In times of pain, musicians become nurses of the soul: tending to wounds, bonding deep scars and whispering quiet words of gentle hope amidst the gale. Kristi Stassinopoulou and Stathis Kalyviotis’ music offers salve to their home country Greece: a place that has worn many bruises these last years.
Greece’s financial stability was rocked to the core after the 2008 Wall Street crash plunged Europe into a recession of depths unheard of since the 1930s. Shut out by the financial markets, Greece hurtled towards bankruptcy – an outcome which could have triggered another global meltdown. The International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission offered bailouts. The aftershock of these agreements included intense austerity measures, a sharp rise in taxes and searing cuts to the national budget. Extrapolating global economics can desensitize the issue, crashes and spikes become the everyday machinations of big business. But what this financial failure actually means for the everyday Greek citizen is devastating. Poverty has risen and unemployment is at roughly 25%. Resentment lingers high in the air as Greece searches for a solution, as yet unfound.
Kristi and Stathis’ called their album NYN which means ‘Now’ in Ancient Greek. The title sums up the central message, to live in the here and now. Not to ponder the uncertain future or to indulge in fuzzy nostalgia-laden memories of a once glorious past. The album closes with a choir of friends singing ‘All things come and go... so passes life’. A meditative prayer sung true.
The idea of ‘nowness’ is heard in Kristi and Stathis’ musical mix too. They draw from tradition lacing their offering with Greek traditional folk, rebetika and modal Byzantine chanting, then they kickback, pumping psychedelic rock, punk, contemporary electronica and other far-ranging sounds through the main artery of their sound. Their sound is ‘Greekadelic’, make no mistake.
The opening track ‘Erhetai Heimonas (Winter is Coming)’ features a Mellotron, a tape replay keyboard first released on to the market in 1963. The whirling ethereal sound was well-loved and well-used by The Beatles and immediately connects NYN’s sound to the hazy high points of the psychedelic movement.
Indonesian looping rhythms are invoked via a Gamelan sample on the trance-like groove ‘Ithela Na’mouna Nero (I Wish I Were Water)’. The manipulated sound of the native Greek lauto spits out grizzly chewed-up distortion on ‘Ouden Oida (I Know Nothing)’. ‘Strati Strati (Step By Step)’ opens with jingle-jangling cow bells that immediately quantum leap listeners to a Greek hillside complete with journeying Balkan shepherds treading their ancient path. The hum of cicadas keeps time beneath bending mournful strings on ballad ‘Allaxokairia (Weather Changes)’. ‘Mystic Rap’ is a multi-coloured kaleidoscopic trip with Kristi’s hushed vocal drawing closer at each refrain. ‘Pare Me Agera (Take Me Wind)’ ups the pace with island dance rhythms pounding on hand percussion. The song considers the great power, beauty and dangerous wrath of the Aegean Sea. Title track ‘Nyn’ is a haunting ode to the power of ‘Now’, laced-up electronic dance music oozes gently through the arrangement.
With NYN Kristi and Stathis offer up a musical manifesto for their times. Their message is to be mindful, to live in the present, to seize the day not rue the last. What Kristi and Stathis do so well is harness this mantra and realise it both lyrically and musically. Within every rising scale, heart-beat tempo and huskily sung line we hear their incantation.