Tucked away in a corner of Sydney, a group of Australian born, second generation Greeks are breathing new life into the songs of old. A heady blend of violin, lyra, guitar, piano-accordion and accompanying vocals fill the air, and whatever your age or background, this music is guaranteed to reach right into the heart and soul, which is exactly what the Aegean Quartet sets out to achieve with every performance.
The band consists of Jim Giannisis on the violin, Emmanuel Karantanis on the piano-accordion, Michael Platyrrahos playing Cretan lute, Cretan lyra, and mandolin, and George Apostolidis playing guitar, and Pontian lyra. In addition to their instruments they are all vocalists and love to sing, with individual singing styles that allow for an exploration of a wide variety of songs. Singing together in harmony is a particular feature of their performances.
They are currently in the final stages of preparing for their show ‘Songs of the Sea’ on Sunday 4 February, at Camelot Lounge in Marrickville. “We gave a single performance of a similar concert at last year’s Greek Festival Of Sydney, and there has been a high demand for an encore performance as tickets were sold out,” says Platyrrahos.
The ‘Songs of the Sea” will present music from the seafaring communities of the Hellenic World, with music from islands in the Aegean and Ionian seas, the coastal Asia Minor communities, and songs of Pontian Greeks from the Black Sea. There will be songs about sponge-diving, departure, and shipwrecks among other themes. “Some of the songs will be well known to Greeks and it may be difficult to resist the temptation to dance,” he says.
The music will be presented in its authentic form through the use of traditional instruments such as the accordion, string instruments such as the violin, guitar, Cretan lute, Pontian lyra, Cretan lyra, mandolin and percussive instruments such as the toumberleki and daouli.
“The idea of forming the Quartet came about in 2014,” says Platyrrahos. “It was the brainchild of our violinist, Jim. George and I are childhood friends who had already been performing together for many years, but it was Jim who brought together our individual musical traits and specialties to tailor the musical style and versatility of the band. Together, we realised the importance of promoting traditional Greek music, and keeping alive the traditional instruments that we play.”
Their backgrounds are as diverse as their musical abilities, allowing them the luxury of performing a wide collection of music steeped in tradition. Jim’s background is from the islands of Leros and Andros. Emmanuel’s parents are from the islands of Leros and Kalymnos. Michael’s parents both come from Crete, while George’s parents derive from Macedonia with Pontian roots and the Peloponnese.
It is evident they all of grew up in families that loved music, with constant singing in their homes. They are natural performers, engaging the audience and injecting passion into each song, it is hard to take your eyes off them. Giannisis is self taught, having been given a violin in grade 3 but never receiving any lessons. Karantanis has been playing the accordion since 8 years of age, and formed his own band at 14 years of age, performing at weddings, christenings and dances. Apostolidis grew up strongly influenced by music from Asia Minor given his Pontian heritage and started playing keyboards from 11 years of age and the Pontian lyra from 15 years of age.
Platyrrahos has been playing Cretan music through the use of the Cretan lyra from 10 years of age. “I took up the Cretan lute and mandolin at around 19 years of age and I have been teaching Cretan music to younger generations for many years as I believe it is important to strive for the continued succession of Cretan music,” he says
Their musical influences range from 70s singers such as Bithikotsis, Voskopouloz to Dalaras, Parios (Karantanis), Trio Bel Canto (Giannisis), the traditional sounds and songs of smyrneika and rebetika (Apostolidis) and Cretan music (Platyrrahos).
“We like to play many genres of Greek music and not only Greek!” says Platyrrahos. “Our songs range from traditional nisiotika (songs of the sea), rebetika (Greek blues), dimotika (songs of the mainland), mikrasiatika / smyrneika (songs from Asia Minor) palia laika (recordings of songs from past mainstream Greek artists), to entechna (contemporary Greek music of today’s artists) and much more.”
Whilst their traditional instruments give traditional songs a genuine and respectful interpretation, the band also enjoys giving modern songs the Aegean Quartet treatment, with their performances attracting both the younger and older generations. As Platyrrahos aptly puts it, “Our aim is to continue to entertain those who love Eastern Mediterranean music but also to educate and inspire younger generations for the continued succession of our culture to be loved, to grow. “
*To purchase tickets- stickytickets.com.au
*For more information on the Aegean Quartet, including upcoming performances and their regular nights at Thaleia Greek Restaurant see their Facebook page .