Kiklos Festival brings a fresh perspective to Greek traditional music
Greek-Americans, particularly those with ties to Greek communities, are familiar with the flavors of their culture as filtered through the effects of the diaspora. As with any tradition, the music and dance take on new flavors. One might argue this somehow sullies the tradition, but to think this way is to lose sight of context. Greek music and dance (I will shy away from the word “folk,” as this implies something more performative rather than learned and/or inherited tradition) have always been living, breathing practices. Influenced by diaspora and the location of Greece itself, one that lends itself to pillage, plunder, and the mingling of East with West, these traditions never were static. And so, I was excited to come across a breath of fresh air in the rich world of Greek music: Kiklos Festival.
Happening November 16-17 in New York City, Kiklos Festival aims to provide a platform for talented young musicians to not only participate in traditional Greek music but also mold its bright future. After all, it’s their birthright. Honoring these traditions with something of a modern twist makes the tradition more human. Just as Greek dance and music evolved from the cyclical nature of human existence: hardship, harvest, wartime, marriage rites, etc, so too are modern Greeks allowed to tell their own tale. Young people have recently left the country in droves thanks to the crisis, thrust into situations where their existence as Hellenes is influenced heavily by the fluctuations of the digital age. Others flee the city for an unexpected return to village life and become intimate with the traditions of the land much like their ancestors. Others, having found monetary success abroad, still feel a sense of displacement. Diasporas lend themselves to opportunity and loss in equal measure.
Through live performances and workshops, Kiklos Festival will allow younger musicians to tell their tale and push the narrative of Greek music forward – without threatening what already exists in the “cannon.” Because the cannon itself has always been in flux, fraught with strife, and grounded in a marvelous appetite for revelry.
New Yorkers can discover the music from a new, though perhaps not unfamiliar perspective. The event will include a glendi Friday evening with live music and dance, a percussion workshop celebrating the Rhythms of Macedonia, and a concert on Saturday evening. Each aims to elevate a new generation of talented musicians. Very much in line with this very publication, the event will promote talented Hellenes and our culture from a non-nationalistic perspective.
Read on for our interview with Kiklos Festival founder and creative director, musician Niko Paterakis.
I love the way Kiklos aims to tie modern day musicians and Greek stories to Greek “traditional” music, which most perceive as this from a past to which we’re disconnected, or perhaps only connected to by way of oral tradition. Can you speak a bit to how you hope Kíklos will elevate the voices of today’s Greek musicians, and why it’s relevant?
Identity is a hot topic in the West these days and Greeks are no strangers to this – from exploring our culture’s renowned ancient roots to debating about contemporary minorities in Pontos and Northern Epirus, Greeks have always engaged frequently in peeling the layers of their wildly diverse collective and often contentious identity.
Our traditional music and each distinctive regional style is an important part of that identity. It carries memories and stories of love and joy, war and loss. This type of music, on the one hand, requires preservation as a form of intangible cultural heritage. However, it must also evolve, as all human expression inevitable does.
Right now, there’s a generation of young musicians who are well versed in this genre and are equipped to share it farther and wider than ever before – ease of information flow and travel, as well as use of social media. However, these musicians seem mostly confined to preserving the past rather than continuing this living heritage into the future.
Kíklos seeks to complete this circle (for our non-Greek speakers, the name itself means circle!) by providing a sustainable platform for emerging artists inspired by this rich tradition to create new works with a modern edge. At the same time, as the aforementioned dynamic has kept this music fairly insular within the Greek community, we want to take advantage of our location here in cosmopolitan New York City to highlight this underrepresented part of our culture and present it to new audiences of all ages and ethnicities.
Broadly (ok, or specifically) speaking, what can attendees look forward to for this first iteration?
In our main event, held on Friday November 16th at the cultural hall of St Demetrios Cathedral in Astoria, attendees will enjoy a lovely dinner catered by Agnanti and Greek Islands restaurants while witnessing a powerhouse musical collaboration between two very important institutions: graduates of the University of Macedonia in Salonica (GR), home to some of the most influential instructors and proponents of Greek traditional culture and Berklee College of Music in Boston (MA), whose award-winning legacy in all facets of music-making has set them apart as a hub for the eminent composers, producers and musicians of the future.
The event will also feature young artists from the local community, as well as a demonstration of traditional dance forms from all over Hellenism by the Arcadian Dancers, an active dynamic local youth dance group.
Inevitably, spontaneity is the cornerstone of the Greek spirit, so we’ll invite you all to join us in the dance – our circle is growing and we can and will fit as many people and voices – both local and from the homeland – as possible!
Tell us a bit more about the workshops you’re curating for this first iteration. Saturday will see a “RHYTHMS OF MACEDONIA” workshop focused on percussion. Why this region?
I believe that when one wants to present a relatively unknown culture to new audiences, live musical experience are like your right hand; education is the left. And you need both hands.
Rhythms from the broad and heated region of Macedonia have a particular rhythmic intricacy that is an exciting part of our heritage but can also be a useful tool for musicians of any background and discipline. Furthermore, interpreting this music from a more instinctive traditional prism rather than a musically technical one can be a key to making this music more widely accessible.
