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Sofia Papazoglou: “Laiko Music is in our DNA”
by Constantine N. Kolitsas
In late April, Greek singer Sofia Papazoglou will embark on a short tour of the northeast, performing programs of classic laika and rebetika. She will appear in Norwalk CT on Sunday April 30, Floral Park NY on Friday May 5 and Roslindale MA on Saturday May 6. Here the artist, whose most recent release is a brilliant fresh take on a set of bouzouki-based classic laika, talks about that beloved musical genre and her passion for songs that, while written thirty or fifty years ago, continue to be enjoyed today.
From the body of your work, it’s obvious that you have a love for classic laika. How did this appreciation develop?
I grew up in an environment where music and song were basic to living and surviving. My parents were immigrants in Belgium and my father’s family has a refugee background (from Asia-Minor). Laika, Smyrna-style songs, rebetika, together with songs by Mikis Theodorakis, Manos Hadjidakis, Yiannis Markopoulos, Stavros Xarhakos and other greats of the time were constantly heard in my home but laika songs always had precedence and made up the puzzle of the sounds of my childhood. I sang them as I grew older, learned them easily, and when friends get together they just came out. They are songs that run in my veins. They are my roots. They are at the center of my musical references.
Is classic laika a museum piece or something that is alive and vibrant?
The old laika are particularly alive today and played in the largest arenas, I mean the bouzouki joints and venues that focus on rebetika. Maybe they are not played or sung as they deserve but they are part of our entertainment and are also popular with our youth. Because they spring from our national angst and deepest hopes they concern us today and touch us. In comparison to many of today’s songs, they are masterpieces—truly priceless jewels. Laiko music is in our DNA. As Greeks and we cannot live without them. They are part of our tradition. They make up our most intimate musical environment.
Who are some of your favorite laika songwriters and why?
My very favorite is Manolis Hiotis who composed from heavy laika to swing to mambo. He had great compositional variety and of course his intros, the way he played in conjunction with his bouzouki sound and his incredible (for that era) technical skill, still affect me and I have him first on my list.
Have you had the pleasure of knowing or working with any individuals from that scene?
Yes, I had the pleasure of meeting and working with Poly Panou, Anna Chrysafi, Mary Linda. I also met the great Theodoros Derveniotis and Kostas Virvos and sang in concert-tributes in their honor while they were present. I know and have worked with Stelios Vamvakaris, the son of Markos, who is the patriarch of rebetika. I also met Michalis Menidiatis, Marinella, Tolis Voskopoulos who flattered me with compliments! Katy Gray, a favorite voice of mine, is my friend and I visit whenever I have the opportunity so I can hear stories from the past! Finally, I must mention my acquaintance with Mikis Theodorakis, his appreciation of my artistic persona, and the unique opportunity I had with his Popular Orchestra and School, singing songs of great composer of ours.
What does your father think of your treatment of these songs?
Very good question! He is very proud because many of the songs I sing are from his youth and I learned them from him. But he is very severe at the same time—if he hears something foreign in my singing that he thinks doesn’t belong, he scolds me! Quite often he is correct in his criticism. Nevertheless, he did not want me to become a singer and when I started he said, “From me, you forget everything. Make your own way!”
You regularly perform with some of the best bouzouki players in the world. Tell us about your relationship with them and your common mission as regards this musical form.
The truth is that I have worked with the best bouzouki players and even met and been around almost all of the old ones. I love them very much and we always have a lot to say because of our common interest, which has to do with the laika, but they also love me because I know all the intros to the laika by heart!!! With the great Manolis Pappos, who will play on our tour, I recorded an album of his own songs, orchestrated and produced by Alkinoos Ioannidis and Miltiades Papastamou, while recently I released my album titled “Stou Oneirou Tis Strofes” with songs by the bouzouki-player Panagiotis Stergiou. And Manolis and Panagiotis are the best. But I am glad I met Kostas Papadopoulos, Yiannis Stamatiou, Yiannis Karabesinis, Thimios Stouraitis, Iordanis Tsomidis, Dimitris Xionias who belong to the old guard and naturally Manolis Karantinis, Nikos Tatasopoulos—with whom I collaborate regularly and other top soloists beloved by our country!
Which classic song have you recorded that gives you the most pride?
All the songs on my album “O Chtipos tis Kardias Mou (The Beat of My Heart),” which was released two years ago, are favorites and I am proud of that project. Some of the best musicians in Greece played and orchestrated and the end result was beyond my expectations. Old laika as seen by new eyes without insulting the old versions.
Are there any songs that you are afraid to record?
There are some songs that I can only listen to the original version, such as, “I Zoi Mou Oli (All of My Life),” for example. I don’t believe I can give anything new to the song if I record it. I think I will do it a sacrilege if I record it. Even live I cannot sing it. I cannot do it justice…
What should your audiences expect from the shows in your upcoming tour?
Audiences who come to my concerts will hear something authentic and real, 100% mined from the heart. But also they will experience music that is carefully chosen that will give them the opportunity to be entertained, to hear and dance, to travel and be moved. It’s fascinating for us when we play for Greeks abroad. I am a child of migrants and I know all about nostalgia. The songs are beloved and the musicians of our troupe are among the “elite.” The strings of Manolis Pappou will thrill and the intensity of Daso Kourti’s accordion will enchant. Vassilis Ketentzoglou is one of our greatest guitarists while the talented Nick Gyras will play bass. We are like a family and we have great love for laika. With this musical group I can promise, without shame or hesitation, an unforgettable evening!
For tickets and info please visit GreekConcertStatus.com or call 203-947-6234.