The Upshot: Blending Mediterranean and Balkan cultures, the album is a uniquely structured celebration of Greece’s second largest city.
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Athens native Savina Yannatou and her band Primavera en Salonico have explored the nooks and crannies of Mediterranean music for over two decades. On Songs of Thessaloniki, she pays tribute to the titular city, the second largest in Greece, in all of its multicultural glory, with an emphasis on songs collected during the turbulent years between World War I and World War II. With a history encompassing Turks, Sephardic Jews, Armenians, Bulgarians, Serbs and several varieties of Greeks, Thessaloniki blends Mediterranean and Balkan cultures, which allows Yannatou and her musicians to feel comfortable with every tune they tackle.
To Western ears, the Turkish hymn “Iptidadan yol sorarsan” and the Bulgarian traditional “Dion is Solun hodeshe” give off an almost Middle Eastern aura, while the Armenian song “Qele-qele” and the Sephardic traditional “A la scola del Allianza” sound closer to folk as heard in America and the British Isles (which are also briefly represented by the Irish folk song “Salonika”). The Kosovo Serbian traditional “Jelena Solun Devojko” feels almost ambient, with its moaning accordion and Yannatou’s simmering croon, while the Slav-Macedonian song “Pismo dojde od Soluna grada” flows in an equally reserved, but more complex, manner.
The accomplishment is that none of these tracks, no matter from what culture they originate, clash with the others. Thanks to the skill of Primavera en Salonico and the Lisa Gerrard-like timbre of Yannatou’s remarkable pipes, every song sounds like it comes from the same spiritual and cultural place. That’s appropriate, perfectly representing the uniquely blended culture of the city from this music springs.
DOWNLOAD: “Dion is Solun hodeshe,” “Pismo dojde od Soluna grada,” “Qele-qele”