The musician and lyricist Thanasis Papakonstantinou (Θανάσης Παπακωνσταντίνου) and the singer Melina Kana (Μελίνα Κανά) had created in the second half of the 1990s two fascinating albums, “The love’s hawk trainer” (Της Αγάπης Γερακάρης 1996) and “Loot” ( Λάφυρα 1998) which I, like many others, love very much.
There is much in common between these two artists. Both have no formal musical education and so their art is intuitive and spontaneous; they are so good in this! Both have absorbed the traditional music that their parents had used to sing and alongside with the deep roots of the past they are attracted by the new, the dreamy and the romantic…and all comes out in the beautiful music that incorporate folk and modern, part of what is called “Thessaloniki School” which Nikos Papazoglou had started, and he was there for both in the beginning of their careers.
Thanasis Papkonstantinou was born in 1959 in a village near Larissa. His mother had worked in the vineyards, singing folk and traditional songs “in order to pass the time more easily”. His parents are listening to this music till today, he said in an interview (2012). He was educated as a mechanical engineer and worked many years in this job and as a contractor for public works, also in years that he was doing music. His efforts to be recognized were mainly not successful in the 1980s .Manos Hatzidakis remarked about one song that it is “a strange laiko”(popular).
His first personal album came in 1993 “Saint Nostalgia” (Αγία νοσταλγία),produced by Nikos Papazoglou. Despite the hard start, Thanasis is very popular and his concerts are crowded with ecstatic audience. He can afford himself now to live with his wife and two children in the village, in a small community as he used to be in his childhood and dedicate himself to music. “I never had the patience and inclination to become better technically; I became better in tunings to express myself. Each tuning is a key that opens up another door in music and can create a song in a different way. My voice is not good and my stage presence is nonexistent. I am an old-timer. I wonder why I have fans. I feel that my pieces are not strictly mine. They may be given to me as a gift from the collective unconscious pieces which have been created from the entire course of mankind and which unite us”…
Melina Kana was born in 1966. “My first contact with the song… was through my family. Within this I first saw people singing with passion, grasping the moment especially at family events, gatherings and groups”. She studied Philology at Thessaloniki University and was very good in it. She said in an interview that she always thinks how her life would be if she would follow the academic path which was her interest that time…but the real life went differently. She participated in a student group of singers and in the summer of 1989 she took part in the summer concerts of Nikos Papazoglou. “And I think that was the” baptism of fire ” for me in this space because Nikos was very famous then and I admired him, I loved his songs and his voice. And so from the student groups, I spent in a more professional place”
She released her first personal album in 1991 (songs by M. Ganas and N. Mamagkakis); in the years that followed she cooperated with Sokratis Malamas, another “Thessaloniki School” artist and in 1996 the roads of Thanasis and Melina had met for their first complete work, the album “The love’s hawk trainer”
Thanasis says: “This collaboration is not an opportunistic combination but emerged as affinity, the effects of which are shown in the warm and emotional way of interpretation of Melina. She has always moved me because she is not a professional singer. She sings with her soul and some times with a spin of her voice makes me take off the ground”. In January of 1997 this album was voted the best national album of the year by critics of Berlin and the magazine “Tip Berlin”. Three of the songs here will be from this album, but we begin with a most significant song from their second album.
A wondering spirit (Αερικό)
First the song ( For English Caps press cc):
It is a wonderful song about the freedom of human spirit and thought. “I get the feeling that “Aeriko” describes the need of a healthy mind to roam free, to choose not to follow pre-designed paths and everyday routines, to always seek creativity and independence.” (Katerina Siapanda”)
“From the first moment I heard the “Aeriko” I said that this is something that I put as a headline in my life” Says Melina Kana, and I think it is true about Thanasis Papakonstantinou as well. Maybe the lyrics are influenced indirectly by the philosophy of Anarchism that he finds the most human as it put the individual at the center, free of state authority and hierarchical organization. “It is the most poetic philosophy, because what it means to achieve is bigger, more elusive.” Maybe it is not practical thinking but “It’s nice that there is this idea, even as a utopia”.
Thanasis says that the exile and the revolutionary inspire him greatly and I think that one may find them too in the “wondering spirit”. There are many meanings that can be attributed to these lyrics.
Melina takes a conclusion for Greece situation from the lyrics’ idea of the mind’s freedom. We must change as individuals because the way we took as people, as a nation has taken us nowhere. We must mature and find our truth and to overcome the fears of change, she says.
