1 May 2009


In late March we spent four days in Istanbul. Full of mosques, churches, baklava and CD’s, Istanbul is contemporary and equally ancient, Asiatic and equally European. The first impression while still approaching the city was that the Turks are furiously copying the Soviet architecture with huge blocks and uniformly constructed neighborhoods. We didn’t find out if it’s a matter of aesthetics or economy, but it seems that the reasons are mainly financial. One more common feature is the use of cheap building materials, thus making the signs of decay appearing far too soon. The second impression is that contemporary Turks and Greeks are one and the same sort of people. They are somehow separated by the languages and the religions, and mainly by the politics; the last ones give the overall hint. Seeing the difference and not the similarity between two languages sharing a big number of words, it’s a question of will; the same goes on for the two religions that have given birth to common branches in the course of time. People living together need some deeper mutual understanding. But in the 20th century, both sides have overpronounced the differences.

In an everyday level, the sweets in Istanbul are less sweet than their Greek counterparts, meat dishes are incredibly tasteful while the vegetarian ones are a bit indifferent, ceramics remain closer to the ancient traditions and traffic is an equally terrible problem. 18.000.000 people it’s a huge city, spreading in two different continents. Small café and fast food stands were very pleasant, while we can’t say the same for some fabulous places suggested by the guide books. Historic monuments and similar sights require of course a lot of time and we had only 4 days, so we just caught some glimpses. The same is true for music shops; by the way, the main CD market is located in a place named Istanbul Textile Center, Blok 6, in the beginning of Ataturk Boulevard in Unkapani. The main record companies and distributors are located there.

There is an astonishing wealth of music appearing in the Turkish discography nowadays. Many companies republish old material from gramophone and vinyl records, so the interested researcher can quickly get an overview of the evolution of music in Turkey through the 20th century and of its geographic and demographic distribution; tracing this last aspect is actually a recent, increasing tendency. The obsession with the Turkish language, one of the taboos of the previous decades, seems to be gradually lifting. The unacknowledged ethnic minorities –Kurds, Laz, Jews, Greeks etc– gradually are getting their own share in the cultural field. On the other hand, Turkey this way exhibits its multifaceted wealth, which strongly reminds the splendor of the great Ottoman empire.

Four samples presented here can give a first view. I start with Tülay German which very clearly demonstrates the cosmopolitan, international and still highly local flavor of the contemporary Turkey. The song Mecnunum leylamı gördüm is included in the archival collection '62 - '87 burçak tarlası (Kalan, 2001).
The second song is Artık yeşerecek bir dalım yok by Behiye Aksoy, extracted from the album Kapın her çalındıkça (Coşkun, 1996 reprint?). A song of striking beauty, it’s much closer to the Ottoman tradition than what Behiye’s modern styling lets us assume.The third one is in Kurdish language, entitled Qirayis. It’s contemporary and deliberately multicultural, but this adds up to its originality and beauty. It’s taken from Ahmet Aslan’s Va u Waxt (Kom, 2003) and some relationship with Germany is obvious already on the cover.The last one is the traditional zeybek Serenler, performed here by Arif Sağ’s trio and the Istanbul State Sympohny Orchestra. Included in the album Concerto for Bağlama (Güvercin, 1996?) it shows a strong influence of art rock groups like Emerson Lake and Palmer, obvious in the juxtaposition of a heartfelt personal style and the institutionalized, though clearly foreign sound of the symphony orchestra.
Two weeks later, still enjoying the baklava and the rakhat lukum (the “turkish delight”) we brought with us, we try to prolong the feeling of our trip. Visiting new places is always fascinating, and Istiklal street with its cafes and restaurants is definitely a cosmopolitan one. The past of the city is unfolding through the superimposed layers of antiquities, the markets are rich and the local colors strong, though everywhere there is a hint of decadence, of fainting ancient glory. The Turks, after a tumultuous century, are collecting today what is left over, reassembling the pieces of the puzzle. In music this is a very strong feeling; recordings of those hard times, actually laid aside for years, are now finding their way to well produced publications. It’s not so strange then that many re-editions are drawn from vinyl records; it seems that the master tapes have been lost or, most probably, erased.

Here there are two recordings in more classical styles. Kani Karaca (b. 1930) in a live recording dating from 1994 (5 religious pieces joined together, the fourth one attributed to Dede Efendi – a total of 24Mbyte) out of his only album published by Kalan (2001).

