Greek folk fusion band Loxandra is rooted in the urban musical tradition of the Greek people of Constantinople (Istanbul) and Smyrna (Izmir), other traditional music from Greece, the Balkans and the Middle East, and recently embracing modern musical styles such as Jazz, Swing and Latin. Founding member and bass player Loukas Metaxas talks about Loxandra's new album "In Transition," being released in April 2018 by Swiss indie label Dalit Music.
I understand that the Loxandra ensemble started out in Thessaloniki way back in 1997. How did it all came to happen?
Loukas Metaxas: Loxandra Ensemble started out as a quintet back in 1997 playing music of the taverns (called “Meyhane” in Turkey, “Café Aman” in Greece) mostly from the multicultural Istanbul, Smyrna and urban centers of Greece from the 19th century until around 1930, with the style and instruments of the old generation of musicians back then. Between 2003 and 2006 the band regrouped to become a sextet and expanded its repertoire (to include many tunes and styles of the Eastern Mediterranean, the Balkans and music from regions of the Caucasus). Loxandra Ensemble regrouped once again from 2012 to 2014 to become an octet, with almost no limitation to the repertoire, music style or orchestration. The motivation to found the band from the start, along with the periods of regrouping it, was, is and always will be: to play music that we love in a way that we find interesting!
How would you describe Loxandra's particular musical philosophy in the context of Greek music in general?
If I had to put a "tag" on what we do, considering the reviews we had until now, I would say we play “experimental world fusion music”, but sincerely not as an “end in itself”. As we have mentioned at the note contained in our debut CD: "Faced with the aesthetic confusion and exaggeration that every day we experience (for example “touristic folk” Greek music), we capture and juxtapose pieces of “sound-sentimental” content, in accordance with our own experiences, perceptions, choices and possibilities."
What were your personal inspirations then?
Oh, I love all kinds of music! I cannot think of any music style or gender that cannot find something I like… According to music creation, my inspiration comes more from the musicians I work with and music orientation of each project I am composing for, but I guess my ideas of new covers and arrangements of older music are influenced also from what I have been listening, studying or/and playing until now: from the early rembetiko and the music of the Greeks of Istanbul and Minor Asia to the traditions of the Easter Mediterranean up to Afghanistan, from J.S. Bach to Nikos Skalkottas and Jani Christou, from Haydar Tatlıyay and Tatyos Efendi to Duke Ellington and Miles Davis, from Jamaican ska reggae to Balkan Punk…
So please tell us a little bit about the Loxandra ensemble!
Loxandra Ensemble is a collective band, we have no “leaders” or “hierarchy” so it makes no difference how longer someone is a member of the band than any other, but I’ll tell you a little bit about each band member starting from the beginning, just for the “band’s history” sake: I founded the band playing percussion, along with my “music brother” Dimitris Vasileiadis, a kanun player who left Loxandra Ensemble around 2014, to make another band that reminds -more or less- the style and sound that we played back in 1997. I also play percussion at his new band, just like the “old times”! Within Loxandra Ensemble I play electric fretless bass just about ever since he left.
Kyriakos Tapakis graduated from the musical junior high school and high school of Palini in Athens and is playing the oud with Loxandra Ensemble from the beginning of the band until now. He attended master classes with important musicians from almost all the countries that the instrument is being played. He has been working as a music teacher at the University of Macedonia and the Technological Educational Institute of Epirus and has also workied as a teacher and gave seminars in a big variety of music schools and Music Summer camps. He has collaborated and still works by playing an impressive variety of stringed musical instruments with some of the most renowned traditional and world jazz music legends, as well as with singers and composers of other music genders. He has played in dozens of CD’s from a very young age until now.
I met Dimitris Panagoulias a couple of years before the millennium when he already was a very good rock drummer and was starting to play traditional percussion. I found that he was very talented and invited him home to share with him a few ways I had found for better technic on darbuka playing and the Arabic rhythm called “beledi”, which he really liked. After that, there was a short period of time that we lost each other, while I had found a great teacher (Izzet Kizil) in Istanbul and Dimitris had started taking lessons with another teacher in Thessaloniki. When we met again, I was so astonished by his improvement, that from that day we kept practicing together almost every day for many years ahead inspiring each other! He plays percussion with Loxandra Ensemble since 2003 that he had the idea to regroup the band back then, with myself and the other founder of the band. He has participated in various bands, renowned virtuosos, singers and composers from Greece, Turkey and Arabic countries in concerts and discography as a percussion player or/and arranger. To me, he is one of the top of the Greek modern style darbuka players (and not only) that I know of.
