The Music & Dance of the Region of Epirus
JSP records JSP77166 - 4CD box set
Disc 1: 1. Shepherd's Song of Epirus - Kitsos Harisiadis; 2. The Kyratzidiko - Trio Tsitsomitsos; 3. Samantakas - Kitsos Harisiadis; 4. The Asimouli - An. Halkias; 5. Moiroloi - Nick Halkias; 6. Tin Perdika Pou Piasate - Polyxeni Litou; 7. Syngkathisto Samariniotiko - Nick Halkias; 8. Plisivitsa I Kofto - Kitsos Harisiadis; 9. Kota Mou Kotoula Mou - Lazaros Rouvas; 10. Genovefa - Manthos Halikias Epirotic Orchestra; 11. Divolitsi - Gamvas, Rassias & Kassiaras; 12. Aleksandra - Elias Litos & Lazaros Rouvas; 13. Arvanitiko Moirologi - Takis Zakas & Michalis Kaganes; 14. La Patro Tzitntzi Marmari - Trio Tsitsomitsos; 15. Althaytra, Dipli Gaida - Kitsos Harisiadis; 16. Tsourlis - George Diamantis; 17. Horos Kozantikos - Takis Zakas & Michalis Kaganes; 18. Vasilarhodisa - Fotios Halkias; 19. N'anastenakso Den Makous - Stilianos Bellos; 20. Fissouni - Elias Litos & Lazaros Rouvas; 21. Mori Kontoula Lemonia - G. Bekas & S. Bakoula; 22. Angkinara - Trio Tsitsomitsos; 23. Sarantapente Kiriakes - Kiriakos Halkias & P. Litou.The box set Beyond Rembetika recently issued by JSP records poses a number of questions, and raises a number of issues. This review will not concern itself solely with the specific production at hand, but will attempt to examine some of these questions and issues in depth.
Disc 2: 1. To Moiroloi Vathi - Kitsos Harisiadis; 2. Ta Magia Sto Pigadi - George Trakis; 3. Berati Sarmaniotiko - Nick Halkias; 4. Ta Matia Demo Ta Emorfa - Stilianos Bellos; 5. Papadia - Nikos Tzaras; 6. Anathema Se Xenitia - Glykeria Zoumba; 7. Leonidas - Nick Halkias; 8. Gaidha - Kitsos Harisiadis; 9. Afta Ta Matia Demo Mou - Lazaros Rouvas; 10. Peristerakia - Manthos Halikias Epirotic Orchestra; 11. Zaharoula - Gamvas, Rassias & Kassiaras; 12. Gaida - Takis Zakas & Michalis Kaganes; 13. Kleftes Veltsistini - Halkias Brothers; 14. Paidia Tis Samarinas - Kitsos Harisiadis; 15. Ginekes Pou Horevete - Haralambos Bourbos; 16. Berati Arvanitiko - Takis Zakas & Michalis Kaganes; 17. Arhodopoula - Fotios Halkias; 18. Tzamara - Elias Litos & Lazaros Rouvas; 19. Halasia Mou - Pavlos Bekaris; 20. Arvanitic - Kitsos Harisiadis; 21. Ah More Sevda - G. Bekas & Bakoula; 22. Verginada - Elias Litos & Lazaros Rouvas; 23. Stis Pikrodafnis Ton Antho - Fotios Halkias.
Disc 3: 1. Mia Emorfi - The Five Gliniotes; 2. Arvanitovlahiko - Andreas Douklias; 3. Sarantapente Kiriakes - George Diamantis; 4. Ameriki - Trio Tsitsomitsos; 5. Moiroloi - Elias Litos & Lazaros Rouvas; 6. Ade Maro Sto Pigadi - Kiriakos Halkias & P. Litou; 7. Verginada - Kitsos Harisiadis; 8. O Samantakas - Halkias Brothers; 9. Alambeis - Nikos Tzaras; 10. Galiandra - Haralambos Bourbos; 11. Satista Horos - Takis Zakas & Michalis Kaganes; 12. O Menousis - An. Halkias; 13. Delvino & Tsamourgia - Kitsos Harisiadis; 14. Pos Lambi O Elios Tou Magiou - Fotios Halkias; 15. Tsamiko Makedonias - Takis Zakas & Michalis Kaganes; 16. Xypna Perdikomata Mou - Pavlos Bekaris; 17. Kleftes Veltsistini - Elias Litos & Lazaros Rouvas; 18. O Fezodervenagas - Stilianos Bellos; 19. Kai Seis Vouna Ton Grevenon - Fotios Halkias; 20. Ebate Agoria Sto Horo - Stilianos Bellos; 21. To Berati Vathi - Elias Litos & Lazaros Rouvas; 22. Ela Litsa - Glykeria Zoumba; 23. Zagorisio - Kitsos Harisiadis.
