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61 f Cyprus Avenues


Inventive trio Monsieur Doumani are giving Greek Cypriot traditional music a much- deserved makeover. Jamie Renton takes a look.


I


didn’t even know there was Greek Cypriot folk music. Obviously, I knew about the rich Greek musical tradition. But trad sounds from its little Island cousin (or at least, the half of the island that’s Greek)? News to me. All that changed back in 2012, when I first encountered Monsieur Doumani, a trio of local musicians who, over three albums, have taken this hitherto little- known local music into wild uncharted territory. Their latest, this year’s self- released Angathin, was described by a reviewer in this magazine (OK, it was me) as “grabbing Greek Cypriot folk music by the throat, adding politicised lyrics and bashing it all out in a spirit of punk, blues, rock and hip-hop”: I couldn’t have put it better myself.


The trio of Antonis Antoniou, who


plays the tzouras (a stringed thing akin to a small bouzouki), Demetris Yiasemides (trombone, flute) and guitarist Angelos Ionas all grew up with a love for classic rock (Zep, Doors, etc) and were exposed to Greek and Cypriot traditional music via their parents, whether they liked it or not.


Antonis was interested in rebetiko, jazz experimental and world music, while Demetris grew up with classical music and was a member of the Cyprus Youth Sym- phony Orchestra. All of these influences somehow ended up in the MD mix.


“Angelos and I went to university


together,” explains Antonis. “We collabo- rated in several musical projects. I met Demetris during our music studies in Lon- don and also participated in joint pro- jects.” Antonis had the initial idea of form- ing the band, who met together towards the end of 2011 in the Cypriot capital, Nicosia. “We wanted to research and experiment with the different forms of Cypriot traditional music, aiming at creat- ing something new and innovative, some- thing that would express our musical tastes. We felt that there was a vast field for us to explore and create something new and inspiring.”


Antonis has fond memories of their first gig. “It was at a festival in a very small village here in Cyprus. The audience was only around a hundred people but by the


end of our set everyone was very excited and enthusiastic about our music. That was the first test in terms of communicat- ing our music and it had really good results. After a few more performances a group of dedicated fans was formed, who follow us everywhere we play in Cyprus and turn every concert into a big party.”


I wondered how they ended up with such an unusual instrumental line-up? “When we first came up with the idea of forming this group we tried to imagine the sound we wanted to produce outside the box. This gave us the freedom to experiment in order to discover a balance that would please us. This is indeed an unusual combination of instruments, con- sidering that none of the instruments we play are part of a typical Cypriot tradition- al music ensemble. Such an ensemble would include the Cypriot lute, the violin and a frame drum. To be honest though, when we formed the band, our friendship and chemistry were more important than the instruments each of us played. The three of us just felt that we could create something fascinating with our instru-


Photo: Michalis Ashickas


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