Q&A with Theodore Koumartzis of Project Reggetiko, a musical collective, who share the love for creative improvisation and direct musical interaction

"Music has been a way to inspire people since Antiquity. People who couldn't play or listen to music, they were considered as uneducated people. We believe that music is the best communication for the Humanity and the idea of playing/listening to someone next you are underlying the respect we shall all have for each other, culture at the end of the day is a way of living."

Theodore Koumartzis: Folk Fusion, IRIE!

Everything started at the start of 2010, when Greek musician and luthier, Theodore Koumartzis met Francesco Riotta (aka Sise Kolombali) in Spain. During the first attempts to improvise and to try to play together, they started instictively to mix rhythms and melodies of the Greek music genre named “Rembetiko” and acoustic reggae. The sweet sound of baglamas and the rhythmical acoustic guitar were the first instruments used in order to produce the first idea of “Reggetiko”. A year later in Sicily, they started to play again with each other and soon they found two “followers”. Project Reggetiko is a musical meeting between people with very different creative roots, who share the same love for creative improvisation and direct musical interaction. The result is an experimental, collective form of expression that treats music and improvisation as a way of communication between people. Their philosophy is that simple or complex, music making should always be characterized by mutual respect and honesty. Five and a half years ago, its first album "Music Conversations" was published and was successfully presented to Palermo of Sicily with Istanbul, Athens and Freiburg to follow.

Xarkis Festival at Cyprus was the last stop before the recordings of their second album named "Knot" that was first presented to the great "Gitarcafe" live stage of Istanbul a year ago and more concerts to Kozani, Thessaloniki, Serres, Rhodes, Drama (Tentart Festival) and Symviosis Festival at Lesvos, where RP played also at Karatepe and Moria refugee camps, to follow. Three years ago they had the opportunity to accompany Kostis's Kostidakis Shadow Theater at Rialto concert hall at of Lemesos (Cyprus) while the third album Albatross (2019) was recently released with the participation of the legendary grammy awarded Bulgarian pianist Milcho Leviev and a relative music documentary about this beautiful collaboration is expected to be screened during 2020. An albatross can travel thousands of miles using minimal effort, soaring along wind currents, rising and diving without ever flapping its wings. The albatross is a symbol of perfect, effortless symbiosis with nature. The name albatross is derived from the latin for white, albus, and from the Arabic for a diver, Alcatraz. Like the albatross’ name, the music of RP is multicultural in its origin, merging numerous traditions to create something entirely new.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the World/Folk music and Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

We carry inside us music memories from our childhood. As the majority of us grew up in Greece, we had this wonderful opportunity to meet the beautiful Greek traditional music from a very early phase of our lives. In Greece the world Folk and traditional music is something really relative as almost every region has its own traditions being a crossroad for different cultures and people from all over the world (region like Epirus, Creta, Thrace, etc). Personally (Theodoros Koumartzis), I had the chance to visit several countries across the World, and music has always been a reason to meet people who want to share their culture or just have fun jamming. Reggetiko started like this during a year of living in Spain (Valladolid and Toledo), along with the musician Sise Kolombali aka Francesco Riotta coming from Palermo, Sicily.

How do you describe "Reggetiko" sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

Reggetiko Project started as an experiment to match Rembetiko and Acoustic Reggae in a creative way almost ten years ago. Later on, the first members (Nikos Papanikoloudis, Tony Passias) left and Sokrates Votskos took a place for a long music journey till we found the path we were looking for. Konstandinos Papoudas and Andrie Evripidou joined and this is how the first album Music Conversations came. A year later, Kostas had to leave and Linos Tzelos joined Reggetiko that for a significant time was a music trio touring around Greece and Germany. At the same time Danis Koumartzis recorded his double bass for all of our albums. Yannis Kofopoulos is the vocalist of our second album Knot (released back in 2016) and for our third album Albatross we had also the fortune to collaborate with the legendary Bulgarian pianist Milcho Leviev. Today, Nikos Varelas is our percussionist and Marios Podara's violin is completing the five members of Reggetiko in a genre of music that people describe as Folk Fusion or Greek Jazz. From the very first moment, we focus on composing our own music and the three albums are the result of this musical journey. Of course, apart from the references in Greek music, people are also recognizing other genres like jazz, bossa nova, Latin music, etc.

"I would love to travel back to Antiquity and listen to how their music and language sound. What's more, I’d love to be able to communicate with them and realize some things that most of the people nowadays do not even think about." (Photo: Theodore Koumartzis with an ancient Greek music instrument)

How started the thought of Pausis project? What touched (emotionally) you from the Ancient Greek music instruments?