Disc 4: 1. Kleftes Palies - M. Harisis; 2. O Sotirchainas - Giorgios Meintanas; 3. Oles Oi Dafnes - Nikos Tzaras; 4. Gianni Mou To Madili Sou - An. Halkias; 5. Zagorisios - Elias Litos & Lazaros Rouvas; 6. Vlacha Mase Tin Podia Sou - Fotios Halkias; 7. Selimbeis - Nikos Tzaras; 8. Plousioi Kai Ftochi - Kiriakos Halkias & An. Halkias Orchestra; 9. Karagkouna - Elias Litos & Lazaros Rouvas; 10. Varethika Manoula Mou - George Bakas, Sofia Bakoula, Polikseni Litou; 11. Epirotikos Horos - Athanasios Makedonas; 12. Vassilikos Tha Gino Sto Parathyri Sou - George Bakas & Polikseni Litou; 13. Re Babi - Elias Litos & Lazaros Rouvas; 14. Efiges Na Kazantisei - Gi. Paramithiotou & An. Halkias; 15. Gkekas Epirotiko - Kitsos Harisiadis; 16. Gia Sena Gianniotopoula Mou - George Bakas & Polikseni Litou; 17. Giannotiko Moirologi - Athanasios Makedonas; 18. Geras O Mavros Haido - George Bakas, Sofia Bakoula, Polikseni Litou; 19. Gaida Moni - M. Harisis; 20. Mia Orea Voskopoula - Halkias Brothers; 21. Arvanitiko Epirotiko - Kitsos Harisiadis; 22. Paleo Zagorisio - M. Harisis; 23. Moiroloi Elbasen - Nick Halkias.
The set contains a collection of almost exclusively clarinet-dominated commercial Greek folk music recordings from the period 1919-1958, with few exceptions played and sung by professional musicians. It is slightly lop-sided, in that a disproportionately large part of the clarinet honours are done by the Halkias family of Epirus, and a quarter of all the tracks are played by Tassos Halkias. Of the other clarinettists three, possibly four or more, were not from Epirus. Furthermore, at least two of the singers, and a number of the songs, were definitely not of Epirotic origin. This will be explained in detail later in the review. Suffice it to say that the content belies the claim of the under-title.
The clarinet, which is the youngest of the established instruments of Western classical music, entered Greek folk music during the first half of the 19th century, when it was still a relatively young instrument. Among the various key systems which were developed during the 19th century, Balkan and Turkish folk musicians have tended to favour the Albert system, although not entirely to the exclusion of Boehm clarinets. Previous to the introduction of the clarinet there were various kinds of flutes, double-reed shawm-like instruments and bagpipes in use in Greece, all of which have survived, but only just, and generally speaking not in the hands of professional folk musicians. The floyera virtuoso Aristidis Vasilaris (1932-) is an exception - he has made a number of records since the 1980s.
JSP justify the title as follows:
This brings us to one of the first questions. How justifiable is it for record companies operating in the English language, and primarily addressing themselves to the English-speaking market, to ignore the existence of sizeable outputs of reissues from the countries of origin of the music, when, or just because, the local language is more or less impenetrable to the vast majority of English speakers? The obvious answer is that by doing so they are making a lot of music available to people who would hardly otherwise be able to look for or find it on the web, which is fine. However - in such cases the authors of such projects have an implicit duty to know what they are talking about, and to provide sufficient and accurate information to the buyer regarding context and content, refraining to the best of their ability from making incorrect assertions. Furthermore, regarding the important question of sound quality in 78rpm reissues, they should be aware of the quality of what is already available in local markets. To push this point to its logical conclusion, it would be quite reasonable for a person primarily interested in introducing an English-speaking public to a particular area of unfamiliar music, to create a blog containing both written information in English, and urls directing interested readers to outlets for locally produced reissues of the music in question - irrespective of which 78rpm discs she or he happens to own.
If one has decided to issue music which one believes to be unfamiliar to one's intended audience, I believe one has a duty to exert oneself to make the music as approachable and digestible as possible. To this end one should ideally be selective in the quantity and choice of tracks, and concern oneself with sequencing tracks to optimise the listening experience.
