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The Rough Guide to World Music (GB)


There is no doubt about it, the hot name internationally on the Greek music scene is Eleftheria Arvanitaki. Her voice has a clarity and emotional depth that registers whether or not you understand the words, and the music she sings has a lyricism and instrumental sophistication that sets it apart. Her performances at WOMAD festivals in 1998 marked a transition from performing to Greek communities round the world to a new audience of World Music fans. They weren't disappointed.

Of course Eleftheria had long been a familiar figure in Greece. She was 'discovered' in 1979 by a couple of rembetika revivalists when she was singing for friends in a taverna, and joined the group Opisthodromiki Kompania. Since then, she's followed a career embracing rembetika, many of the leading names in Greek music, and notably the New York/Armenian musician Ara Dinkjian who, with Mihalis Ganas, composed the songs for her most beautiful and successful album The Bodies and the Knives (Ta Kormia keh ta Maheria). It's a recording that thrillingly exemplifies one of her musical ambitions to create a real Mediterranean sound and Greece's cultural location between the two worlds.

"Greece is one of the few countries in Europe that has kept its own traditional music", she says. "Perhaps because we have very deep roots in music and in history, of course. Because we are between the West and East we know very well the music of Europe and America, but we know the music of Asia as well. We are well-positioned to take the best from both worlds, but we keep doing our music in our own way". That meeting of two worlds also lies behind rembetika, whose 1980 revival gave Eleftheria her break. "After the fall of the Colonels, this music came out through the students and people started to take notice of it. Rembetika is an important part of our history. It describes how the people lived when they came from Asia Minor and what they had to face.

It was a very important time in my life when I rediscovered our music. Like many Greeks, I was a big fan of Dylan and the Rolling Stones, but suddenly we found our own music". Eleftheria is always keen to renew her contacts with her musical roots and her latest recording (Ektos Programmatos) returns to rembetika repertoire: "I play with my band some traditional songs and classic rembetika - not the big hits of rembetika, but great songs, by Vamvakaris, Tsitsanis and others, with something deeper behind them. Songs from the 1920s up to the '60s, plus traditional songs from the mountains. Through this music we can understand the history of our country".

(by Simon Broughton , Editor of World Music Rough Guide - Africa, Europe and the Middle East, Vol.1, 1999) 

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