live made loops and percussions instead of drums. We like the way Stathis’s traditional string instrument and the electric guitar are mixed with these loops and with the bagpipes. This is how this “folktronic” sound came out. We often also use a lyra player together with the bagpipe, the string instruments, the percussions and the electronics. This last year, whenever we had the chance, Stathis and I also experimented on performances with just the two of us on stage, emphasizing mostly on the electronic part, with a lot of improvisation, live sampling etc.

And why you choose the Indian harmonium?

Kristi- Because from the first moment that I had seen and heard this instrument, played live by my “hero” Nico, I mean the singer of the Velvet Underground, who had come to Athens for a concert back in the mid 80ies, I fell in love with it and wanted to find one and buy it. Then of coarse years later Indian harmonium became more common as an Indian instrument, due to the rise of World Music. I bought this one in India this year and it makes me crazy how it breaths like a real person when you play it. Being a lazy musician, as I already admitted, I don’t play any complicated things on it, but I love to make it breath, coordinating it with my own breath when I sing and I feel like as if this is giving me a kind of a strange, double power when singing. My small, portable Indian harmonium has become a good friend of mine and I have named it Sitaram.
Stathis– In our live performances we need a “warm” sound, “pads” as they call them in music terms. But we really hate those huge sounds created by most of the synthesizers. So the Indian harmonium and the use of my set of filters and samples create the sound we want.

Did you have chance to perform in Turkey, Middle East, India? Could the Eastern audiences understand more deeply songs like Majoun than Europeans?

Kristi- We have only played in Tel Aviv in two festivals in 1998, when the political situation was different there. People were enthusiastic.

In Prague, the Saal Schick Brass band played the same festival as you, but one day earlier. Do you still have any common projects?

Kristi- Probably you didn’t hear that their concert was cancelled. They didn’t to come to Prague (there were no tickets I think) and didn’t play. But anyway I answer the question. From time to time the SSBB invite me and Stathis and we play with them in concerts. We enjoy very much doing this. When I sing with them, I love to hear their huge brass band’s sound in my ears. They are very good musicians and performers and they are very good friends!

Kristi and Stathis’ home page


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