The CD era has seen an explosion of issues of large box sets, far beyond the quantities of such issues during the LP era. Many of these are 'completist' items, the 'complete works' of a particular musician, or group, or composer, for example. 'Completism' caters to both genuine musical concerns, and to more 'neurotic' collector compulsions; I say this well aware of my own neurotic tendencies in this respect.
Box sets which are simply bigger compilations of mixed material are, however, not so self-evidently justifiable to my mind. In the beginning was the cylinder or the one-sided disc. Then came the double-sided disc. Then came albums containing, say, two to twelve 78rpm discs, often motivated by their content consisting of a single work of classical music, an opera, a symphony, a sonata or a concerto. Occasionally such albums might indeed presage the modern box set, containing grouped works such as Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. But such 78rpm albums and LP boxes have almost always had a unifying concept to justify their size.
The problem is that large compilations of mixed musical material are virtually impossible to listen to attentively in one sitting, and it is difficult to gain an overview of their content. The reader might object to this reasoning, saying, quite rightly, that the CD format itself offers a freedom to the listener today, particularly if the music is transferred to a computer's hard drive, whence it can be managed at the listener's will. But the fact remains that it is difficult to gain an overview of an amorphous 92-track collection for which there is not even scanty information for each track beyond artist names and the raw discographical data.
What kind of information should ideally be included? Accurate geographical, historical, musical, textual, biographical and discographical data are all valuable, if not essential. Let us apply some of the above thoughts to the box set under review.
The notes assert that the music pre-dat[ed] the rise of and compet[ed] with the popularity of rembetika, or the music of the rembetes, understood broadly as the Greek urban working-class and marginalized lower class, including some underworld elements.
Whereas it is perfectly reasonable in historical terms to posit the existence of various forms of dimotika, or village folk music, prior to the emergence of an urban working class, it is inaccurate and misleading to apply the term rebetes to a whole social class. It is also meaningless to suggest the existence of a competition between demotic music and rebetika. There is in fact no basis for generalising that during the 78rpm era listeners or musicians would opt one-sidedly for the one or the other, or that their choices would have been a matter of conflict. It is true that a handful of the major rebetiko singer-songwriter-musicians of the epoch were fairly exclusive in their choice of style and material, at least as far as their surviving recordings go, and equally true that demotic clarinettists are almost absent from the rebetiko corpus. But it is equally true that many of the most successful and prolifically recorded singers and musicians of the period who are often identified with rebetika in the minds of modern listeners, were equally at home recording demotic, rebetic and Asia Minor style songs: singers such as Rita Abadzi, Roza Eskenazi, Andonis Dalgas, Dimitris Atraïdis, Dimitris 'Arapakis', Georgios Papasideris, Kostas Roukounas, Georgia Mittaki; instrumentalists such as Dimitris Semsis, Ioannis Dragatzis and Spyros Peristeris. It is conceivable, though it would be a time-consuming hypothesis to which I have yet to apply myself in order to test, that many, if not all, of the above-named singers and musicians are actually to be heard on more recordings of decidedly demotic character than on clearly rebetiko recordings.
There is an undertone in the accompanying texts which implies that Beyond Rembetika is blazing a trail, and contributing to the survival of music otherwise in danger of oblivion, or even extinction. The only truth here is that this box set is possibly the first CD box set to concentrate on 78rpm recordings of Greek village music issued for the English-speaking market. There has, though, been a continual stream of reissues of such material in Greece since at least the early 1970s, which has continued through the CD era, and continues unabated today, presenting material similar to or identical with the material included in "Beyond Rembetika".1
The various regional Greek demotic traditions were furthermore by no means on the way to oblivion after the 78rpm era. They were clearly alive and kicking during the 1970s and 1980s when the Society for the Dissemination of National Music under the direction of Simon Karas issued a collection of over 20 LPs of field recordings of folk music from many parts of Greece, among which were two excellent LPs of Epirotic music.
The four CDs of Beyond Rembetika have been organised as four virtually equivalent homogeneous mixes, with the majority of the tracks on each CD featuring the same limited number of artists, with the odd one or two on each who are only represented by a couple of tracks. With the exception of one rare extremely worn 1919 disc featuring the violinist Athanasios Makedonas, unfortunately yielding the worst-sounding pair of tracks in the collection, there is no material which adds significantly to the available corpus of Greek reissues in terms of music or audio quality.