Pausis started as the answer to some personal questions regarding the space and time we all need to communicate with each other. Pausis (pause) in Ancient Greek does not mean silence (Ησυχία) but it requires a move, an act, a thought that is realized. It started as a necessity to discover Ancient Greek music, in order to reintroduce Ancient Greek culture in an interactive way, as a great part of Human History. We mixed the sound of the lyre with narration in Ancient Greek (Giorgos Saratsis), tympani (and other percussions played by Nikos Varelas), the ancient Armenian flute named Duduk (Sokrates Votskos) and collaborations with more musicians across the world (like the gift American-Chinese singer Rui Fu). The feedback of people that participated in our concerts (Archaeological Museum of Nicosia, Pirenostrum festival in Spain, Byzantine Museum of Thessaloniki, Le Son continue Festival in France, Music in the Dales festival in the UK, etc) was more than welcome (some times people came to us crying as even they couldn't describe what happened, they were truly touched from our music and the sound of the Greek language). Now we are preparing our first album at which we have more musicians participating, like a Hymn in Hebrew sang by Yael Schonzeit, the beautiful voice of the mezzo-soprano French-Iranian singer Ariana Vafadari and a surprise collaboration with a Pandoura (played by Marios Podaras) and an Indian sitar (played by Linos Tzelos).

What is the hardest part of reconstructs Ancient Greek music instruments? What do you love most about the act of?

Luthiery is an art that combines different sciences in order to create an instrument that provokes feelings to the Humans. The combination of academic research and the different experiments on our workshop (my father Anastasios and my elder brother - a professional musician - Danis are making them) is a constant challenge as people in 2020 have more strict standards regarding tuning, volume and process to play and listen to a music instrument comparing to Antiquity. The art of transforming wood (and more materials like bone, metal etc) to a musical instrument with your own hands, is a unique feeling: later musicians play these instruments to influence even more people and this is where the magic starts. Personally I love the presentations that we make at Seikilo Museum (a constant exhibition in Thessaloniki) and other places across the world (last summer we traveled to Singapore) and the feedback that I get from people with no music background, the way they connect everything with Greek mythology but also the path that we learn a lot from each other related to Music as it is.

"I wish there could be more space for new bands, new music, and an alternative path for people with no intent to produce music for masses. On the other hand, world has never been more "fair" than internet does now (this is the reason that you read this interview) so many artists had to find their way before us and will certainly do after us." (Photo: Reggetiko meets Milcho Leviev)

Make an account of the case of World Fusion music in Greece. What are the lines that connect Reggae & Rembetiko?

Rembetiko is more connected to Blues as a genre, it started around the same decades and expresses feelings about social discriminations. Reggae is also a genre of music that from the very start underlined the necessity of social change and acceptance of each other regardless of the color of their skin, the language they walk, or the place we come from (like the theme War with a speech of Haile Selassie to the United Nations). I believe that they all talk about the same thing, in the code of the countries they were born and later developed.

Are there any memories from gigs and studio which you’d like to share? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

There was a great concert in Bonn, Germany, organized by a good friend of ours (Samman Haddad) at the yard of a friend's house. You could feel that people were there to listen and share (you don't have to look, you just feel it on the spot) and after the concert, each one came to hug us, a very symbolic act of thanking each other as we felt as thankful as they did, sharing this wonderful moment. Another great moment was the feedback of Milcho Leviev about our third album, a musician with a huge career (lived for many decades in the States collaborating with Don Ellis, Art Pepper, Dave Holland, etc) who shared so many beautiful thoughts about life (and music) at that last phase of his life proving that staying humble even when you get very far, is the only way to stay close to the people and always keep learning from them.

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

We are really young to miss something already (all of us around our thirties), we feel thankful for this constant evolution in music (and society) and for the chance to live and create in this beautiful country. Regarding the future, we are going to share a music documentary named Albatross (directed by Charalambos Charalambous) of this wonderful collaboration with Milcho Leviev, a tour at Istanbul that was unfortunately postponed and the recording for our fourth album (already we are recording a couple of themes). Our hope is to keep doing what we do, compose new music, travel and share thoughts with more people around the world.

"Rembetiko is more connected to Blues as a genre, it started around the same decades and expresses feelings about social discriminations. Reggae is also a genre of music that from the very start underlined the necessity of social change and acceptance of each other regardless of the color of their skin, the language they walk, or the place we come from (like the theme War with a speech of Haile Selassie to the United Nations). I believe that they all talk about the same thing, in the code of the countries they were born and later developed." (Photo: Theodore Koumartzis)

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

I wish there could be more space for new bands, new music, and an alternative path for people with no intent to produce music for masses. On the other hand, world has never been more "fair" than internet does now (this is the reason that you read this interview) so many artists had to find their way before us and will certainly do after us.

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

Music has been a way to inspire people since Antiquity. People who couldn't play or listen to music, they were considered as uneducated people.

We believe that music is the best communication for the Humanity and the idea of playing/listening to someone next you are underlying the respect we shall all have for each other, culture at the end of the day is a way of living.

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

I would love to travel back to Antiquity and listen to how their music and language sound. What's more, I’d love to be able to communicate with them and realize some things that most of the people nowadays do not even think about.

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