Ancient Greek mythology has always been in the imaginations of people throughout history – whether it be tales recounted during the Byzantine era, romanticisations during the Renaissance period or beamed all across the world since the 1950’s thanks to Hollywood movies. However, interest in Nordic mythology is relatively new thanks to the popularity of television series like Vikings and The Last Kingdom, and music bands like Wardruna.
What happens when we mix a Greek with Nordic mythological expressions? We get the talented singer Olga Maragoudaki from Drama in northeast Greece who uses the stage name Aethelwyne. Of course her music is not limited to just Viking-era inspired music, she also sings in Greek as you will see towards the end of the interview.
Speaking with Greek City Times, she explained that she uses the stage name Aethelwyne because of her love for the elves in the Lord of the Rings series and that Aethelwyne is the old Anglo-Saxon word for “friend of the elves.”
Her biggest project to date is with Damián Schneider of Munknörr. When asked what collaborating with him has been like, Aethelwyne said that it has been a “dream come true.”
“The inspiration behind the Munknörr project is many different things; the combination of Nordic and shamanic culture, elements of nature – mixed with raw and primitive, and sometimes more ethereal, vocals,” she said.
“I value this project more than anything, musically speaking, because it helped me a lot in shaping my identity as an artist and evolve as a singer. Last but not least, it is a major means of expression and artistic liberation for me. Due to the fact that the vocals are mainly raw and almost animalistic, I have encountered neither boundaries nor limitations to what I can vocally do.”
As part of her singing in Munknörr, she incorporates many sounds that are not usual for a Greek singer, such as grunts, throat singing and other sounds that you would not expect.
“I practice a lot to get these sounds out, but at the same time I felt that I already had them inside of me. My vocal coach, Melina Ruais, helped me to perfect those vocals. We had to go through them a few times before I recorded them, but now I feel that they come out naturally,” she said.
In the song ‘Seiðr‘, Aethelwyn’s vocals do not appear until after halfway through the song. Although the song has a light feeling in the first half, with the introduction of her raw vocals with Nordic-style throat singing and grunts, the song takes a much more darker aesthetic. It must be heard to be believed!
The song ‘Nauthiz‘ sees a very repetitive and hypnotic loop drum beat with Aethelwyne’s vocals appearing throughout the song. Unlike in Seiðr, Aethelwyne does not grunt or throat sing in Nauthiz. Rather, she steals the show, particularly from 5:45 onward, with a powerful and hypnotic solo vocal performance that demonstrates the true and full spectrum of her vocal capabilities. Again, simply amazing!
It is clear that she has a strong interest in Nordic folk tradition, but what about Greek, especially since we can draw similarities between their two pre-Christian mythologies and heritage?
“I think all mythologies and cultures – to a certain extent of course – are more or less interconnected and have things in common. So basically the things that unite us as humans outweigh the ones that divide us in a sense,” she explained.
When asked by Greek City Times that despite doing Nordic-inspired music, whether she still feels a connection to her own Greek heritage, she said she feels a strong connection to it.
“I feel strongly connected with my ancestors and roots in a more spiritual way whenever I record for Munknörr and this does play a significant role, as I live by the slogan ‘do it with passion or not at all.’ If it wasn’t for this sense of belonging, I wouldn’t be able to properly function in a project like that,” she emphasised.
It is only natural to then inquire whether she would want to one day soon do Ancient Greek-inspired music.
“I would love that actually! I’d love to collaborate with the UK-based Greek band Daemonia Nymphe for that purpose. It’s definitely a dream of mine,” she said.
Aethelwyn’s latest solo work is a cover of Ήτανε Μια φορά (Once Upon A Time), originally by the legendary Cretan singer Nikos Xylouris. Greek City Times asked her what the inspiration of the song was.
“Oh, I’m so very glad you asked that! I always enjoy talking about my beautiful and supporting family. With that being said, my dad used to lull me to sleep with it, so it owns a very special place in my heart. I am deeply moved every time I listen to it or sing it,” Aethelwyn said.
Xylouris certainly has a certain place in her heart, but with the exception of Gianatou, Aethelwyn has not drawn much inspiration for her musical style from any other Greek artists.
“Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to sound snobbish. I will listen to Greek music every now and then, but I can’t say that I tend to draw inspiration from the Greek music scene that much. Xylouris was an impeccable singer who carried and preserved the flame of the Cretan spirit and I really wish there were more like him today,” she said.
What exactly does she mean by Cretan spirit though?
“Well, to be honest I’m more Thracian rather than Cretan in terms of percentages, despite my surname. I always listen to Cretan songs with joy, as they are really pleasant to hear, plus there’s this inner connection, as a part of me is Cretan of course, and I especially love the sound of the lyre. In my mind whenever I think of Crete, I think of Xylouris and subsequently of my family. His voice was so pure and unique, simply irreplaceable,” she explained to Greek City Times.