Half the tracks include vocals, but the notes only give lyrics for two of them. This pinpoints one of the dangerous weaknesses of English language reissues of foreign language material. Given that the JSP box set format is based on offering large amounts of music for next to nothing, one is perhaps expected to accept the disadvantages of the format that the sound restoration work is often suboptimal, leaning towards reducing noise at all costs, and that the booklet is limited to four single-page folders each housed in a CD jewel box, containing just eight pages of continuous text thus inconveniently broken up. There is here a serious risk of cementing a kind of colonialist disinterest in the mental content of 'the other', and being satisfied with reducing both vocals and music to non-verbal musical content as something only to be enjoyed for its exotic qualities.
As mentioned earlier, a third of the tracks feature three clarinettists of the famous Epirotic Halkias family, of which 22 are played by the famed Tassos Halkias (1916-1992), here confusingly identified as 'An. Halkias'. Correctly, in that his full name was Anastasios Halkias, confusingly as the notes assert that "An. Halkias" may refer to Antonis or Anastasios, the problem being that to my knowledge there has never been a clarinettist of the Halkias family by the name of Antonis.2
Of the remaining clarinet tracks (only the two Makedonas tracks lack a clarinet), 25 are evenly shared between two further Epirotic clarinettists, Kitsos Harisiadis and Elias Litos, and the rest between a further eight, not all of Epirotic origin. It is worthwhile being aware that among clarinettists who recorded during the 78rpm era, there were musicians who came from all different parts of the Greek mainland, and there is no necessary correspondence between from where they originated and from where their tunes and songs originated. There were clarinettists who were definitely not from Epirus but who included within their repertory clearly Epirotic material, and vice versa.
It is also important to realise that the Greek recording studios tended to be dominated by small stables of professional artists, artists who were often fluent in various kinds of Greek music. This collection is in fact dominated by relatively few musicians and singers, some of whom can justly be called 'stars' of the time, and whose musical careers took place both in Greece and abroad. Many of these instrumentalists, and some of the singers, were of Rom families who had established themselves both in the studio and in the 'field', and for whom music was their main livelihood. The traditions of the time, as has been described for Rom musicians in Bulgarian circumstances in Timothy Rice's excellent book "May It Fill Your Soul", were such that musicians made the largest part of their living playing for weddings, festivals (in Greece called panegyria) and other collective events, although this was perhaps not true of the later career of Tassos Halkias, who also played large-scale concerts, and worked in the United States. The single track which seems to represent high quality but perhaps 'amateur' village musicianship is that of the Five Gliniotes, which consists of verses sung a cappella in true Epirotic polyphony, punctuated by an instrumental refrain. Other vocals featuring more than once voice seem to be composed and arranged, rather than traditional folk song performances.
There follows an account of the artists and the tracks on which they appear, giving dates and further biographical information which I have been able to trace the box notes only give dates for one musician, Nikos Tzaras. I cannot vouch for complete accuracy in dating, as conflicting information is to be found here and there on the internet. I also add a few comments on my responses to the various musicians.
Anastasios 'Tassos' Halkias (1916-1992), occasionally noted on record labels as "An. Halkiopoulos" was the youngest of a group of brothers who made a large number of recordings together from the late 1940s onwards; he continued to perform and record until at least the early 1980s, making a number of LPs, and was one of the most celebrated of all Greek clarinettists during the post-war period. His life contained tragedy and drama like that of many Greeks who lived through WWII; wounded as a soldier in 1940, he lost his wife and children in a German bombardment in 1941, and joined ELAS, which was the fighting arm of the left-wing Greek resistance movement until 1945. He spent two longer periods playing in the United States during the '50s and '60s. His brother Fotios played laouto and sang with a melancholy baritone voice not unlike those of some of the post-war rebetiko singers; he was usually accorded the surname Halkiopoulos. Their brother Kyriakos was both violinist and singer. The Halkias family apparently originated from a musician by the name of Antonis Kampsos (1824-1887), a player of the mandolin and laouto, who came to Ioannina from Albania after being involved in fighting against the Turks, and changed his name to Halkias. The Halkias brothers represented in the set under review were of the fourth generation. Tassos Halkias had a tone I can only call noble. He seemed to favour the lower register of the instrument, and was less given, at least on the tracks to be heard here, to the impassioned flights in the upper register which characterise the playing of Harisiadis and Litos. Not a single track of Tassos Halkias on this collection is an instrumental solo, and he seems not to have recorded many instrumentals until he began recording LPs. (A4,18-19, 23 B2,4,6,13,17,23, C6,8,12,14,18-20, 22, D6,8,14,20)
Nick, (or Nikolaos) Halkias (1904-1992) was also recorded in the field by James McNeish in 1961, just three years after the latest recording in the set, and is to be heard with his family on the previously mentioned Argo LP. He is instantly recognisable by his insistent and urgent vibrato, which to my ear has a quite different character from that of all his colleagues. (A5,7, B3,7,23, D23)
Manthos Halkias (1895-1945) is the eldest Halkias brother to be heard here. (A10, B10).