The second piece is a passionate performance by the great Zeki Müren (1930 - 1996), titled Yalnız benim ol, extract from the album Hatıralarım (Emre, 1982).


30 Apr 2009


Going on with some exceptional cases of Pontian musicians, we must mention Giannis “Tsanakalis” Vlastaridis (1931 – 2001), singer and kemenche player. Tsanakalis, besides his recordings of the widely accepted styles of the traditional and the new Pontic folk music, he made also efforts like the one presented here which, at last at those times, were seemingly focusing on fun. At least, he himself puts it this way in his album International Tsanakalis (Vasipap, 1981). But today, taking into account the spreading of the world fusion fashions, these humorous efforts of the 80’s carry a completely different sense. The “Chinese” song Bruce Lee, uploaded here, is a typical such case. Playing a pentatonic Chinese melody with Pontic kemenche over a tango-like rhythm is a kind of crosscultural fusion by definition, but the most interesting aspect is that this fusion comes from inside, and not from some foreign Western producer, as it’s usually the case. It’s exactly the way that one culture conceives the other, through the exaggerations introduced by the political propaganda, the mass media and the cinema industry. It’s also the way that a particular culture transforms all these influences to something of its own, without questioning the originality, without feeling complexes of inferiority and without getting anchored to clichés. The Pontic artist speaks about the global bedlam in his own language and his humor remains fresh, in spite of the passing years. The Pontic language, rich already in loans form the Turkish, is further enhanced with any kind of international chatters, and the correlation of the star of the Maoist flag with the Star of Bethlehem –with some musical reference to Christmas carols– is beyond any kind of imagination. And let’s leave aside the simile of the karate fight with the Pontic dances and the announcement of Bruce Lee as a successor of Mao.

We found out that Tsanakalis, besides faithful followers, has also severe critics. This is very interesting from some sociologic point of view, as it showcases a kind of radicalization of the Pontic world to the extent that flirting with new or funny topics is considered improper. But things were not like that three decades ago. In the albums of that times the sorrow of the immigration and the social injustice is prominent, the use of the Pontic language is dictated by the everyday needs and not by some historic debt, and the music is requested to provide a relief to the hardness of life, and not spiritual exaltations and visions of patriotism. The Pontic cinema of the 80’s shows exactly this aspect. Here there is one song from the film The sin (Vasipap, 1988), titled Πατέρα συ ετράνυνες (Father, you grew big). I couldn’t confirm that it’s Tsanakalis who sings here, but for sure it’s he who plays the kemenche. The main star and script writer of the film is Yiannis “Floriniotis” Apostolidis. The scene where Floriniotis’ wife gives birth to her child still wearing her pantyhose is an unbeatable highlight.

Floriniotis, in addition to his illustrious involvement with the Pontic cinema has also been very active as a singer and a record producer. He was equally innovative in this field, enriching the Pontic tradition with all the funky gadgets of the times. What is of exceptional interest, is the fact that he managed to balance the two styles, traditional and modern, in a way that none of them overtakes the other. In the song Ανάθεμα την πεθερά σ’ (Blame to your mother-in-law) from the album Pontic Party (Vasipap, 1992) he exploits the pop timbres to the full, thought the melody is clearly pontic and the use of kemenche reinforces its identity.

Him still being active, his kids are also successfully involved with music. In the song Η εγάπ’ (Love), performed by his daughter Annoula in the recent album Two kisses (Panivar, 2001) one must note that the balance between the traditional and the modern is kept intact, regardless of the fact that the sound is totally updated. Annoula sings marvelously but, being of a much younger generation, she ’s completely alienated from the old pronunciation of the Pontic; but her pronunciation is so cool that really repays for all, extending equally to her conception of modern Greek. Unfortunately, this can’t be easily estimated by non-Greek speaking listeners.

29 Apr 2009


So, I go on with the Pontic Greeks. There is elementary information about them in sources like Wikipedia, and there is abundance of material in sites like YouTube; my text for the Difono magazine (issue 160, 4/2009, www.difono.gr) included some more observations about their cultural history after the population exchange of 1923. Topics as the preservation of their unique language inside the Greek environment, as well as the evolution of the Pontic populations that were left out of the borders of contemporary Greek state, were also explored. What about the music, I summarize here that there have been two very nice releases of the historic 1930 recordings by Melpo Merlier (www.mla.gr), sparse republications of the few commercial gramophone records and a significant corpus of new folk music, mainly recorded and published in Thessaloniki since the 70’s. Vasipap, the most active record company in this field, is still publishing new material. Furthermore, they are selling out their remaining vinyls (1 euro each!) in their central shop in Thessaloniki.

