Q&A with Greece-based band of Noma Nloko - love for Blues but without being limited by any particular music form or genre.

"Blues and Rock demolished ill-minded stereotypes, promoting equality amongst all people. It combined elements of various cultures from around the world, undermining the concept of borders while appreciating the importance of every culture alone. It's music made by the people, for the people."

Noma Nloko: Mojo Working Blues

Noma Nloko is a trio, from Thessaloniki, Greece, playing what can roughly be described as Electric Blues. Found halfway through 2019 by Johnny (Chrimatopoulos) on guitar and Gianni (Yannopoulos) on bass and later including Lia (Amprikidou) on Percussion, the trio is built on the grounds of the love for Blues and the need to jam together, without being limited by any particular music form or genre. Since the beginning, they've played several shows, performed live on the streets of various locations throughout Greece and just put out their first demo/live jam.       Photo by Giota Folla

Johnny say: "Our music philosophy is pretty simple, we just get on it and give it everything we've got in neverending jams, because that's the only way you can play some music anyway. We move along the lines of what we feel like calling The Blues, even if sometimes we may stray out of the traditional forms. As for the name, we found it mentioned in a paragraph of a book about Memphis' Hoodoo and its origins. We are truly intrigued by the subject and Noma Nloko sounded very interesting as a name. Since the beginning, they've played several shows, performed live on the streets of various locations throughout Greece and just put out their first demo/live jam."

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Johnny: I was fortunate enough to be part of a family which really appreciated the Rock Counterculture and those were the main sounds I grew up listening to, and that played a massive role to who I'm growing to be. The sheer power, passion and soul I find in Blues and Rock is what drives me to do the best I can, in whatever I choose to do. It makes me understand a tiny bit of the world around me, the people in it- helps me to kind of build my own code of ethics. It also showed me how important it is to express one's self in life. Ultimately, that kind of music is what helps me get through the day, my own way.

Lia: The most important thing this culture has taught me is to be my authentic self. I mean, it's the most "come as you are" type of music, and you don't have to play fast, have tremendous technique, look or play a certain way. You just have to have something to say and feel that. That I think was the part that liberated both my artistry and state of being while teaching me to treat people the same way.

Giannis: Being a student of musicology and contemporary composition, you learn to use systems and overthink about every aspect of a work of music. The Academic practices are a huge part of what I’ve grown up to think music is all about. I believe what the Blues (mostly) and Rock taught me is that, nothing is “all about” anything. There is so much artistic freedom, so much raw self-expression in this kind of music, that put the artist in a position where they’re the composer, the player and the audience, at the same time. For someone who has grown up in music schools and academia, this is a huge revelation and it pushes you to seek that freedom in other aspects of music or, even, life itself. My experience has been and, still, is profoundly mind-expanding.

How do you describe band's sound, music philosophy and songbook? What is the story behind the name of band?

Johnny: The band's sound could be described as Electric, In your Face, with great amounts of improvisation, Blues. Probably with some darker aspects, and heavily influenced by the 40s-60s Memphis and Chicago scenes. Our music philosophy is pretty simple, we just get on it and give it everything we've got in neverending jams, because that's the only way you can play some music anyway. We move along the lines of what we feel like calling The Blues, even if sometimes we may stray out of the traditional forms. As for the name, we found it mentioned in a paragraph of a book about Memphis' Hoodoo and its origins. We are truly intrigued by the subject and Noma Nloko sounded very interesting as a name. And so it came to be.

"Several of the practices seen in hoodoo also have cultural ties to traditional African religious customs. For example, Hoodoo practitioners would frequently "nail" objects down using carpenters nails. In the Kongo religions, a practice known as NOMA NLOKO. or "nailing a curse", utilized a ceremonial "nailing" of an object as a magical operation." (A Secret History of Memphis Hoodoo: Rootworkers, Conjurers & Spirituals)

"The most important thing this culture has taught me is to be my authentic self. I mean, it's the most "come as you are" type of music, and you don't have to play fast, have tremendous technique, look or play a certain way. You just have to have something to say and feel that. That I think was the part that liberated both my artistry and state of being while teaching me to treat people the same way."