Vassilis Batzis (1923-1993) was from another well-known clarinet dynasty; his career also continued well into the LP era. (A21, B21, D10,18)
His clarinettist cousin Dimitris Batzis (1911-1940) was killed during the Greek-Italian war. (A6, D12,16)
Vassilis' grandfather Nikolaos Batzis (1863-1940), who did not record, is mentioned by Pericles Halkias in a conversation reproduced on Folkways LP FW34024 as one of the two greatest clarinettists of his time together with "Demos" whose identity remains a mystery to me.
Takis Zakas is the earliest recorded of the clarinettists here. Whether he was an Epirot must remain an open question. His playing presents something of a mystery to me. He is certainly not clearly Epirot by style, and I have asked a Greek clarinettist, who finds his style suggestive of possible origins in Northern Thessalia, Macedonia and perhaps Epirus. Of the fifteen-odd sides he recorded between 1917-1920, for which he is noted in Richard Spottswood's discography Ethnic Music on Record 1893-1942, several were released for the Turkish market, and several of his titles refer to Macedonian and Thessalian tunes. Two only are called Arvanitic, a Berati and a Moirologi, which suggests that he, or the Panhellenion record company, was not necessarily interested in identifying them as Epirotic per se. His style is quite different from any other Epirotic, indeed of any other Greek clarinettist I have ever heard, and rather odd to my ears. A 'straight' sound, what sounds like a smaller clarinet, and what appears to be a rather limited and unsure technique, except on the Arvanitiko Moirologi on which he perhaps sounds more at home and more idiomatic. Often I get the feeling that the clarinet and the laouto are having a hard time keeping time together. He is certainly nowhere near any other clarinettist in the set technically or musically. The writer suggests that Zakas' playing is suggestive of earlier ways of playing floyera and karamusa. The problem with this hypothesis is not only that Zakas' playing sounds as though he might simply have been something of a beginner, but there is a dearth of early recordings of those instruments. The tiny handful of recordings made in Smyrna in May 1909 of the souravli (Greek fipple flute), demonstrate a style which does not resemble Zakas' playing. One should furthermore not be fooled into the historical illusion that just because Zakas' recordings are 'early' his style is likely to be archaic. 1919 is less than a decade before the recording of Greek clarinettists in Greece got into full swing, and at least one other clarinettist, the true virtuoso Ioannis Kyriakatis, was recording in New York by 1919. (A13,17, B12,16, C11,15)
Kitsos Harisiadis (1885-1956/7) was a very highly regarded Epirotic clarinettist of his time, who started out on the Greek floyera, a pastoral flute, edge-blown like the Turkish and Arabic ney, but shorter and with a simpler fingering system. The box notes assert that Harisiadis was prolific, which is not really the case a Greek writer has rather expressed regret that he made so few recordings. As far as I can discern this set distinguishes itself, and thus should be of interest to Greek clarinet aficionados, by presenting more of Harisiadis' work collected in one place than has ever been issued in Greece, thirteen sides in all, of which nine may not have previously been reissued at all. A couple of points deserve to be made here - tracks 7 and 23 on disc C, although entitled differently as Verginada and Zagorisio, are simply alternate takes, on consecutive matrices, of the same tune, with surprisingly little variation. They were issued on two separate discs with consecutive catalogue numbers. The matrix number of very first piece in the whole set, the Skaros, is according to the contemporary Columbia catalogue the number of a Moirologi, whereas the Skaros has the matrix number WG.57. Harisiadis' impassioned virtuosity, with enormous flights in the upper register, is one of the high points of this collection for me. In contrast to Tassos Halkias he seems only to have recorded instrumental solos. (A1,3,8,15, B1,8,14,20, C7,13,23, D15,21)
About the Epirotic clarinettist Elias Litos I have not been as yet able to trace any biographical information. His impressive style is somewhere in between that of Harisiadis and Halkias, nearer to the former, and sometimes it is in fact difficult for me to decide whether I'm hearing Harisiadis or Litos. (A9,12,20, B9,18,22, C5,17,21, D5,9,13)