Nikos Angousis is the clarinet player of the band since 2004. He is the third generation of musicians in his family, being the grandson of legendary and oldest alive oud player and Thracian music composers of Greece, Kariofillis Doitsidis. His mother Lambrianna is a singer of traditional music and we met him at a concert of his family, at the time we were getting ready to record our first CD “Almost like in the past”. When the concert finished, I and Dimitris D. proposed him immediately to become a member of the band. He is one of the best of the new generation of clarinet players in Greece. He plays in various bands; in 2010 he graduated from the Technological Institution of Epirus and specifically the Department of Traditional Music in Arta. He teaches clarinet (Albert system) and woodwind in music schools and has so far noted a high discographic activity. This period, among his collaboration with Loxandra and many other bands, he is preparing his personal album as a soloist, containing mostly music of Thrace region that he comes from.
I met Ria Ellinidou as one of my percussion students when he was 12 or 13 years old. Even now, after about 20 years of being a teacher, I include her at the list of the most musical talented teenagers I had the honor to teach! She comes from a music family, which besides the wider musical activities, nourishes special love and cultivates with great haste the traditional music. She started studying music by the age of 5, studied at the music school of Thessaloniki and has attended many workshops and music seminars, while has also graduated from one of Thessaloniki’s best colleges of sound engineering. Although she started working as a musician by her middle teens with her family and other bands, as far as I know, Loxandra was the first band that she started collaborating as a professional singer since about 9 or 10 years ago. After her participation at our CD “Meyhane - Kafe Aman” in 2012, she became a full member of Loxandra Ensemble. In recent years, while doing collaborations and musical partnerships with major artists from all over Greece and abroad, she is also preparing her debut cd as a solo artist.
Foibos Apostolidis grew up in Katerini in a family of dilettante musicians. In 2007 he moved to Thessaloniki to study at the "Faculty of Forestry and Natural Environment" of the Aristotle University from which he graduated in 2016. Although he has shown a keen interest in music since childhood, he started having lessons of East Mediterranean percussion in "En chordais" music school at the age of 19, where I was a percussion teacher at that time. His passion for music, and phenomenal talent on percussion in particular, won him a scholarship to attend the "Roots and routes" summer courses in Rotterdam (Holland), within just a few years of practicing! He then attended lessons of rythmology and advanced darbuka technics from Dimitris Panagoulias and discovered his love for Indian classical music by studying Tabla and Hindustani rhythmology with Sakis Laios. He joined Loxandra Ensemble around 2014, shortly after I became the bass player of the band. Since 2015 he has been learning and performing with the Tabla alongside word renowned Indian perfomers and teachers.
Thanasis Koulentianos by the age of 15 won a special discrimination and the first prize in the first and second music contest for students from all the country respectively. I remember him from when he was a teenager, always the younger musician of all the bands we played together, until he joined Loxandra in 2014. He is a graduate and a post graduate student of “University of Macedonia” Thessaloniki department of music science and art. He collaborates with various artists, bands and renowned singers and composers in Greece, Turkey and Europe while working also as a music teacher in various National schools of Greece.
Panormitis Boubas is the youngest musician of our band, starting to collaborate with Loxandra Ensemble just this year! Although he plays a special fiddle of the island he was born and grew up since his childhood (the Lyre of Rhodes island), he recently graduated from the Technological Institution of Epirus, Department of Traditional Music in Arta, with specialty in the traditional violin playing. He never stopped performing from the years of his childhood until now that he finishes his compulsory military service in the Greek army.
Well, I have to ask ... what is the band's name all about?
“Loxandra” is the title of Maria Iordanidou’s book, first published in 1963, about her grandmother Loxandra, who was born in Constantinople in the times of the 31st Sultan of the Ottoman Empire Abdulmejid I, who reigned from 1839 to 1861. As the publisher of the English version of the book, Denise Harvey, explains: “Life for the Greeks of Constantinople was relatively untroubled then. The 19th century was the time of reforms which established, on paper at least, the freedom of belief and equality of all citizens of the Empire before the law. “
Loxandra personalizes the lifestyle, generosity, enthusiasm, spirit and general culture of the Greeks of Constantinople. The music we played when Loxandra Ensemble started out was 90% about the music of the people of that same time, so we found it a good idea to name the band after the name of the famous heroine of Maria Iordanidou’s book!
Loxandra just released a new album, the third altogether, after a hiatus of five years. What has happened?