“Fairuz”, the song on the great Lebanese singer is for me one of the most beautiful songs ever written that I have been listening to for years.
It was in the early 90th as Thanasis was sitting at home in Larissa, wondering randomly between radio stations. At one of the stations he heard a woman singing in broken Greek and Arabic the “Life in the Tomb” (Η ζωή εν τάφω)-a Byzantine hymn from the 6th century. That day Thanasis discovered Fairuz-the “soul of Lebanon”.” Her voice is like a river flowing” he says. The seeds of a song on Fairuz had been sown that day but it took him few years to complete the music. “It took me three years because, while lyrics came to me immediately and effortlessly, in music, after the introduction I had problems. Fortunately, however, I think the end result does not look pretentious as happens sometimes with pieces that you work for long.” Meanwhile he had discovered the discography of Fairuz and first of all the hymns of Good Friday «Good Friday-Eastern Sacred Songs» but also everything of her that had been released in Greece. “I can’t say that I liked all her songs. Some of the contemporary ones had elements of western music which made them look like hotels’ music but her voice was excellent. Then I read about her and admired her personality, first of all, her choice not to sing as long as the civil war prevailed in Lebanon. ”
“Fairuz come out on the balcony so that the birds hear you” are the opening words and there is a surprising story about it. It was while Thanasis was inside a records’ store in Larissa, gazing at some albums.Beside him another customer was asking details on his albums with Melina Kana so Thanasis offered help. “Oh, I know you,” said the other and they caught themselves chatting on the album “Love’s hawk trainer”. “The song that I liked most is” Fairuz “. I wonder, have you been in Lebanon and have you seen her singing from the balcony?” Papakonstantinou assured his interlocutor that the picture was a product of his imagination, and that he has never been in Lebanon. “Yet, this is exactly what happens,” said the other , that proved to be a fanatic traveler of places of the Middle East. He explained that Fairuz, in some celebrations, actually comes out on the balcony of her home in Beirut and sings from there. “I believe that the intense and great moments are not lost, but somehow are traveling and been transferred” said Thanasis Papakonstantinou on this coincidence.
As for Evangelia that he refers in the last lines along with Fairuz, she is the singer Evangelia Lele from Rhodes that Thanasis may have been touched by her thrilling way of singing traditional song from the village Archangelos of the island.
In this version Melina sings with her younger sister Lizeta Kalimeri, a notable singer too (English caps):
When I am singing (Όταν τραγουδάω)
I think that both artists finds inspiration as an experience touching the edge, the eternal, an experience that is always new as it comes .It can be originated from any observation and makes it a dream through the music… “Every day I lose my dream and I find it again as I sing” says the song.
“In the past I was convinced, that whatever I was to get from music was at the time of the song’s creation” says Thanasis. It is a moment that I almost touch the absolute. But later on I realized that during my concerts I had a lot of ecstatic and magic moments.
The dream gives you a liberating space; in hard times the music “helps me to transform the moment to make it little more bearable”.
“What is singing to you? Is it a way out, is it a way of life? What is it, exactly?” Melina is been asked at the beginning of the video. “It is a way out; it is something that puts my mind to work. It is also a kind of rivalry that I develop against my own self many times. You know, the music scene is characterized by very strong peaks and ups and downs. And, apart from everything else, I think that the stage is a very good exercise through which one can, or cannot improve his character”
(The song begins at 1:10 English caps)
In the fire (Στη φωτιά)
I talk about you (Μιλώ για σένα)
In the album “Loot” Thanasis took Ashkhabad, a group from Turkmenistan, to participate. He found their East-West style very appealing to his songs and in time “the desire became an obssesion”. I have a feeling that he also have romantic attraction to those regions, the “silk Road” and the Caucasus.” …and steppe of Caucasus is the thought that raves and tells your dream” he writes in “Aeriko”.
Melina kana and Ashkhabad (no translation)
The story on Fairuz is based on this link http://antirisis.wordpress.com/2010/05/31/fairouz/
The link include Fairuz’ version to “Life in the tomb” which
Is also here http://youtu.be/xiE-biR9USU
Evangelia Lele sings Archangelitikos-
Melina kana biography
Melina Kana interview
“The love’s hawk trainer
Thanasis Papakonstantinou interview
Many thanks to Anastasia Tanela and Katerina Siapanda