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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Mavrothi Kontanis; Sto Kafesli Sokaki

Ksylini Kardia (Wooden Heart)

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   The folk music of Greece is intimately tied to the music of Arabs, Armenians, Turks and other cultures that ringed the eastern Mediterranean basin in crosscurrents that spanned the Byzantine and Islamic empires. Mavrothi Kontanis, a young vocalist and oud player from New Jersey, explores the repertoire brought to Greece by Greek refugees who fled from massacres in their ancient Asia Minor home following World War I.

  Kontanis discovered his material on 78-rpm recordings from the 1920s through the 1940s and interprets the old songs on a pair of CDs with a sensitive ear and a keen appreciation for the value of his ancestral traditions. Often falling outside the normal tonal range of Western music, the songs feature elaborate and meditative fingerings on the oud (an ancestor of the mandolin) and elegant Arabesque dance rhythms with Gypsy flights of fancy on fiddle and clarinet and the mesmeric tinkling of the cymbalom, a soft-spoken version of the zither.