NEW YORK – The Greek Cultural Center (KEP) presented soprano Anna Paidoussi, pianist Areti Giovanou and guitarist/vocalist Serafim Lazos in a concert of “Songs of Love and Struggle” at the headquarters of the Kefalos Society of America on February 15.
The guests who have waited a long time to hear Paidoussi sing again were richly rewarded, but everyone who braved bitter cold to fill the hall built by the Cephalonians of Astoria shared a heartwarming experience.
The opening songs set the tone for a night of music that expressed the great Greek passion for Eros and Justice.
As the lights dimmed Giovanou played the bass opening notes that accompany the lyrics “Zητατε να σας πω… Σε μια παλιά πληγή που ακόμα αιμορραγεί – Ask me to tell you…about an old wound that still bleeds, ” by the Greek composer Attik.
Paidoussi then sang two pieces from “Epitafios. ” With great tenderness she told of a mother cradling the head of her bloodied son, a victim of the labor demonstrations of 1936 in Thessaloniki.
The guests appreciated Paidoussi’ occasional commentary on the songs and their creator and enjoyed her humorous banter.
She explained the background of Epitafios, which was written by Yannis Ritsos and introduced The Ballad Of Mauthausen by Iacovos Kambanellis. The latter is about a young man whose beloved perished in Hitler’s gas chambers. “Girls of Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau…have you seen my love? Nobody knew how beautiful she was.” Both pieces were set to music by Mikis Theodorakis.
Each of the performers was exceptional. Giovanou’s fine accompaniment often felt like a piano recital, but without obtruding on the singing. Lazos’ guitar virtually sang along with him, and Paidoussi’s pieces were as much dramatic readings as wonderful renditions of songs from the audience’s youth.
The audience was also delighted by the mix of English songs that also reflected the themes. Paidoussi’s sultry yet poignant “We’ll Meet Again,” which comforted millions in the darkest days of WWII sung by Very Lynn, was followed by “Kane kouragio Ellada mou – Have courage my Greece,” which was sung by that country’s war angel, Sophia Vembo. Paidoussi’s moving rendition of the beloved song was punctuated by applause for both its performance and its meaning.
When she finished her first set and invited Lazos to the stage, she thanked him for being “the first foolish man to give me a job singing Greek music.”
Lazos began with “Αστερι μου, φεγγαρι μου,” with words and music by John and Miki Theodorakis respectively.
The lyrics of Lazos’ final song were written by Paidoussi’s mother Eleni, which he set to music. It was the tragic tale of a boy who left Mitiline when he was 19 for America. Rather than thrive, he was among the many who were devoured by the immigrant experience and who are not heard from.
Paidoussi began the third part of the program with Cool river, with it lyrics “Cool river brush my tears away to the sea, to the sea,” proving her voice thrills on operatic, jazzy and bluesy pieces.
The lyrical “Aσππο μοπυ ροδο – Μy white rose” which followed, once again demonstrated how her Greek repertoire shines. One guest said “I can’t wait to hear her sing rebetika.”
Paidoussi paused before the final four songs to explain they were all about a parent’s love for her children – “I can’t decide if they are about love or struggle…children are about fervent love and our most difficult decisions.”
John Lennon’s “Beautiful boy”, Abba’s “Slipping through my fingers” and especially Billy Joel’s “Lullaby,” with its sweet lyrics “good night my angel,” brought tears to the eyes of many parents after announcing she was not sure if she could get through them herself without crying.
Paidousi brought the program to a dramatic end in a similar vein with Kate McGarrigle’s Proserpina, a lament by goddess the Demeter over the loss of her daughter Persephone.
The delighted crowd called back all three performers for an encore.
Eleftheria Tourtoulis, KEP’s secretary, presented the artists with flowers and invited the guests to remain for sweets and fellowship. Iraklis Kremmidas, KEP’s president thanked everyone for attending and Kefalos for hosting the event.
“It was superb. Awesome,” said Anna Mallis, whose family is from Samos and Milos. “I’ve known Anna from the 19080s. She is extremely talented, and so was her mother. I remember her in the Greek nightclub playing her tambourine and singing with Grigoris Maninakis,” she said.
Eleni Kalogeras said she liked the children’s songs the most. ”They reminded me of my years as a young mother singing lullabies to them.”
Terry Delis agreed “It was phenomenal. It brought me back to the 1970s when all this great music was being played and we were in the spirit of liberating Greece from the dictatorship. We’ve come full circle – we need another liberation.”