28. THE MAKING OF THE MEDITERRANEAN PERIPLUS
/ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΑ/ 28. ΠΩΣ ΓΕΝΝΗΘΗΚΕ Ο ΜΕΣΟΓΕΙΟΥ ΠΑΡΑΠΛΟΥΣ
“… STARTING FROM INDIA with Ravi Shankar, he passes to the Arabs with their ouds, then to Andalusia and flamenco – and, why not?, to some Jimi Henrdix stuff, if he feels like it!”…
That’s how a 9.58 fm executive responded, to the question of a new ERT3 radio manager, on what I played in the Mediterranean periplus, as he was impressed by the program’s ratings, having in hand the results of a related research: if this executive had included the… Persians, Bach and Beethoven, plus Latin America and jazz, he would have been closer to a succinct summary!
The Mediterranean periplus was born in 1998, when I was told that from then on my program would be daily (the previous years I had weekly shows: In Search of Orpheus, and Flamenco – Andalusia’s Rebetiko, when I translated Donn Pohren’s book, The Art of Flamenco, comparing the two genres). I was puzzled over what I would do in my new daily program, and decided to do something… extravagant, continuing in a way my Thessaloniki newspaper column, Mediterranean periplus, while playing music exclusively from my personal archive.
In short, I decided to present to the public the material I had been collecting for several years, not just buying discs (my resources were limited then: I would eat less to get “musical food”), but also copying from friends (in any house I visited, I would check the record collection, and then borrow some of them). I’m talking, nota bene, about the era B.I. (before Internet), when not only free downloading was non-existent, but also information about “world music” was, in fact, hard to find. In this way, I managed to gather a rather admirable archive.
I divided my archive into two categories (Orient / Occident), and numbered my discs and cassettes (Hellenic numbers for the Orient, Arabic for the Occident). I then figured out ways to get random numbers so as to eliminate the subjective element in music selection: these… lucky numbers corresponded to music from both categories (so that there was a balance between them); finally, I checked everything I played so as not to play it again – unless it was a listener’s request. (I don’t think there is any other “extravagant” person in the world who prepares shows in this way! Nor, of course, that if someone followed this recipe, he/she would be able to create a new Mediterranean periplus)…(1)
- (1) There was a girl who would come to the studio every evening to watch me while I was “on air” in an effort to “decipher” my way of making radio. I don’t know if she was an earnest fan of mine or a spy of the management – or if her intentions were more “down-to-earth”! In any case, after a month or so, she disappeared giving up her quest: I guess that she had probably decided I was undecipherable – or just… undesirable!
Anyone can understand that the pieces of music selected through this “lottery” were anything but corresponding to each other. That’s why a “rationalization” process followed to map out itineraries, build bridges, and find the information for each track, so that the journey would be unpredictable, and also meaningful, captivating and entertaining; you see, I loathed that “trendy style” to play a Nina Simone blues after a Soteria Bellou’s rebetiko! Add to this the digitization of all tracks that were not in CD format. As contributing in this field, I have to publicly thank Giorgos Andreou (who, after listening to some of my shows, turned to me and said, “You’re way ahead…” – with me looking dumbfounded, as I couldn’t understand then what he meant).(2)
- (2) It is impressive that my work as a radio producer has improved my work as a music producer! The experience I gained creating bridges between different cultures and genres of music in the radio program was used during the final revision of my work setting Ares Alexandrou’s poetry to music (The Gold in the Sky): this work, lasting 78 minutes, is essentially one piece, where each part leads to the next one – despite being a West-to-East voyage with many styles involved. In short, the radio made me a better musician! I am again indebted to Giorgos Andreou during this final revision phase of my work, as he helped me use the Finale program… When the time came later for my adventure in Portugal, in a partnership with Amélia Muge, I was equipped to employ all this knowledge in our own projects (Periplus and Archipelagos), sailing freely through modes, genres and cultures.
This spadework was necessary before any Mediterranean periplus. If you wonder what my anticipations were at the time, I expected – to tell you the truth – that the program would stop in two or three months, due to… lack of listeners! After all, the same thing had happened twice (102 fm radio, ERT3)… You can imagine my surprise when I learned that the program was a “smash hit”! I have to thank all the listeners for their longtime support and the great joy they have given me. As I realized from their phone calls, the Mediterranean periplus appealed to all ages (from high school students to retirees), to all social or educational backgrounds (from ordinary workers with basic education to intellectuals).(3)
- (3) Mediterranean periplus, nota bene, is dedicated to Homer, Herodotus, and the program’s listeners.
I have a lot to remember: university professors applauding my ability to simplify matters around music, or musicology students asking for my opinion on various musicological topics; Western classical music aficionados thanking me because I had opened the door for them to enter another immense musical universe, that of the Orient, or of the earthy, unsophisticated folk art; people who visited some Oriental countries telling those who met there: “You know, back at home we can listen to music from your country on the radio”; other people with psychological problems who found some solution listening to the Mediterranean periplus! But what I will never forget is the phone call of a simple, ordinary working man, who trusted me so much by then that he told me:
“Hey, buddy, I really go for you! For your sake, I even dig Beethoven!”…