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Thanasis Papakonstantinou
Vrachnos Profitis (The Hoarse Prophet)
Lyra Records, Greece

In the beginning there was the tradition, going back 500 or 2,500 or 4,500 years; nobody knows exactly how far. In the early Twentieth Century, there were the 78rpm recordings; most of the performances were good because the performers were rooted in that tradition, but the recordings themselves were flawed because they were limited in time and fragmentary in nature.

In the Sixties there was an 'entechno' composer who wrote an instrumental for a film; "Zorba the Greek" had almost nothing to do with traditional Greek music, but it entered the global vernacular nevertheless. There was "Misirlou," transported from her native Egypt to the sunny shores of California and the mean streets of a Tarantino film. Then, in the Seventies, came dozens of failed attempts to marry that tradition with the 'rock of our future,' as a song put it. As was the case with most of the Seventies attempts around the world, they misfired spectacularly, culminating in the 'oeuvre' of Demmis Roussos and in turning a whole generation of Greeks away from traditional music and onto British or American rock.

In the Eighties, Thanasis Papakonstantinou started writing music in what is known as the 'artful' (entechno) style, music with sparse orchestration and great importance attributed to the lyrics and the vocals. There was the rock group Trypes ('The Holes'), whose first big hit stated, "London, Amsterdam or Berlin you have forgotten exactly where you were going"). Rooted in local tradition, this music wasn't.

2000: Reports in the newspapers, right next to the Millennium Bug, were talking about a record from "Thanasis Papakonstantinou and the guys from Trypes" that was "unlike anything else you've heard this year." But the old scars run deep; I kept away from it. Then, there was an e-mail from a friend saying that "the new record by the guys from Trypes and What's-His-Name is amazing" but again, a pass. Finally, 2000 was over and the best Greek record of the year was in many cases Vrachnos Prophitis, the record that "made fusion respectable again." I decided to part with my money.

This is, indeed, a unique record. Its roots are based in music from what is considered by some to be the most backwards, remote rural hinterland of Greece, in Central-Western Thessaly, music seen in Greece as some urban Americans might see Appalachian folk traditions. It also has the cach´┐Ż of the biggest rock band in Greece, a band that, despite its attempts to stay radical and out of the limelight, has been ushered on the center-stage.

And it bridges those two traditions with the help of fragments of memory: irreverent local traditions (a song about photographing a local bandit operating in the region in the early Twentieth Century and a very taboo subject even now). Papakonstantinou's grandmother, mother and uncle recollect from memory a children's song for the Christian season of Lent. There is an excerpt from the Vedas, other traditional pieces (a song about death that is called "Quiet Sleep") and references to lyrics from other kindred songs ('Angelos Exangelos' by Dionysis Savopoulos, for example). Words used only in that region are beautifully rendered; deeply melancholic lyrics, straight from the "entechno" tradition.

Wind, be a punisher, be also a teaser
And if my little soul gets bored, come and get it
To be looking upon the laziness of the world
To be forgotten as the mountains' last year's snow.

The cover photograph shows a worn, thoughtful farmer (whom Papakonstantinou described as "the personification of the record I wanted to make"). They utilize numerous instruments: a kazoo, a djembe, a bouzoukomana ("big bouzouki"), violin, electric bass, a Spanish lute, an African harp, bagpipes, electric guitars and trumpet; acoustic and electric, traditional or not, Greek or not. All of this was recorded in Thessaloniki, far away from the musical center of Greece, Athens.

This is a record that has rehabilitated rock-traditional fusion in Greece. It is also all of these things, traditional, rock and fusion, at the same time. It touches upon almost every musical tradition of at least the Twentieth Century. It is a record that is based upon memories of a rural upbringing, by a person who is now very urbane and for that alone it is something that is very demonstrative of present-day Greece.

If at times it also seems like a record that is so full of layers and meanings that you cannot listen to it all the time, so be it. Like a bottle of fine wine, you open it only occasionally but then it's guaranteed to make you feel good and to extend your horizons. - Nondas Kitsos

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