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ments and by experimenting with Cypriot traditional music spontaneously. What remained for us to do was to work hard in order to conceive and to establish our sound and style.”


So how about Cypriot traditional music then? It’s hardly well known outside of the island or, according to Antonis, inside of it either (until recently at least). “Unfortunately, not much material from the past has been archived in Cyprus. It is very difficult to find sources that date to before the 1960s, so all evidence we have regarding our traditional music is either from recordings from the ’60s onwards or via the oral tradition. This is why research- ing Cypriot traditional music is challenging and difficult. Music in Cyprus has certainly been influenced by music of the surround- ing region, especially Asia Minor and Greece. Most importantly, Cyprus has had many conquerors (Venetians, Lusignians, Ottomans etc), who have left their traces on the island’s culture, including music. Over the last twenty years there has been a strange and unsuccessful effort by the media (especially several television pro- grammes) to present the folklore of Cyprus to the public. This, we believe, has brought negative results as these pro- grammes are aesthetically challenging and have created a staged ‘folklore’ image of our musical heritage. In more recent years though, we have been witnessing an unprecedented interest from young peo- ple in exploring and building on their tra- ditions, to create new forms that are meaningful in our contemporary lifestyle. We believe that Monsieur Doumani falls in this category.”


Each of their albums signals a progres- sion from the last. “The first album Grippy Grappa (2013) followed an entirely DIY procedure and was a very low-budget pro- duction,” Antonis tells me. “We recorded the whole thing live (apart from the vocals) in my home studio, with one stereo microphone. This album mainly consisted of rearrangements of traditional Cypriot songs, apart from three songs that were our own compositions. We were quite sur- prised with the album’s success, both in Cyprus and internationally, especially con- sidering the unorthodox production pro- cess. The success of Grippy Grappa opened many doors. Two years later, the second album Sikoses followed. This album includ- ed more original material and fewer re- workings of traditional songs. The produc- tion was a step forward too. Although it was again recorded in my home studio, this time it was mixed and mastered by professionals and other layers were added, such as some electronics and extra vocals.”


“For the new album, we decided to focus more on production. So, we worked very hard arranging and rehearsing the new songs and when we went to the stu- dio in Greece (the recordings were made at Ahos studio, which is owned by acclaimed Greek songwriter Thanasis Papakonstantinou) everything flowed very smoothly and we believe that the outcome definitely reflects this. We consider all three albums as our children, each one of course with its own positive and negative elements, their weaknesses and their


strengths. Grippy Grappa was crucial for our formation and establishment and Angathin, a much more ambitious work, expresses our more mature selves and has a specific statement and theme. We follow our musical instinct a lot and this is what mostly shows us the way.”


several times and he expressed an interest in our music. When we asked him to sing on the album, he liked it and accepted with pleasure.” Then there’s trad Cypriot singer and musicologist Michalis Terlikkas, a kindred spirit and friend to the band, who adds vocals to the track Where Shall I Bang It? Cypriot rapper Julio (who, with his use of Cypriot dialect and his political edge is another kindred spirit) also crops up, as does jazz vibraphonist Alexandros Gagatsis, providing udu drum on the song Antics. Cypriot composer Andreas Kameris, meanwhile, lives in St Peters- burg, Russia. His work also involves the rearrangement of Cypriot traditional music. MD met him when they performed in St. Petersburg two years ago and realised that there was common ground. He arranged the album’s last (hidden) track Little Star for the Russian vocal ensemble Fortis.


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Their lyrics, helpfully translated in the CD booklet, are a strong point. “We main- ly draw inspiration from our everyday life here in Cyprus, but also from the crazy and dangerous times we are experiencing as human beings in our planet. We are not naïve, we know that socio-political issues have always been muddy and we of course know that humans have been destroying nature for centuries. But we are confront- ed with our generation’s issues and it is our turn to use our art in order to bring up these issues and to do our best to bring change. We see it as our duty to refer to issues that are making people suffer, such as racism, nationalism, war, injustice, cor- ruption, religious fanaticism, but also to environmental crimes that are being made for the profit of the few. For us, these are the ingredients that lead to self-destruc- tion and bring us closer to extinction.”


he new album features a num- ber of interesting collaborators, including Greek-based Cypriot singer-songwriter Alkinoos Ioannides. “We met with him


“We also speak about the antidote to all that, which is love. Love is the answer to everything but we are so small and stupid that we never see or practise it. We live in a divided city (Nicosia) and our homes are close to the wall, the barrels and the barbed wire. We experience this division and the atrocities of war on an everyday basis. It is almost impossible to ignore this. Especially if you are an artist, this environment is embedded in your body and mind and it will eventually affect your work. We believe that in order for art to be meaningful it needs to be ‘in con- text’ and to incorporate the ambience of a place in one way or another.”


Speaking of that wall, I wondered if there was much musical or cultural exchange between the Greek south and Turkish north of the island? “We wouldn't say that there is much exchange, but there are definitely some worthy projects going on. There are several teams that collabo- rate and there is also an underground movement here in Nicosia through which several bi-communal events are organised. Since the opening of three checkpoints in 2004 here in Nicosia, people have created personal relationships, something that had been impossible since 1974. We actively support the efforts of bringing together the two communities and we have partici- pated in such events on several occasions. There are also many events happening in the Buffer Zone (controlled by the United Nations) promoting the idea of bridging the cultural gaps that the division has pro- duced throughout the decades. Unfortu- nately, there is also a rise in nationalism and racism in Cyprus (as in all of Europe) and this is making the peace process even more difficult.”


Next up, they’re touring to promote the new album, with international festival appearances booked for the summer and a tour of Greece in the autumn. “The com- posing process is of course always in an active mode,” explains Antonis, “and new songs are already on the way. In terms of discography we feel that the period of two to three years between each album is a necessary stage in order to develop new ideas and to let them mature before the recording phase.”


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Photo: © Judith Burrows


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