Surprisingly, despite the 121 composer and/or performer credits in the Greek discography for Litos' accompanist and singer Lazaros Rouvas, I have been unable to trace anything about him except that he was of Epirotic origin and highly regarded as a laouto player. It would seem from his discography that he was well-established in the studios. He worked together with many clarinettists, many definitely not Epirotic, like the celebrated Nikos Karakostas, and wrote words and music for many demotic-style songs for various singers. The thought has occurred to me that one could almost draw a parallel here between the concepts of 'folk music' and 'country music' as applied to white North American music of the '20s and '30s. It is clear to me that even if much material recorded in the Greek studios was traditional, there was clearly a considerable production of new songs, often with simple love lyrics, newly written by such people as Rouvas, and, not least, by the multi-instrumentalist studio eminence Spyros Peristeris. The observant listener will note that on certain tracks with Litos and Rouvas, (e.g. disc 3, track 5), they are joined by a harp guitar, whose deep bass notes, when they begin, give the laouto player an opportunity to enrich the texture with melodic playing instead of straight chords. I would suggest that the guitarist here may well be Kostas Skarvelis (cf. my review of Bed of Pain on this website). (Rouvas plays laouto on all Litos sides, with vocals as noted: A9 voc., 12 voc., 20, B9 voc.,18,22, C5,17,21, D5,9,13)
The Epirotic clarinettist Nikos Tzaras (1892-1942) also recorded a couple of dozen non-commercial sides in 1930 for the Greek musicologist and ethnographer Melpo Merlier (née Logothetis, 1889-1979), which were issued on CD on 1995. (B5, C9, D3,7)
Andreas Douklias was from Lamia in Southern Central Greece. His clarinet duet work with Giannis Boulotas, where Douklias played in the lower register and Boulotas in the upper, was famed. Douklias is represented here by a single piece, a dance tune called Arvanitovlachiko, which identifies it as associated with Vlachs and with Arvanites. The latter is the term used in Greece to refer to the large population of Albanian immigrants whose presence in Greece dates back a thousand years and who live all over Greece. In the late 70's, I visited a village, the birthplace of friends, on the mountain of Parnassus near Livadia. It was known in Greek as Elikon, but called Zeriki by its Arvanitic inhabitants. These people should not be confused with the Albanians of today's Albania, and thus neither should they, nor their music, be associated with the geographical areas of Northern Greece and Southern Albania. The Arvanitovlachiko dance itself is regarded by Greeks as Thessalian. (C2)
Christos Papakonstantinou, aka Tsitsomitsos, (1879-1940) was another non-Epirotic musician, a Vlach,3 born in Villia in Attica, the province in which Athens lies. He pursued an active musical career in this area up to the time of his death. His father was a celebrated player of the pipiza, a double-reed instrument also called zournas, and Christos began playing this instrument before progressing to the clarinet. His brother Demosthenes Papakonstantinou was the singer and laouto player of Trio Tsitsomitsos and is identified in the track listing of this set by one of his variant names D. Blanas. (A2,14,22, C4)
Further clarinettists on whom I have not been able to trace information are M. Harisis (A16, C3, D1,19,22) Haralambos Bourbos (B15,19, C10,16) and George Kassiaras (A11, B11)
The Five Gliniotes (The Five Boys from Glina), were a vocal quintet whose recording is one of only two examples on the set of Epirotic iso-polyphony, and the only one which gives a true idea of the sonority of the unaccompanied vocals. They were young between 22-25 years old, when they recorded two songs in 1935, of which one is to be heard here. In 1938 they recorded two more. Three of the singers died during the Greek-Italian war in 1943, along with 22 other young people from their village. (C1)
The singer Stylianos (Stelios) Bellos (A4,19, B4, C12,18,20) is, together with Alekos Kitsakis (not represented here), one of the two most medially prominent and prolific Epirotic singers still active today. On his website he is presented as professor of philology, former headmaster, and performer and scholar of folk song. He must have been in his early twenties at the latest when he began recording with Tassos Halkias in 1956. His soft sweet tenor is somewhat untypical for this music, in my experience at least.