The first song, titled Απάν σο Μπέλες (High there on Beles) is the title track of what seems to be the very first LP record of Vasipap, in 1973, by Takis and Sofia Papadopoulou. All these albums of the early 70’s are of particular interest, as they reveal the concerns and the experimentations carried out in those years. The rendition, with kemenche and drums only, maintains the traditional spirit of austerity; the drums are impressive as they bear no resemblance to any jazz or rock style, but to the tradition of the Greek daouli. The doubling of the vocal melody by the kemenche is also a feature of the old tradition, but the gentle and sentimental voice of Sofia Papadopoulou actually creates another universe juxtaposing continuously the nervous instrumental weft. The fact that the Pontic language here sounds completely incomprehensible for Greek native speakers, is another interesting element that has disappeared today; in our days, the Pontic is much closer to the common Greek.

Speaking of the daouli (a big double headed drum beaten with sticks, pl. daoulia), I must write that there are many variants of both its construction and its technique all over Greece. In Greek Macedonia, huge daoulia play wandering around the rhythm with impressive freedom. In the islands, they are much smaller, and give to the music a characteristic agitating pulse. As far as I know, there are no recordings of Pontic daoulia before the populations exchange, not even of the first generations of refugees in continental Greece. Thus, we can only assume how were they played. The following wonderful rendition of Pontic kocharin by gypsy musicians of Greek Macedonia (Christos Gevgelis and Thanassis Serkos, zourna, Giorgos Gevgelis, daouli) poses the obvious question whether, and to which extend, the local musicians adapted the Pontic tradition to fit their own aesthetics. This dance comes from the album Ζουρνάδες και νταούλια (Zournades and Daoulia, General 1976).

28 Apr 2009


Succumbing to the requests of some non-Greek friends, i start remaking this blog in English. The original greek can be found at drygianakis.blogspot.com. The two blogs are not exactly identical, just taking into account some possible differences between Greek and non-Greek readers.

The original Greek version started in mid March. The first three uploads referred to the Pontic Greeks, whose biggest part now lives in continental Greece (most of them having been expelled from Turkey in 1915 - 23, another part having fled the former Soviet Union in the 90's). The next three uploads were about our trip with Olya to Istanbul and the last two, published in the Holy week, were about the Greek Church music of that days. I start by republishing these last ones here.


As the Holy Week goes on, I can not resist to the temptation and I announce that there is a new, lavishly packaged release, of all the recordings of the legendary cantor Iakovos Nafpliotis (1864 - 1942). Nafpliotis was the lead cantor of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (1911 - 1929), which is considerd to be the most important center of the Greek chanting tradition. Supervised by the professor Antonis Alygizakis and his collaborators, this re-edition consists of five discs and a trilingual book and it’s published by the Turkish company Kalan; it was a great surprise to see that the Turks care for the Greek tradition more than the Greeks themselves. It’s an excellent work. Hoping to make a detailed review of it in the near future, I upload here the Holy Tuesday psalm Πόρνη προσήλθε σοι (The hartlot came up to you), recorded in 1914. Reach for this box set in the web (www.kalan.com or www.esenshop.com, it’s the official distributor) or in Istanbul ... where it all happened.

For the Good Friday, two recordings from the services. The first is taken from an historic publication which, unfortunately, has become a rarity. Σε τον αναβαλλόμενον (Thee, who deckest thyself with light as with a garment), again from the Patriarchate of Constantinople, Vassilios Nikolaidis (1915 - 1985) being the lead chanter. Recorded in 1981. From the box The Holy Passion (OPK, 1982).

The second recording of the same anthem is by Nikolaos Kakoulidis (1919 - 1982), a cantor of Pontic origin. His recordings, as many of the recordings of Greek church music of that era, were left practically unknown. Kakoulidis is mentioned as the cantor of St. Barbara church in Patission street in Athens. This album of Byzantine hymns of the Holy Week and the Resurrection (RCA Victor, the 60s) is also a rarity.
The Easter has come already! Christ is risen, rejoice!