Eleftheria Arvanitaki: Live at Carnegie

ATHENS – Eleftheria Arvanitaki needs no introduction. She is well-known to Hellenes all over the world and of course to those who follow the Greek music scene on the “ethnic” market. She has given many concerts abroad could well called an international Greek singer, but not like the big stars who live abroad pay tribute to the Greek song. She manages to make Greek music known internationally while still in Greece.

On February 1, Arvanitaki will appear on the Perelman Stage of Carnegie Hall – in the renowned Stern Auditorium, which seats 2,800 people . She will present her most beloved songs and her biggest hits, accompanied by virtuoso Armenian soloist and composer, Ara Dinkjian.

“I never expected this” she confessed, saying she felt honored to sing in “the cathedral of music.” And she is not mistaken, after all, how many artists from abroad achieve such an honor? Her photo will even grace the cover of a Carnegie Hall program.

“I feel a little anxious but at the same time I am calm. I am confident that this evening at Carnegie Hall will be special for everyone. Ara and my musicians and I will present our best. Time is limited, our rehearsal in the theater will be on the same day as the performance, but I am overjoyed.”

Dinkjian, who lives in New York, has gone to Athens to begin rehearsals.

This is the third time Arvanitaki will sing in New York. She has also performed with George Dalaras, Alkinoos Ioannidis, Vasilis Papakonstantinou, and Alexis Lazopoulos for a fundraiser for children with cancer.

Now, however, the concert will be all Arvanitaki – body and soul – performing her stunning interpretations of songs known throughout Diaspora and that Americans will also enjoy. As the Carnegie Hall press release declares: “her voice has a clarity and emotional depth that registers with anyone who hears it.”

Arvanitaki said she will perform her personal repertoire, but it will include songs from collaborations with other great musicians. Her concert will be a fusion of Rebetika, Greek popular songs, and contemporary sounds.

Arvanitaki told TNH that she hopes the concert will manifest the freshness and life in that still prevails in Greece, countering the image of misery the country now projects.

She said “the label ‘misery’ does not fit us as a people. Yes, we are passing through difficult times…But we are blessed to live in that place. When the sun rises, the misery scatters. That’s how I want to see things. There is deep concern, the problems are serious, but it is one thing to struggle to overcome problems and quite another to say there is misery.”

She agrees with those who say that despite the crisis, Greek civilization will not collapse. “Even during these dark years, look how many ‘success stories’ emerged. There are successful young filmmakers and theaters, concerts by great performers , the return from abroad of great artists, the Athens Festival directed by George Loukos, the presentations of the Onassis Cultural Center and the Athens Concert Hall. I do not feel a decline in culture, I feel it more at the political level, a political carelessness – to put it very mildly – despite the progress in the arts, and lately with technology, she said.

Arvanitaki is also pleased by the return to the land and the cultivation of crops. “I see the light and now everyone is trying to bring out what is best in them and do their best.”

The music industry has changed dramatically, and not for the best. “There used to be performances all week long with one day off. It was wonderful – I love it.

“It is a special world. There are little nightclubs in all countries, but only in Greece can we see our great artists in such spaces, and experience a familiarity. It is unique, but it’s gone now.

“Performances are limited to two, at most three a week, concerts are scarce, and recordings have been hit mercilessly, especially in Greece. But there is a kind of stubbornness that also brings out the best of in us, and we act in solidarity with others. So I think it will eventually get us out of the crisis. I do not know just when.”

Regarding the people’s resistance to the negative forces, Arvanitaki said “I like to just talk about art, but I will say that there are mayors who are trying to inspire the people with solidarity and smiles. There are institutions that have shifted their work towards the aid and relief of their fellow men. That is extremely comforting.”

She said she discusses the crisis with her children, who are older now. They generally agree about things – like Arvanitaki’s generation being largely responsible.

TNH pointed out that she had declared that humans are the most violent beings – it was around the time that singer Notis Sfakianakis had declared his support for Golden Dawn. Asked if she believes that music can calm the violent soul, she said “I believed that, but not anymore. The Nazis were listening passionately to the great composers and it just inspired their crimes… The problem, not only in Greece but worldwide, is education,” through which children can be taught self-respect and made more humane.

Asked if she would consider herself an Ambassador of Greece as she listened to questions about her country, she replied “we are artists, like you who work in the media, we are among the first to be hit by the crisis. At my concerts – even in Germany – the people are conscious, and they know why they are there. They never asked me. But if someone asked me what we are doing in Greece, even though I usually speak on another level, I would say ‘we are patient and hope for a better tomorrow.’ That does not mean that I do not live the daily reality. I see the poverty, I see everything. I can be judgmental and bitter and criticize those at the steering wheel. But when I am abroad I represent my country, so I say ‘we are passing through a difficult time. Unfortunately, we allowed it to happen.’”

She added that “unfortunately, we citizens did not demand that our politicians serve us better, because it is their job, or to ask them to teach us how to become better citizens, but how everything was turned upside down, we could talk about for hours. But abroad, to a foreigner who does not know much about my country and wants to learn, this suffices, to say that we face difficulties, that we have much to discuss as a people, but what remains is the solidarity and hope.”

She said, however, that if she is asked about Golden Dawn, she would say “it’s a problem for us. Most Greeks despise this development, the rise of extreme rightist thinking. I am a citizen of the World. We feel solidarity with diversity and to quest for human dignity.”