Cypriot rebetiko trio Tekke has just released its third album, Zivo. The group's tzouras player Antonis Antoniou explained to FolkWorld how he took up this stringed musical instrument related to the bouzouki (its name comes from the Turkish cura, the smallest member of the bağlama family).
Antonis Antoniou: It began at an early age at school when I learned to play the mandolin. After that I followed a classical music training for many years and at some point I discovered the roots that were already inside me. That's when I decided to buy a tzouras and started teaching myself.
What were your influences in your approach to the tzouras?
My influences go back to my childhood, listening to my father's musical choices, which were mostly Greek rebetika and laika (popular music). Later, I was for a long time (and I still am) attracted by the pre-war rebetiko in Greece and especially by figures such as Markos Vamvakaris and Anestis Delias. Other influences were of course jazz music, rock and since the last 15 years World Music.
Trio Tekke has just released a new album. What has been the musical philosophy? By the way, I wonder what is the band's name all about!?
Tekke in Greece of the 1920's and 1930's were the most of the times secret places that the rebetes used to gather to smoke hashish and play their songs. So we were inspired by that situation for our name. Yes, Trio Tekke has just released a new album which is a quite big step forward from the previous two. The reason is that the project has now become electric and with the addition of drummer Dave Da Rose things have taken a different direction. We describe our music with the term 'Neo-rebetiko' since rebetiko is our base but fusing it with several musical styles and characteristics from other kinds of music. I believe that the new album showcase this a lot.
You also have another band, Monsieur Doumani. What is it all about?
Monsieur Doumani is a group that started by exploring the Cypriot traditional music. The group focuses on rearranging Cypriot traditional songs adding our own particular colour to the sound and feeling of the songs. We also compose our own songs in the Cypriot dialect, which are inspired by contemporary Cypriot society, as for example the recent financial crisis that hit the island and the corrupted political system. I would say that Monsieur Doumani has a more local approach, since we are using exclusively the Cypriot dialect and we have as our base the Cypriot traditional music, which is in various ways relevant to the rebetiko.
Again, what made you choose the group's name?
Regarding our name, the word "Doumani" describes a situation when an atmosphere is smoky, when you are in a room and it's difficult to see far because there is a lot of smoke produced from smoking cigarettes etc.
Well, Antonis, how would you place your music in the context of Cypriot music?
I would say that Cypriot traditional music has actually lots of elements also found in the surrounding areas. But it also has its distinctive character in terms of melody and rhythm. It's really inspiring exploring these figures and finding ways of incorporating them in our music. In terms of the Cypriot music of today, there are many active musicians and groups that do a really good job on marrying the traditional elements with the more contemporary ones.
Do you find an audience with your music?
The music business at the moment is doing well I would say. Especially in Cyprus there is a blossoming in terms of productions and I see that this happens all over the world too. It is great to discover new musics every day. And it is so easy nowadays. The technology of today also helps towards the promotion of your work. It is much easier now to target your audience and reach them effectively. Our audience is actually very diverse both in terms of age as well as origin. We played in front of foreign people that do not understand the lyrics but nevertheless the impact and their response was amazing.
I have noticed that Monsieur Doumani has already played in Germany. What is your experience of presenting your music outside of Cyprus?
The experience has actually been amazing. Indeed, we came to Germany twice so far. The audience in Germany is really educated in appreciating music from other cultures. Also they are very good listeners and very respectful towards other musics. This, we find really amazing. Playing in Germany and especially in central and North Europe has always been a pleasure for us.
Is there any chance to see you in continental Europe in the near future?
Actually Monsieur Doumani is about to release a new album in early 2018 and at this moment we are planning a European tour for promoting the album. Germany is of course included!
Well, talking about Cypriot arts in 2017, let's not forget that the city of Pafos has been this year's European Capital of Culture. Did it make any difference to you?
Pafos is a small city about 2 hours away from where we live (Nicosia). There have been some really serious productions and lots of people attended these events. However, I wouldn't say that it made any difference to me personally as I haven't been able to travel to Pafos and take advantage watching all these amazing shows. I hope though that this activity will continue in Pafos as well as all over Cyprus after this finishes. We definitely need more cultural programs and cultural development here in Cyprus.
From their early days of re-arranging traditional songs, Trio Tekke has been a vehicle of musical exploration for long time colleagues Antonis Antoniou (tzouras), Lefteris Moumtzis (guitar) and Colin Somervell (double bass). 2016 brought a collaboration with Dave de Rose (Rokia Traore, Mulatu Astatke) on drums, giving a new direction and depth to their sound. Louder, punchier and guaranteed to keep you on your feet.
Trio Tekke @ FROG
Monsieur Doumani, nominated for 'Best Group' in Songlines Music Awards 2016, was formed in 2011 in Nicosia by Antonis Antoniou (tzouras), Angelos Ionas (guitar) and Demetris Yiasemides (wind instruments). They focus on rearranging traditional songs adding their own particular colour. They also compose their own songs in the Cypriot dialect, which are inspired, for example, by the recent financial crisis that hit the island.
Monsieur Doumani @ FROG
Photo Credits: (1)-(7) Ancient Cypriot Art, (8) Antonis Antoniou, (9) David Prudhomme 'Rembetiko', (10) Pafos 2017, (11) Cyprus, (12) Trio Tekke, (13) Monsieur Doumani (unknown/website).