GIORGOS ANDREOU on “PERIPLUS”
THE CD “PERIPLUS” is a very interesting endeavour because it’s not just a recording of traditional music of either Portugal or Greece; that is, it is not a disc that simply attempts to somehow compose in part the traditions and sounds of the two cultures. Because, in such a case, it would be more a project of folklore and not of artistic creation. Of course, elements of both these related traditions are used in a considerable extent; but this is not the central “theme” of the disc.
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 (Greeks or Portuguese), lyrics from the ancient Hellenic literature, or of their own modern language, even quoting some folk or popular songs of the Greek or Portuguese traditions. A noble purpose and essential pursuit was to demonstrate the analogies that exist in this great womb called Mediterranean.
The most famous voyager in this great womb called Mediterranean has been an ancient (as well as modern – in my view) Hellene, called Odysseus, representing a universal archetype. Apart from all other things, as they say, he also founded Lisbon, the capital of Portugal.
What is important in the tradition of either Portugal or Hellas is that it has sprung out as a Folk and (gradually) Urban music precisely because it doesn’t have behind it to a great extent a background of Classical, academic music. There are certainly important composers of academic music in both countries – but neither Greece nor Portugal has produced anyone like Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Vivaldi, Corelli, Scarlatti, Bellini, Puccini, and so forth. It’s been observed that where, for various historical and cultural reasons, the academic language of music, what we call Classical music, has not developed, the active memory of Tradition survives, and more space is created to develop and take over this Tradition in its transition to an urban environment. This is Fado, this is Rebetiko, this is Blues, Tango… Every kind of Music that we believe it derives from Tradition, and is essentially Folk Music, has predominantly flourished in an environment where the burden of the great academic, symphonic musical tradition has not existed.
There are, of course, great differences between Fado and Rebetiko, as there are many analogies, as well. The analogies are exactly those implied by the geographic and cultural environment I have already mentioned, called the Mediterranean, dictating an attitude to life to the people of the several cultures living around her. And what is that? It is in my view its potential to highlight and give major importance to personal yearning.
Something that we can agree on, associating ourselves with our Portuguese friends in our music, is the way we deal with the emotional core of music; both in lyrics (the personal, existential adventure of each one), and also in music – the way we perceive the Song. Because we speak of Fado as a song, we speak of our own Traditional Folk Music as a song. The song needs a hero, and the hero’s companion. The hero is the singer, and his/her companion is the accompanying instrument: the Portuguese guitar in Portugal, the bouzouki here, play this very role. It is a duo, a duo of silence, a duo far from the grand, “closed”, symphonic forms, a convincing duo, a duo of profound and moving emotion.
I like “Periplus”, it moves me: it’s a dynamic testimony by two authors, a Portuguese and a Greek, willing to compose original stuff and taking into account where they come from and where they go. For me this is the quintessence of musical creation: to respect your origin, and at the same time to be able to converse with it and redefine it. Because a tradition that is not redefined, that doesn’t move forward, perishes and becomes a dead, picturesque attitude.
Another thing that impressed me in the work by Michales and Amélia is that all sequences, all “chapters”, give rise to thoughts and emotions. The first one is called “Absences”, the second “Routes”. (Note that we, Greek musicians, describe the folk musical scales with the term “route”).
The third sequence is called “Songs”. The word “song” (“tragoudi” in Greek) originates from the ancient Hellenic tragedy, it is “melos”, i.e. melody; it’s a selection of a short segment from a greater Whole, a segment of great importance for its emotional, ethical, conceptual, and musical-melodic content. There follow the “Islands”. The island has a special symbolism. It is a part of earth surrounded by the sea; a part of reason surrounded by the ocean of the subconscious.
Then we “hear” the “Voices”. The voice is the instrument of the Song. It is no coincidence that this sequence includes melodies and songs on ancient Hellenic texts, on ancient Greek poetry, along with some traditional elements – therefore we have traditions connected. There comes the sequence of “Lullabies”. A lullaby is what we dedicate to that paradoxical dimension of human existence when someone neither “remembers” (exactly) nor “feels”, a Sleep-Death: the literature and philosophic discourse on the relationship between sleep and death is extensive in the ancient Hellenic civilization.
Next is the sequence of “Loves”, essentially Eros, with a breathtaking traditional song of ours, “The Foliage of a Rose”, which is found in a similar, almost identical, form and emotional attitude in the Portuguese music, as well. The following sequence, “De Profundis”, is certainly a confession – existential, erotic, emotional. Included here is an extraordinary song, “The Inner Dictates”, on poetry by Ares Alexandrou and music by Michales Loukovikas, from a previous work of his, “The Gold in the Sky”, dedicated to the great Greek thinker, poet and author.
Then we enter some “Fado and Rebetiko Taverns”, with another comment on the similarity of the popular reflexes in both cultures. Of course (since we speak about the relationship between tradition and 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 Panagiotis Tountas. Tountas was one of the most important composers of Popular Song, essentially “erudite”, an author who had studied music, worked during his Smyrnaic period as a quasi-academic musician (of the “Hellenistic Orient”) and all his life as a first rate popular composer.
Finally, in the sequence “So Distant, So Near”, there’s a poetic recording of differences and similarities between the two vocal and cultural Traditions. A prime moment emotionally for me (which I consider to be the climax of the CD), is the parallel interpretation of the same song, “How Far Can Your Eyes Reach?”, by Eleni Tsaligopoulou in Greek and Amélia Muge in Portuguese. “Periplus” ends with a song that justifiably has a subjective tone on the part of Amélia, dedicated to a previous important presence, Violeta Parra, a song of whom was a kind of guide and source of inspiration for Amélia.
I’d 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 another merit of the CD. Beyond aesthetic connections, beyond cultural analogies, beyond any intentions to delineate and redefine borders and “contacts” of every kind, what ultimately remains is the essential question if “all this” produces a work of authentic Art. When there is a work of Art produced, then all previous intentions are justified. If there is no work of Art, all the rest are nothing but just slogans that are not being realized.
Well done, my friends, and keep it up!
Speech during the presentation of “Periplus”
“Janus” Bookstores, Athens, October 23, 2012
• See also GIORGOS ANDREOU on “ARCHiPELAGOS”