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Johnny: Though we are a new band, and we only have but several shows under our belt as Noma Nloko, every experience on stage so far was unique and intense in its own way, and I can't really pick one of them. When it comes to our moments jamming and in studio sessions, the first time the three of us played together sure is a day for us to remember. Because Giannis and I played together for quite a time, but it was the first time we met Lia, let alone jam with her, it was kind of awkward at first. But by the time we started playing everything changed, we were amazed at how surprisingly well it all got along from the beginning, and the vibe flowing around the studio was -and still is- great.

Giannis: We usually meet (at least we did pre Covid-19) at least once a week to play together, jam, record or practice for an upcoming gig. We all have our independent lives and, as expected, when we get together we are not all in a good mood, we didn’t have the same week or, even, the same day, more often than not, one of us is disappointed, tired, angry, sad etc. It’s amazing how it all goes away when we start playing. Even if it’s not our best session, even if we screw up some songs, even if we can’t be 100% focused the whole time, I’ve found that there’s something really therapeutic in that procedure.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Johnny: What I envy of the music of the past is that it had some kind of truth in it. You can still find that in today's music, but not as easy, at least not in the mainstream scene. There are too many artists today that are trying to do their best with their music, for the sake of the art itself, but the mainstream media sells what it wants to sell and timeservers have the upper hand. That's what I'd hope to see changing in the future, but I fear it will be too difficult to change.

Lia: I believe in the importance and value of mistakes in music. Nowadays everything is much more "automated", and fixed to be perfect. For example, if Billie holiday recorded "Strange Fruit" today, we would never get to hear those voicecracks of the true pain and her bad habits crawling on to it. Mistakes have a reason of existence sometimes, cause the life we live and us , aren't perfect. And I think it's important for artistry to show that off. All I fear is that music will lose its humanity in the grounds of earning recognition, by the extensive use of machinery in the making. I am in no means underestimating the value of technology and what it has provided, but for me ,it is the human nature that can only generate real soulful pieces of music.

Giannis: What I miss the most nowadays from the music of the past, but I also think is a huge asset of the music industry today, is the possibility for a Great Big Name to come to existence. Today, using the internet, the streaming and downloading services, anyone can get their music out, promote it, find an audience that will listen to it, play gigs, tour etc. That way, a huge but pretty much even cloud of semi-big artists is created, eliminating the possibility for one of these artists to stand out. There can’t be no Beatles, no Rolling Stones, no The Doors today. Even if they can exist, it’s so much harder for them to come to that. Of course, if I think it through, to me and to us, this whole thing is good. We can Jam, record ourselves, we can put our music out there and find the audience we want to find and wants to find us. But, I think, romantically, that’s the concept I miss the most in today’s music. The room for GREAT BIG NAMES to appear.

"There is so much power in these kinds of music (Blues & Rock), true power, people’s power, they express the longing for freedom, for equality, for love amongst all people, not minding their skin color, their belief system of choice, their social status etc. Both musical movements are and have been quite political, as they should continue to be today."

Make an account of the case of the blues in Greece. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene? 

Johnny: In my opinion Greece has a quite strong blues scene, with some great groups such as the likes of Blues Wire, Nick And The Backbone and Sakis Dovolis Power Trio, to name a few. In Thessaloniki it's always an interesting period when it comes to the local music scene in general, you can find pretty much anything, as well as discover something new. You know, diversity.

Lia: The blues scene in Greece, although present, is not as strong as it could be. The were many breakthroughs with Blues Wire or Nick and the Backbone, but consedering the level of expertise and musicality they had, they didn't get enough recognision. But in general Thessaloniki has a very diverse and welcoming stage, that whole-heartedly absorbes any genre.

