Leonidas Liambey - 23/02/2004
Savina Yanatou and Lamia Bedioui stood side-by-side, alone on the stage. The musicians from Primavera en Salonico were resting after a three-hour concert. ‘We are going to sing a Tunisian ballad and a Thracian lullaby,’ Yanatou announced – it was to be a Greek-Tunisian composite song: ‘Rabbi Blonni Bemlayan/ Yati Pouli Then Kelaidhis.’
Lamia Bedoui began: her composed voice soaring with the expressive harmonies of the North African song. She seemed to be emotive despite herself, with all the control of a muezzin with perfect pitch and a broken heart. Then Savina Yanatou responded. The verse of the Greek song followed the rhythm and melody of the Tunisian but Yanatou’s range of vocal expression brought it a lyrical edge. It was to be a conversation between two cultures in different languages, yet clear and devastatingly beautiful. The differences remained but the complimentary qualities of the two voices opened a world rich in possibilities. The concert drew on the folk repertoires of Albania, Armenia, Bulgaria, Corsica, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Lebanon, Provence, Sardinia, Sicily, Spain, Tunisia, Turkey and the Sephardic diaspora. Yannatou showed herself to be a singer of astounding range, superb vocal control and consummate musical scholarship. The performance managed to avoid being nostalgic despite its ‘ethnic’ material through its great musicians, improvisation and vocal experiments that drew on a range of musical genres including jazz as well as Western musicians such as Joan Baez and even Leonard Cohen.
The new cosmopolitanism may draw inspiration from a more integrated Mediterranean culture before the rise of nationalisms – from cities such as Salonika, Alexandria and Beirut in which Muslims, Greeks and Jews lived side by side – but the hybrid created by Yannatou and Primavera en Saloniko is still, however, both innovative and exciting. Showing the common heritage that each culture’s particular songs share with others and by singing the harmonies this history produced, Yanatou celebrates this fluidity. 'Yad Anuga,’ for example, is a moving Bedouin song that passed in to Hebrew in Israel and through the Sephardi community of Thessaloniki in to the Greek folk repertoire. Primavera en Salonico returned for the final piece: these exceptional musicians played nay (rim-blown flute), recorder, guitar, kanonaki (psaltery), lutes (oud, tamboura), violin, accordion, viola, double bass, and percussion (bendir, daoul, tambourine, toumberleki). The hybrid choice of material was perfectly supported by the instruments and the musicians themselves: definitely traditional but by no means limited to a traditional range of expression. An electric double bass next to an oud, vocal improvisation along side the simplicity of a traditional lullaby, a vast range of folk songs from all over the Mediterranean and beyond (a Celtic love song?) brought together and arranged with respect for their integrity but also following the demands of contemporary expression. A hybrid cosmopolitanism, drawing on traditions that have borrowed and grown off each other for centuries, finding expression in songs that are nonetheless completely new.
The concert ‘Terra Nostra’ took place on 21st January 2004 at the Free2Go Club 22 in Athens, Greece. Savina Yanatou is touring in Europe in February and March 2004. She is opening the Byzantine festival at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. Many of the songs featured are on the Terra Nostra live album available from ECM records. Leonidas Liambey