Sounds of Cyprus performed at the Hellenic Cultural Center in Astoria on June 19, left to right: Alex Tasopoulos, Peter Douskalis, guest vocalist Gizem Gokoglu, Elena Chris, Mark Katsaounis, Erikos Vlesmas, and Stavros Papadopoulos. Photo by Eleni Sakellis
ASTORIA – Sounds of Cyprus performed an entertaining and also moving concert on June 19 at the Hellenic Cultural Center in Astoria. The Cypriot orchestra, co-founded by Elena Chris and Peter Douskalis in New York City, performs the traditional music of Cyprus in varying orchestrations and styles that both consciously honor the time period of composition and period instruments while also performing with a modern approach.
Elena Chris, vocalist and front person of the group, sings the traditional songs in the Cypriot dialect of Greek, as well as in Turkish for songs that contain lyrics in both languages. She gave the welcoming remarks in Greek at the concert along with introductions to the songs and the unique traditional instruments used in the show, while Peter Douskalis, Music Director, gave the English translations and a few quips in his signature humor. Douskalis plays the laouto, oud, mandolin, and guitar in the group, switching between instruments as needed for the authentic and modern orchestration of the pieces. The other members of this talented group are Alex Tasopoulos on viola, Erikos Vlesmas on contrabass, Stavros Papadopoulos on pithkiavli and ney, and Mark Katsaounis on percussion. This was the first appearance with the band for percussionist Katsaounis who impressed the audience with a solo, as did the other musicians in various songs.
The show also featured guest vocalist Gizem Gokoglu, who sang duets with Elena Chris, demonstrating and promoting the multi and intercultural nature of Cyprus and its beautiful traditions and music. They sang some of the best known Cypriot songs including Michalis Violaris’ Ta Rialia to enthusiastic applause from the audience.
In the most emotionally charged moment of the show, Gokoglu and Chris performed H Diki Mou H Patrida (‘My Homeland’), the well-known song which has lyrics from a poem by Turkish-Cypriot poet and author Neshe Yashin, written when she was 18 years old. The poem was set to music by the late Greek-Cypriot composer Marios Tokas and is a moving statement for unity. Gokoglu who is Turkish and Turkish-Cypriot, from the occupied area of Cyprus, wept during the song, which left many audience members also in tears, reminding everyone of the human toll the division of the island nation continues to take on all those who call Cyprus home. Gokoglu and Chris embraced at the end of the song highlighting the power of music and art to bring people together.
The performance was held under the auspices of the Consulate General of the Republic of Cyprus. Chris and Douskalis thanked all those present for their support and also thanked the behind-the-scenes team, artistic director Alex Agisilaou, Stephanos Charalmbides for the sound and light design, and Hellenic Cultural Center artistic director Alexandros Ammohostianos.
At the conclusion of the concert, audience members congratulated the gifted artists and everyone looked forward to their next live performance.
The band was formed in 2016 and gave its first performance in 2017. Among the group’s live performances this year: a pop-up show on the Long Island City Waterfront, twice at DROM in Manhattan, and most recently at the Hellenic Cultural Center in Astoria. Their pop-up performance on the LIC Waterfront gained them recognition in Cyprus, having been covered regularly by news outlets, they were invited to ‘Paradosiaki Vradia’ on RIK1.
Video of the band performing T’ai Giorkou – the epic tale of Saint George – live at the Hellenic Cultural Center is available on YouTube: https://bit.ly/3x4kahZ.
Loula Mou Maroula Mou – performed in Athens Square Park in Astoria is also on YouTube: https://bit.ly/3acfHC2.
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