Giannis: I’m from Patras, so the scene for me has been quite poor. There have been bands that caught my interest growing up (I remember one called “Blues Antivurus”), but nothing extraordinary came out of the city’s scene, at least as long as I was around. There’s a band now that’s killing it in the area of blues and rock called “Mr. Egglemon and The Headfish”, who, I think, are one of the best things coming out of Patras’ scene in many years. In Thessaloniki, where I study, things are different. The first time I listened to “Blues Wire” I was blown away. The same goes for Sakis Dovolis Trio. I don’t think I have the fonts to say in certainty which is the most interesting period in the local blues scene, ‘cause I don’t think I’ve liven it for long enough. I’m really excited to, though, and there’s no better way to do that, but alongside my friends and bandmates, who love this as much as I do.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Johnny: I would probably try to establish a common ground of understanding between artists, as well as between the people and the artists.

Lia: Probably the competitive state of mind between artists, due to profit, and the criticism it comes with. We are all trying to express ourselfs, one way or another, and we ought to help each other, in order to get a coherent message out in the world.

Giannis: The same thing I would, pretty much, change in most aspects of the world: solidarity. I think it’s really missing from today’s music scene, and that realization strikes me as quite sad. It’s really important to build a network of artist that help and support each other, promote each other’s work, go to each other’s shows, believe in each other. Instead, the artists are separated in cliques, some of whom control a big part of the scene, making it harder for others to climb their way up and reach out to the actual audience. There have been efforts for that to happen, especially in the underground scene, by bands, studios, producers, small labels etc, but it’s hard and it will require years, because of the mentality that, for the time being, still prevails.

"What I envy of the music of the past is that it had some kind of truth in it. You can still find that in today's music, but not as easy, at least not in the mainstream scene. There are too many artists today that are trying to do their best with their music, for the sake of the art itself, but the mainstream media sells what it wants to sell and timeservers have the upper hand. That's what I'd hope to see changing in the future, but I fear it will be too difficult to change."

What does to be a female artist in a Man’s World as James Brown says? What is the status of women in music?

 Lia: As hard as it may seem to talk about a "man's world" in 2020, it truly still is. Hardest part for me was to be taken seriously as a drummer and not as a girl trying to bang some drums. In the general music scene, women are starting to thrive and state their presence nowadays. But in drumming, we're far off behind. It is perceived as an instrument of strength, so it's associated with men almost all of the time. I've been thrown off bands because of my gender, I've been called weak and looked down upon and I've been told that I will just never be good enough. But I was also lucky enough to meet people that never thought of me as a "female" musician, but plainly a musician. And that is what we all want.

What is the impact of Blues and Rock on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

Johnny: To me it basically changed the route of history. Blues and Rock demolished ill-minded stereotypes, promoting equality amongst all people. It combined elements of various cultures from around the world, undermining the concept of borders while appreciating the importance of every culture alone. It's music made by the people, for the people.

Lia: As I previously mentioned, it is the most open music expression. Taking a trip down history lane, Blues and Rock, were the music of the "outcasts". With that, they had a voice and a way to show people their true colours. These genres of music have paid a heavy impact on the evolvement of social constructs. A basis for diversity was created, and the world started to be more open-minded and accepting. And that is the way it should be. I would like for people to see music as an expression of true self, a liberation from stereotypes and previous social constracts.

Giannis: Blues and Rock, especially the Blues, have been, to their core, social movements as much as they have been musical. “Sticking it to The Man”. That’s the whole point of these kinds of music, not letting the world get to you, finding a way to do what you want to do, not minding the consequences or the obstacles that are set there to affect you. There is so much power in these kinds of music, true power, people’s power, they express the longing for freedom, for equality, for love amongst all people, not minding their skin color, their belief system of choice, their social status etc. Both musical movements are and have been quite political, as they should continue to be today.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

Johnny: That's too hard. Too hard. If I had to choose, I would either go to see the man himself Robert Leroy Johnson play, or Woodstock.

Lia: Definitely in Harlem, seeing "Lady Day" sing the blues in the Apollo Theater.

Giannis: Woodstock, man, 1969, the answer to that will always be Woodstock. Something like that has never happened and will never happen again.

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