Perhaps I should clarify at this point that nationalism doesn’t fit in music any further than representing music from a region of people who self-identify as Greeks. Other than that, music is, has been and always will be a universally human message of love and empathy and there’s no political motivation whatsoever behind selecting this region.
Do you think there’s a cohesive existing community of Greek musicians in the states? Why or why not?
The Greek diáspora numbers almost the same population as Greece herself and has always included prosperous members that sought to support our beloved homeland throughout its tumultuous course through time.
It’s pleasant to see old enmities smoothening out with every successive generation without losing the passion for Greek customs and values. I’ve found these communities to be strong, cohesive and welcoming and I’m particularly grateful to the Panarcadian Federation of America for their generosity and kind support towards the successful establishment of our Festival.
How do you see dance fitting into this festival?
As you know well, music and dance are inseparable in the Greek tradition, with forms as diverse as the musical idioms, often varying significantly even between villages! Our main event features a demonstration of traditional dance forms from all over Hellenism and the event will culminate in a dance celebration open to all!
Indeed, the name ‘Kíklos’ is inspired in part also from our dances, which mostly take place in a counterclockwise circle. This is where our communities have met for centuries to socialize, bond and support each other through joy and sorrow.
Marina Satti is an example of a contemporary artist whose work utilizes traditional Greek sounds in a contemporary context. “Mantissa” went viral in Greece in 2017, Satti was “discovered” widely via the internet through her unique recording (alongside other musicians) of the rembetiko classic “Koupes.”
You mentioned that many Greeks don’t realize how new the clarinet is as an instrument used by Hellenes, but now it’s widely accepted as “Greek” music. This begs the question of how we define cultural elements – and how rooted that is in a specific place and time. Is there anything you see happening in Greek music today that people should be paying attention to.
This is of great interest to me as an ethnomusicological topic that expands to sociology. ‘Clarino’ is the original Italian name for an late 1700’s-early 1800s German invention that came to be known as the clarinet, which means ‘little bright thing’. In the late 1800s, the Greek monarch Otto (also of German descent) imposed the clarino by law to replace many Greek folk instruments such as flutes, the zourna and bagpipes in an effort to ‘westernize’ and ‘civilize’ the unruly mountain folk of the Greek mainland countryside.
While this imposition seems like a foreign element that should disrupt the evolution of a musical style, human expression prevails and an extremely distinctive style for clarinet playing developed that is unmistakably Mediterranean and adds unique expressivity beyond the Western orchestral approach.
This is a perfect example of the paradox of a purist approach when discussing traditional ethnic music. Like I said, authenticity is required to preserve a heritage, but when a genre demands solely that from all those who serve it and leaves no space for any kind of novelty, it begins atrophying, declining slowly and quietly.
Many contemporary artists currently seem to be turning to traditional music to enrich and renew their sound – Thanassis Papakonstantinou, Leonidas Balafas, Yannis Haroulis, and Marina Satti are but a few popular examples!
A question I ask everyone: is it important for those with Greek heritage to identify as Greek or Hellenic? Why or why not?
Being born and raised in Greece bicultural and bilingual – my father is Greek and my mother is Italian American – I’ve had both an insider’s and outsider’s perspective of the Greek culture. I find it personally precious and fascinating and would like to share a few personal observations that are powerful to me:
– While most ancient culture created deities that appeared monstrous and terrorized humanity, Greek mythology created gods that looked like men and stories not of submission, but of defiance. Since the time of Homer, Greek heroes rose up to challenge the gods and the natural order of things – those successful were redeemed like Odysseus, even deified like Hercules and Perseus; those unsuccessful were the inspiration for tragedy, like Sisyphus and Oedipus, issuing cautionings of temperance and forbearance not to restrict their community, but to enrich their spirit and quality of life.
– While many ancient cultures built titanic monuments to death and the darkness of the afterlife (Pyramids, Colosseum, etc.), the Greeks worshipped the light. The Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens was dedicated to wisdom and knowledge and the worship of Dionysus was filled with the pure joy of living.
– Due to its geographic location and rich heritage as the quintessential hub of the ancient world, from Thrace to Crete, Greece has been at the center of conquest for a multitude of forces, including the Romans, the Slavs, the Venetians, the Ottoman Turks, the English, the French, the Russians and the German Nazis. Centuries of warfare, consecutive occupations, radical regime changes and forced migration, both internal and abroad, have been stoically and patiently woven into a uniquely diverse cultural identity that survives to this day with its self-awareness in terms of language and history relatively intact. This is an impressive feat for any people and a moving source of pride for Greeks.
It is a personal inspiration for me to live by these values and to forge a mission of sharing them because of their inherent humanity. I believe that this is how they affected the entire Western civilization and I feel that it’s our generation’s responsibility to take the next step in this journey.
KÍKLOS FESTIVAL NYC WILL LAUNCH ITS PILOT PROGRAM AS PART OF THE 74TH NATIONAL CONVENTION OF THE PANARCADIAN FEDERATION OF AMERICA IN NEW YORK, AN ORGANIZATION DEDICATED TO CELEBRATING PARTICIPANTS’ ROOTS FROM THE REGION OF ARCADIA IN THE PELOPONNESE, GREECE.