There are many reasons for that. One perhaps was that our previous CD “Meyhane-Kafe Aman” was recorded, mixed and mastered in more than a dozen different studios, in 8 different cities, in 4 different countries, with 27 guests! After that, we gave priority to playing live very often, rather than thinking of a new CD production. Then, we went through (and are still going through) a period of regrouping the band. We went from being a 6-member band to an ensemble of 8 musicians, with 4 new members and myself changing instruments from percussion to bass…
Another reason (and one we are very happy with) was that we were waiting for the right record label to be interested in releasing and spreading our work beyond Greek borders, rather than being released only in Greece and/or Turkey as with our previous productions. Finally, about a year and a half ago, Robert Lippuner contacted us showing interest for Loxandra Ensemble’s “in transition” to be the first release on his new label (Dalit Music), making all the “wait and patience” worthwhile!
I understand that "In Transition" hasn't been business as usual but something new?
There has never been something like “business” neither a thing such as “…as usual” among Loxandra Ensemble! Making and playing music with this band always has been a joy and an "artistic oasis" among its musicians! Of course the part of “business” always existed (concert booking for example), but it is someone else’s job!
Also the fact that we have changed the sound of the band many times (which is very obvious to somebody that has at least listened to the sum of our recordings, even if he is not aware of the changes in our live performances over the years), combined with the loss of (at least) one member and probably a small part of our Greek fans every time we have done it, proves that there is nothing “usual” according to the band’s music creation. The best part is that despite the "losses" I mentioned, the “history” of our band has taught us that every time we changed something up to now, not only kept “boredom” away within the band, but also offered us more listeners in the end!
What does the album's title "In Transition" mean to you then?
This album contains covers from traditional music, as well as our own compositions and adaptations of music of other composers. The common point in the project as a whole is mostly the orchestrations affected from other traditions or music styles but with a very clear preference in traditional instruments, so I could say that according to our music it is about “Tradition in Transition”!
Another transition (according to the band), is the change we made from a sextet to an eight-member orchestra. Finally, over the years of hard work, we managed to evolve from a Thessaloniki’s local band to a PanHellenic one. Now that our work is distributed in so many countries, we could say that from a Greek ensemble we are “a European one”. Let’s hope that the third transition will be - why not? - to a Universal!!! LOL!!!
Excuse me for getting back to business. Do you find an audience with your music?
In Greece, if the places we are about to play are willing to spend minimum money just to let people up to date of when and where we play, we usually are sold out! Also the feedback that we get from other European countries looks very hopeful and promising so far, but we cannot have a clear view until we play and see with our own eyes!
I know that nowadays it is very difficult to arrange a tour, even more just a single concert if it is very far away, when you are not playing mainstream music that attracts bigger audiences, especially when we are talking about a group of 8 people (or at best 9 if we can have our sound engineer with us), so travel and accommodation expenses expands. On the other hand, “difficult” doesn’t mean “impossible”! If you manage to play a few times and you are good, the audience becomes bigger and bigger, so every time you play you make it easier for the next time!
We are very confident of our live performances, not only because we chose our co-players very carefully and have developed a high level of trust between each other, but also from the responses of the people that have attended our live shows!
You have already toured Western Europe. What is your experience of presenting your music outside of Greece?
The experience we have presenting our music outside Greece is amazing and unforgettable! Wherever we have played so far, either in Switzerland, Italy, France, or Turkey, we made new fans and we are looking for new opportunities to play everywhere with big excitement!!!
Is there any chance to see you over here again?
We really hope so! So far we had a number of proposals for festivals, but with a very short notice, so we couldn’t find an available date for all of us this summer, being so many and already booked here and there with other projects that we work with… We really hope that we will have new proposals from venues that work during autumn and winter! For now, sure thing is that we are going to play at a festival in Austria in July 2019… Our fans can register @ our site (loxandra.gr) and keep themselves posted!
Thank you, Loukas, for your detailed account. Best of luck, I hope to see you on the road some day!
We‘d like to thank you for this interview, along with each and every one that is helping us to share our music to more people! From simple world music listeners who spread the word about us, to journalists, radio producers, booking agents, reviewers and art directors, we are very grateful for your help and we hope that very soon we will meet face to face with each one of you in our future performances!
Thanks to Soulfire Artists and Dalit Music we are able to raffle "In Transition" CDs. Raffle completed!
Photo Credits: (1)-(2) Loxandra, (3ff) CD/Book Covers (unknown/website).