Music

Various Artists: The Rough Guide to Greek Café

Inside this box of optimism you have rough voices and smooth voices, strings, percussion, and a terrific tart loveliness, which is something like a wail without the anguish.


Various Artists

The Rough Guide to Greek Café

Label: World Music Network
US Release Date: 2010-09-14
UK Release Date: 2010-08-30
Amazon
Amazon
iTunes

Before I listened to the Rough Guide to Greek Café I looked at a picture of the cover and thought, "I wonder if the emphasis will be on the word café or on the word Greek." A lot of the Greek music that I'd heard, when it wasn't pop music, tended to be hard and ringing. It was music played to a circle-dance rhythm, with a regular stress that told the dancers when to emphasise a step. When I thought of Greek singing, it was George Dalaras who came to mind, and specifically my favourite Dalaras song, "Ya Pare Gifto Sphiri Ki Amoni", a song shot through with the singer's folk-toughness, a languidly-paced voice, but one that is pitched to a kind of nasal sharpness. He sings at a drawling pace without sounding sleepy or lazy. He sounds insistent. And this carries the song, the unvarying strength of that nose-humming vocal thrust, which drives the movement from start to finish.

All of this was so far away from my idea of the music that gets marketed under the rubric of café that I wondered how the two things could be reconciled. When I thought of café music, I thought of something friendly and soft-edged. The aim of café music, I thought, is to be interesting enough to be entertaining, but not so exciting that you look up from your coffee. It wanders. It has a light beat and an attractive voice. It is smooth. And how could they put these things together without eviscerating the Greek or ruining the softness of the café? I know nothing about Greek music, I thought. Perhaps it was going to be music played specifically by live bands in Greek cafes? No, because -- here I checked -- the blurb for the album referred to it as, "a selection of some of the irresistible and enriching sounds that you can hear … quietly on the sound systems of Greek restaurants, beach tavernas or café-bars." So it was going to be a blend of the two. It would be a collection of tracks by Greek musicians, selected with an emphasis on some quality that made them suitable for quiet play on the sound systems of restaurants.

How does the compiler do it? It seems to me that he decides to favour forward movement. Flow is the thing here, flow is the key to this compilation. Hardness is allowed, melancholy is allowed, but we always go forward, we carry the restaurant-listener with us. The singers sing in streams, and the instruments advance in a continuous tide. The profound stop/start dance rhythm becomes part of the wash. It emerges in hops and skips. It would rather touch the earth with a toe and bob up vividly than stamp its foot down. The jangle in Kristi Stassinopoulou's "Sto Patithraki" introduces this idea of brightness in the first track and it goes on from there. When a downstroke appears in Thanasis Papakonstantinou's "Pehlivanis", the guitar player lightens the music by following that moment of solemn weight with a bit of crochet. In Sophia Papazoglou's "Rixte Sto Yiali Farmaki", the speed bump of a percussive downslap is superseded by Papazoglou's voice. So everything is upward, upward, and on.

Inside this box of optimism you have rough voices and smooth voices, strings, percussion, and a terrific tart loveliness, which is something like a wail without the anguish. Some of the tracks have been chosen to remind you explicitly of the musical legacy left by the Ottoman empire that ruled Greece from the mid-1400s to the 1830s, but traces of that sound are in everything else too, in the writhing patterns of the music, in the intricacy, in the quasi-formal beauty. Emotion has been refined to a needlepoint, the source of that tart sting. An aristocratic folk music, in other words. Passion is seized with a bow. The café soundtrack for mobs of 19th-century European aesthetes.

7

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image