GIORGOS ANDREOU on “PERIPLUS”
What makes “Periplus” characteristically interesting is the fact that it is not a record of traditional music, either of Portugal or of Hellas. That is, it is not a disc that simply attempts to compose in some way a part of tradition and sounds. At any rate this would be more a matter of folklore and not of creation. Of course, elements of both these related traditions are used in a considerable extent. But the characteristic of “Periplus” is its dynamism emanating from two songwriters, Amélia Muge and Michales Loukovikas, who have composed original music and worked on their musical material using several sources in the poetic language of song: verses of poets, either Greek or Portuguese, verses from ancient Hellenic literature, or of their own modern language, or even, to a lesser extent, by quoting some folk or popular songs of each tradition, Portuguese or Greek, with no major changes, where, of course, the aim is to demonstrate the analogies that exist in this great womb called Mediterranean.
The great voyager in this great womb called Mediterranean – unfortunately for the Portuguese and all the rest people of the planet – has been an ancient (and modern in my view) Hellene called Odysseus. In this matter Odysseus is a universal archetype. Apart from other things, he has also founded Lisbon, as the Portuguese ambassador has just said. Therefore, he has managed to do even that, except dealing with the Laestrygonians, the Cyclops, Circe, Nausicaa, etc.
However, what is important in the tradition of Portugal or in the tradition of Hellas – and I would like to say that in earnest – is the fact that it has emerged as a popular, urban music precisely because there has been no background of a profoundly developed classical, academic music. It is clear that there are important composers of academic music in Greece, it is clear there are also in Portugal; but neither Greece nor Portugal has produced any Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Vivaldi, Corelli, Scarlatti, Bellini, Puccini, and so on. Where – for several historic and cultural reasons – there has been no development of the academic language of music, what we call classical music, there proved to be room for a more energetic memory of tradition, and even more room for the development and acquisition of this tradition in its transition to an urban environment. This is fado, this is rebetiko, and this is blues, tango… And all kinds of music that we now consider as emanating from tradition, being essentially popular, have mostly blossomed in an environment where the weight of a major academic symphonic music tradition has been non-existent.
There are, of course, great differences between fado and rebetiko, as there are a great number of analogies. The analogies are exactly those implied by the geographic and cultural environment I have mentioned before, called Mediterranean, which dictates an attitude in life, an existential stance, to the members of the cultures living around her. And what is that? It is in my view the possibility to highlight and give major importance to personal sorrow. If in our music we agree on something that really connects us with our Portuguese friends is the way we deal with the emotional core of music; both in lyrics, the personal adventure of each one’s existence, and also in music. I mean the attribute of music, that is, the way we perceive the song. Because we speak of fado as a song, we speak of our popular music tradition as a song. And the song needs a hero, and a hero’s companion. The hero is the singer, and the hero’s companion is the instrument that accompanies him. The Portuguese guitar in the case of Portugal, the bouzouki in our case, plays this role. It is a duo, a duo of silence, a duo far from the grand symphonic ‘closed’ forms, a convincing duo, a duo of profound and moving emotion.
I like “Periplus” because it is the endeavour, the attempt, the dynamic testimony of two authors, one Portuguese and one Hellene, to compose original stuff taking into account at the same time where they come from and where they go. For me this is the quintessence of creation, of all musical creation: to respect your origin, where you come from, and at the same time to be able to converse with it and to redefine it. Because a tradition that is not redefined, and does not advance, dies and becomes a dead, picturesque attitude.
Another thing that impressed me in the work by Michales and Amélia: There are some titles, some chapters. The character of these chapters is not so much related to research, musicology, or classification, but rather to emotions and artistic pursuits. I feel obliged to mention them because they themselves give rise to thoughts and feelings. The first is “Absences” and the second “Routes”. Note that for us Greeks the concept of “routes” describes also the folk musical scales. The third category is “Songs”. The word “song” in Greek (“τραγούδι”) comes from the ancient Hellenic tragedy, it is “melos”, that is, melody; it is the selection of a subset from a greater whole, but a subset of great importance for the emotion, ethos, meaning, and music, melody, included. There follow the “Islands”. The island brings forth a special symbolism. It is a part of earth surrounded by a part of sea; a part of reason surrounded by the sea of the subconscious. Then we have the “Voices”. The voice, as I have said before, is the tool of the song. It is not by chance that this category includes songs on ancient Greek texts, on ancient Greek poetry, together with some traditional elements. Therefore we have traditions connected.
There comes the category “Lullabies”. A lullaby is what we dedicate to the next pillar of human existence when one does not remember nor feel, that is, a sleep-death. There is extensive literature and philosophic discourse in the ancient Hellenic civilization about the connection of sleep and death. The category that follows is “Loves”, with a variation of a breathtaking traditional song of ours, “The Leaves of the Rose”, which is found in a similar, almost identical, form and emotive attitude in Portuguese music, as well. The next category, “De Profundis”, is, of course, a confession in matters of existence, love, emotion. The excellent “The Inner Dictates” is included here, on verses by Ares Alexandrou and music by Michales Loukovikas, from a previous work, “The Gold in the Sky”, dedicated to the great Greek thinker, poet and author.
There follow the “Fado and Rebetiko Taverns”, with the above-mentioned affinity of the people’s reflexes in both cultures. Of course, since we are talking about the relation of tradition to personal creation, the song that Michales and Amélia have chosen, “The Manges of the Tavern”, is not a piece by some unknown Hellene, but by the great composer Panaiotes Tountas. Tountas, one of the most erudite and important composers of popular songs who had studied music, was almost an academic musician during his Smyrnaic period and at the same time popular. Finally, there is the sequence “So Distant, So Near”, a poetic record of differences and similarities, with the high point for me, which I consider as the high point of the CD, of the parallel interpretation of the same song by Eleni Tsaligopoulou in Greek and by Amélia Muge in Portuguese. Emotionally it is a very important moment, I consider it the climax; indeed, I was overwhelmed. The CD finishes with a song that is justified to have a subjective tone on the part of Amélia, a song dedicated to a previous important presence, that of Violeta Parra, a song of whom was a kind of a guide and a source of inspiration for Amélia.
I would like to conclude saying that there are very important musical compositions in “Periplus” by both, Amélia Muge and Michales Loukovikas, and this is for me the merit of the CD. Beyond connections, beyond analogies among cultures, beyond intentions to show, demonstrate anew and redefine borders and contacts of every kind, what is important for me is if we can produce a work of art. When a work of art is produced in any occasion, then all previous intentions are justified. If there is no work of art, all the rest are nothing but slogans that are not realized.
Well done, my friends, and keep it on!
Speech during the presentation of “Periplus”
“Janus” Bookstores, Athens, October 23, 2012