A further example of a misplaced item is the song Sotirchainas, sung by Georgios Meintanas (1910-1999). Meintanas, whom I met in 1977 in his home town of Livadia, was a Thessalian, not an Epirot, a folk singer trained in Byzantine music. In this 1934 recording he sang a topical song about a recent tragic event. Georgios Sotirchainas, a rich man's son born in Livadia in 1893, was accused of complicity in the 1930 kidnapping of a young child, who was murdered despite the ransom money having being paid. Although the evidence was apparently flimsy, Sotirchainas and others were condemned to death and executed among the pines of Aegina on June 3rd 1932. (D2)
Giorgios Michalopoulos, the clarinettist who accompanies Meintanas, was another Thessalian clarinettist, from Petromagoula, a district of the municipality of Orchomenos.
Of the amateur violinist Xenophon Gamvas (188?-1971) we learn the following from a 1980s newspaper article.
The violinist Athanasios Makedonas is known for his participation in a number of recordings by Marika Papagkika and Kyria Koula, and for a few solos, of which two are included here. I have to admit that although these pieces are Epirotic by name and musical substance, and although Makedonas' violinistic prowess is evidence, they don't actually feel idiomatically Epirotic to my ear. In fact, the Ellis Island records show that (in all probability) he was born in Macedonia in 1879, and married in the small Thessalian town of Kastraki, from whence he emigrated without his wife, but together with a few other men from the village, arriving in the USA in 1909 and apparently intending to return. Spottswood's data show furthermore that the two sides reissued here are the only ones by Makedonas identified as Epirotic by title. As I have already mentioned, the extremely rare original disc used here is very beat, and although the music is definitely in there, the sound of these two tracks reveals, at least to my ear, that the audio restoration work has not been of the most expert kind. With the actual disc in hand one has the chance of trying all possible stylus dimensions, and even very beaten records can be transferred and treated in such a way as to not disturb the listener with digitally artefactual remnants of surface noise, which can be more disturbing than louder but more "natural" surface noise. (D11,17)
The excellent singer Georgios Diamantis, about whom I can't trace any information, sounds as though he recorded in his early teens, before his voice had broken. (A16, C3)
D9, Karagkouna, is a dance and a melody familiar to all Greeks, but originally Thessalian and in no sense Epirotic.
One mystifying entry is D4, "Gianni Mou To Mantili Sou" The introductory notes emphasise quite correctly that there is common ground in some Southern Albanian and Northern Epirotic music, particularly in the iso-polyphony, but also in the instrumental music. This may be familiar to those who have listened to A.L. Lloyd's excellent Topic LP 12T194 "Folk Music of Albania" recorded in the field in 1965, and to the Argo LP ZFB 70 "Greece in Music and Song" recorded in the field by James McNeish in 1961. But this does not excuse the misnaming of one track as performed by a group from "Northern Epirus (Southern Albania)". This 1958 HMV studio recording was made by a Greek vocal trio with the elderly clarinettist Polychronis Kapsalis and unknown musicians. Tassos Halkias is given as composer. This is one of the most familiar of all Epirotic songs of the sorrows of exile and of those left behind.
Among the vocalists Fotios Halkias (1907-1973) often called Halkiopoulos, and also a laouto player, often recorded with his brothers the violinist Kyriakos (1910-1992) and Tassos. (A18, B13,23, C8,22, D6,20)
Of the following vocalists I have been unable to trace information: Polyxeni Litou (A6,23, C6,10, D10, 12,16,18) G.Bekas (A21,B21,D10,18) S. Bakoula (A21,B21,D10,18) Georgios Trakis (B2,15,C10), Glykeria Zoumba (B6, C20,22), Pavlos Bekaris (B19, C16) and Gl. Paramithiotou (D14).
Among violinists we hear Dimitris Halkias (1900-1967) in at least one piece (D23). The notes claim that he also is present on A1 and B1 accompanying Harisiadis, but I find this difficult to confirm from any other sources.
Violinist K. Harisis (D1,19,22) was presumably M. Harisis' brother. The violinist of the Trio Tsitsomitsos (A2,14,22, C4) was called Giorgios Arapis.
Among the laouto players not hitherto mentioned are Zakas' somewhat pedestrian accompanist Michalis Kaganes (A13,17, B12,16, C11,15), G. Stathis who played with the Harisis brothers (D1,19,22) and the celebrated laoutieris Sideris Andrianos (1891-1945) from the island of Salamina, 2 km from Piraeus, who worked closely with his island compatriot the singer Giorgios Papasideris, and here accompanies Nikos Tzaras on two pieces (D3,7).
