Αρχική σελίδα προφίλ Ν.Οικονομίδης Inviting the Ancestors
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One day in the spring of 1993, I sat in the house of a fisherman-fiddler on a mountain in Ikaria watching a video featuring players of traditional Greek violin. I still have the cassette I made that day, with my voice mispronouncing the name of the player whose sound made an immediate and intense impression on me. Fifteen years later (nine of them spent living in Greece, where passion for the music led and held me), the sound of Nikos Oikonomidis' playing still thrills me each time I hear it, whether played live or on recordings.

Born on the small Cycladic island of Skinoussa between Naxos and Amorgos, Nikos grew up hearing his father and grandfather play Greek dance music on violin. By the age of fifteen he was performing such music professionally in Athens in collaboration with Dora Stratou, and participating in the documentation of Greek music from Evros to Cyprus on both recordings and film for national radio and television. Those same years began an eighteen year period of western classical violin study at both the Odeon of Athens and at the National Odeon, though his first love was always traditional music. A pirate tape of Nikos playing with Yiannis Skarlatos of Skinoussa in 1976, when Nikos was 16, amply demonstrates both the impressive skill and expressiveness that have marked his playing from the beginning.

In 1998, he recorded "Thalassina Perasmata"(Sea Passages) with singer Mariza Koch, with some fine songs from Asia Minor on which one can hear Nikos' ability to play and sing music not in the island style of his roots, as well as his genius in arrangement of pieces. "Perasma sta Kythira" (Passage to Kythira) (1991), produced by an association from that island, documents the musical tradition of Kythira, with the subsequent "Anatolika tou Aigaiou"(1997) doing the same for the eastern Aegean islands of Hios, Lesvos/Mytilini, Limnos, Samothraki, Samos, Ikaria), and as the 2001 "Perasma stin Amorgo" (Passage to Amorgos) does for the island so close to Nikos' Skinoussa. For me, this is his most outstanding CD, with songs sung by Nikos as well as by several fine female singers, and with some superb instrumental pieces, including the classic Politikos Syrtos, Skopos tis Nifis (Bride's tune) and Sousta Ballos Arapis as played in Amorgos.

There are also several recordings of Nikos' own songs , including the most recent (2006) "Antikeri, " on which Nikos sings either solo or with his fifteen-year old daughter, and plays violin, laouto, classical guitar and santouri. All music and lyrics are by Nikos, and though there are some modern elements, the violin on these pieces is the authentic violin of the Greek islands. Nikos has also played on most of Domna Samiou's CD's, and with leading players and singers from all over Greece. In addition to playing, singing, documenting/recording, and composing, he (sometimes in collaboration with various cultural associations) produces and distributes the CD's of musicians from many genres of Greek traditional music, as well as his own CD's, via his record company Oikonomidis Music.

If all this were not more than enough, Nikos is also a superb teacher-something to which this author can personally testify, having had many lessons with other fine players who did not really know how to explain what they were doing. During my first lesson with Nikos, he immediately gave me keys to hand positions that revolutionized my playing. He also spoke about the ‘dagoma' (the bite) that was needed to achieve power with the bow. ‘This isn't sweet, pretty, quiet music, ' he told me, and suggested that I think of my violin as a lyra...that I play it with the same ‘bite'.

As a performer, Nikos emits a quality that makes me remember the I Ching, an ancient Chinese divinatory book (or ‘oracle') comprised of texts called ‘hexagrams', that became very popular during the 1960's and ‘70's. The text with the English title, ‘Enthusiasm', (a Greek word meaning ‘full of God') likens music to the first early summer thunder storm which refreshes nature, relieving ‘a prolonged state of tension' and is experienced as ‘joy and relief'.

I quote: "Music has power to ease tension within the heart and to loosen the grip of obscure emotions. The enthusiasm of the heart expresses itself involuntarily in a burst of song, in dance and rhythmic movement of the body. From immemorial times, the inspiring effect of the invisible sound that moves all hearts, and draws them together, has mystified mankind."

The text goes on to say that ‘music was looked upon as something serious and holy, designed to purify the feelings of men...to glorify the virtues of heroes, and thus to construct a bridge to the world of the unseen. ' Theater grew out of music and pantomime in the temples. ‘Religious feeling for the Creator of the world was united with the most sacred of human feelings, that of reverence for the ancestors, " who were ‘invited to divine services as guests of the Ruler of Heaven, and as representatives of humanity in the higher regions...uniting the human past with the Divinity in solemn moments of religious inspiration (that) established the bond between God and man.

When Nikos plays and sings, one can feel this mystical connection with the ancestors, who, in an unbroken chain, evolved this inspiring sound, that arouses the kind of joy that Greeks know as kefi, perhaps very similar to the ancient Chinese "easing of tensions within the heart and loosening the grip of ‘obscure emotions". He radiates love when he plays-- the feeling that makes one want to dance (and live).

Nikos has found his perfect ‘ziyia' (pair of musicians), with Kostas Papaprokopiou on laouto. With Kyriaki (Kiki) Spanou, a wonderful young singer fromParos, the pair becomes a wonderful I demeno (tightly bound) trio, Kyriaki singing both alone and with Nikos, and playing tambourine and wooden spoons on some pieces from Asia Minor.

Souzana Raphael

Souzana Raphael is an American musician and writer who began learning to play Greek music on violin in northern California and ended up living (and continuing to learn and perform) in Greece, first in Naxos and more recently in Aegina. She felt honored to be given the task of translating Nikos Oikonomidis' website into English.

 

 

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