Greek Music

Sotiris papatriagnis is one of the promising young musicians of Greece’ traditional Rambatico music. He is a singer and a Baglama player (a kind of very small Bouzouki with 3 double strings). We met Sotiris in the small village of Kaminia, on the “Ioani” sea beach, opposite the mountains that immerge from the sea. It was 4 hours from too-hot Athens, but felt like million miles away. Sotiris came here a week ago with his parents, his wife and with Chariss, his 4 months old baby boy.

We met Sotiris through Shabbi, the husband of Iris, the sister of Shachar. That’s how we build our contacts. A friend brings a friend brings a brother brings a relative, until it finds us. Shabbi calls Sotiris “Sotto” and now we are too.

Sotto lives in Athens and he gives concerts in one of Athens’s leading Rambatico clubs, but when the summer comes, like every family from Athens who can keep her had above the water, they run away from the hot city that everyone loves to hate.

Here in the village we started to understand Greece. Comparing to most of EU countries, Greece is a 3rd world country. Most of her people are poor and now also desperate.

There is a big reference between Greece and Israel. Israel of 3 decades ago. Athens train station looks like the one in Rehovot, my hometown, from the days when I was a kid. Only one platform and a cashier who prints the tickets on an old Olivetti, at the speed of an old bridge player. Plants are growing between the train lines and the train takes its time easily.

The greek people, very warm and friendly people usually, warn each other by flashing the car’s lights when they see a police car on the road. They pay 9 Shekel for one liter of car fuel and 8 shekel for their Cottage cheese. 5 of 11 Million Greece’s residents live in Athens. The other cities are quite small and millions of Greeks live in lots of villages all around the country, in the continent, the Phillipones and in 3,000 Greek islands.

On the balcony of Sotto’s parents’ cabin, when Sotto holds his small Baglama in his big hands, Gali takes her guitar and starts to tune her up. Then she unfreeze, she plays some “queen” and then sings a new Israeli song of Liran Danino. The friends that gathered on the porch clap their hands rapidly. Like in a Rambatico club. Sotto than takes his Baglama and starts to sing a soft and gentle Theodorakis. His father joins easily in white beard and a smile with a look of sixty years of many changes. The music turns to a loud singing when the neighbors join in and we also join, humming.

In 1967, when Sotto’s father was 16, a group of army officers made a coup in Greece and brought 7 years of Military rule to this thorn up country. The Greeks believe that the Americans stood behind the coup because they feared the strong communist influence in Greece. Seven years of fear from snitches, spies and unexpected arrests were over only when the Turks bombed northern Cyprus, invaded the island and split it to two. Than the colonels started to lose their influence and Greece began a new era of rehabilitation that its signs you can still see today.

Sotto’s father was recruited to the army in 1969. Luckily – he says – the army wanted him to stay a painter, also in uniform. “In that time, the Colonels wanted to erase the history of Athens and destroyed a lot of old houses. Instead, they built new and ugly houses”, he says.

“If you saw the area of “Plaka” (the nice old city) you can understand how all the city looked. It was a very beautiful city. Some stupid people, who thought they knew what is best for Greece, ruined the country during 7 years”. He describes the leaders of the military regime but it seems like he talks about all of the country’s politicians.

Hosting the Olympic games on 2004 should have brought prosperity to Athens and should have stated the end of an era of recreation. Unfortunately, it couldn’t bring the new spirit that everyone wished for. Greece is still recovering from 2004 and is coming to the world economical crisis of 2010 as a very wick old lady.

Sotto and his father don’t understand why the socialist movements in Greece are not getting stronger. The Greek people see the government as a corrupted regime. “Everyone always knew it”, Sotto says” but now everyone are talking about it.

“What is the alternative”? I ask Sotto’s father.

“Thy tragedy is that there is no alternative” he replies. “The economical crisis gives no optimist signs yet. The most optimists give it 3 to 5 years. The pessimists are talking about 20 years”.

I tell them about the cottage cheese prices and the apartments’ crisis in Israel. The cell phones prices and the banks commissions. They understand immediately. They know what I am talking about.

The church bells from the other side of the road rings 7. Michal wants to go back to the hotel. She wants to have a small rest. Gali puts the guitar back to the case. The sun almost touches the big bay water. The mountains on the horizon are turning blue. In our ears are still the sounds of the Greek music.
Dedicated to the music and family of Sotiris Papatriagnis.    Chami Zemach

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