The rhapsodic and pretentiously penned notes included in this box set contain some useful information, unfortunately interspersed with malapropisms, loose historical speculation, blatant inaccuracy, and some rather confusing passages, like the following which also betrays the writer's lack of basic musical knowledge:
The writer mentions a 'typically Jewish horos'. The word horos is Greek for dance. Admittedly the word hora is used in the terminology of Romanian folk music and dance, was also used in klezmer music contexts, and was imported into the neo-folk music and dance of modern Israel, which is in some ways an invented musical tradition, to use Eric Hobsbawm's expression. But what I suspect the writer intended to refer to here is quite simply a klezmer tune. Such tunes were in fact occasionally recorded for the Greek market in America, but the only examples I can think of were played by Jewish musicians on records which were then renamed for the Greek market, and not vice versa.
The writer also mentions the daouli and the tupan, mistakenly calling them frame drums. Daouli and tupan are, however, two words for the same kind of two-headed drum. 'Frame drum', on the other hand, is the technical term for a single-headed open tambourine-like instrument, with or without metal bangles, also commonly used in Greek folk music under the names of defi or daïre. In fact it is the frame drum which is typically to be heard in the classic Greek demotic ensemble consisting of clarinet, violin, laouto and defi.
The music is not organised in a listener-friendly manner. I found the listening experience considerably more rewarding when I put the whole set on my hard drive and started out with a whole CD's worth of Tassos Halkias accompanying various singers, and then listened to all the Harisiadis and then all the Litos tracks, to get the feel of their musical personalities, and then continued in the same vein, grouping the recordings of the same artists together. Furthermore, although many of the discs used are very clean copies, for my taste many of them could have been left well alone in the remastering studio in order to preserve the brightness and the air in the music. Commonly available reissues of many of these recordings have retained much more freshness, often because the audio engineers have abstained from trying to remove all the surface noise. Some source discs are patently more worn, and the sound of these also betrays less expert sound restoration. Other compilations by King on other labels have definitely included better-sounding, less-tampered-with restorations. I therefore suspect that the muffled, cramped and airless sound and the digital artefacts which often sadly mar the experience of listening to Beyond Rembetika are to be blamed on decisions made by JSP. Unfortunately this is a fault which has marred many of their box set releases.
I can't help wondering whether the selection of music for this set has been the result of simply using what is at hand, a feeling I also had from listening through the same collector's JSP Turkish Tradition box set, which really doesn't offer the listener a panorama of Turkish tradition at all, as most of the tracks are by professional light classical and night-club singers, with hardly any true folk music represented.
Given the available material I would have thought that a compilation of about half the size, perhaps grouping together the work of each artist so that one has the chance of familiarising oneself with each in more depth, could have given a more rewarding set. Furthermore, as the reader of this review will have gathered, the quality of the information offered is not the best. Misleading on some basic points, it betrays both insufficient background research and seriously defective background knowledge. On one point I give full marks though the discographical data are given as completely as possible, some gaps in personnel being the result of lack of opportunity to research Greek-language sources.
So - can I recommend that you buy this set? For the newcomer, I will say that Greek clarinet playing is a marvellous musical area in which to immerse oneself, and that there is plenty of truly magnificent clarinet music (and excellent violin-playing and singing) to be heard in this collection, which won't easily be found in other English-language issues.4 As there is hardly a handful of examples of Epirotic polyphony included, the reader specifically interested in Epirotic music per se would do better to look elsewhere. One can't complain about the price, though, and when you've read this review you'll have considerably more solid background data with which to orientate yourself among these 92 haphazardly organised tracks of almost exclusively clarinet-based Greek folk (and 'country'?) music.
Tony Klein - 16.7.13
2. When the name Antonis is initialised in modern Greek one always uses the first three consonants "Ant,", the letters "nt" actually being understood as a single consonant sound a "d" with a preceding trace of an "n".
3. The term Vlach (βλάχος) has a double meaning in Greek today. Originally, and in the sense I use it here, it is a term used for descendants in Greece of speakers of a Romance tongue (proto-Romanian) who originally referred to themselves with various Latinate words including the root "rom". The word originates, according to one theory at least, from a proto-German word for foreigners, and according to this theory it has a number of equivalents outside Greece Wallonie, Welsh,, Wallachia &c. The other meaning of the word in Greece today is "country bumpkin".
4. The nearest may be the Topic CD928 Blowers from the Balkans which contains a number of Greek clarinet recordings by nine different clarinettists, none of whom feature on Beyond Rembetika.