I’m Greek. Sembos, that’s a Greek name. My father Evangelos Sembos was a composer of some very well-received albums in the late ‘60s back in the homeland before he expatriated to the U.S. in the early ‘70s to escape the editing of his music by a right-wing military government. They’d literally take a red pen to his scores and then send them back to him. He worked with some of the top names in the business, but has been mostly invisible to the Greek population since moving abroad.
Lately, times have once again been tough, both for the international recording community and for Greece as a nation. To catch up with the current state of recorded music in the old country and to see how it parallels our own situation in the U.S., I chatted with Tasos Karantis, founder and owner of the online Greek music magazine Orfeas (e-Orfeas.gr), with a whole lot of translation help from my dad (who is slowly reconnecting with music lovers overseas who long for the bygone era in Greek music that he was a part of). Here’s how our conversation went:
Fairfield Weekly: What are the differences between your magazine and the other Greek music sites?
Tasos Karantis: Orfeas is a non-profit and volunteer-based publication with a professional ethos. Its liberal and independent mindset very much reflects the way its owner, administrator and collaborators think and act, which is indicative of the diverse musical material the magazine hosts.
F.W.: In your opinion, what eras were landmarks for the development of songwriting in Greece?
T.K.: I’ll answer in the words of Lefteris Papadopoulos, one of the most eminent lyricists in the Greek music scene: The thirty-year time period of the Golden Age of Pericles is exactly the length of the Golden Age of the Greek song scene, spanning through the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s.
F.W.: Which current record companies or independent producers respect the artists, without exploiting them and holding them as contractual hostages?
T.K.: Unfortunately, this is a rare breed nowadays. The music industry in its majority abides by the rules set by the mainstream and not by any musical or artistic criteria.
F.W.: How do famous old-school Greek composers, lyricists and singers respond to you as a reporter when you're requesting an interview? Do they understand the value and power of the internet yet?
T.K: It depends on their personality, background, professionalism, etc. For more tangible examples you could take a look at the names that appear in the interview section of our online magazine. We’ve tried to approach everyone and there’s been a positive response to all our calls for collaboration. But everything takes time, as is the case with all online magazines.
F.W.: Royalty payments are becoming a thing of the past all around the world, including the U.S. In the new music business, it’s harder and harder for a musician to get paid for the music they wrote. What’s your site’s position on this and how do you think the general public feels about this fact?
T.K.: This is all fine print for the Greek public opinion, if one also considers the financial, political and cultural poverty that reign nowadays. People just care for themselves and for their own personal profit. It feels as if we live in a financial war zone where amorality prevails. In my opinion, intellectual property rights need to be strengthened.
F.W.: Many citizens of Greece, as in the U.S., regularly upload songs onto sites like YouTube without any permission from the copyright owners. Composers and lyricists don’t get paid their royalties from the streaming of their works. Do you know why copyright owners in Greece don’t try to protect their works and ask them to be taken down?
T.K.: A populist response would be that free downloading, although illegal, works well in Greece. This very much has to do with the turmoil that we’re going through here which makes people indifferent towards legality, the common good and other people’s rights. Of course this is not the right way to go. But this has always been the case in Greece. Laws are either breached or non-existent. This is why we’ve come to such a dead end now. There’s no point drawing any kind of comparison between Greek and U.S. realities. We’ve been, and still are, half a century behind. This is what I’ve been hearing since my early childhood.
F.W.: Some Greeks wonder about songs with lyrics that contain messages of political intent. Many songwriters seem to be taking advantage of political situations for easy profit, speaking to the frustrations of the modern Greek citizen. Songs resonating real patriotism, bringing people together instead of dividing, are limited or nonexistent. What’s causing this phenomenon of songs with political messages?
T.K.: Everything comes down to corporate exploitation! I came to this realization when I became a journalist. Before that I would be in the fairytale-land of the mere listener. Political songs were written in Greece during and after the junta (the military Greek government from 1967-1974) due to pure sociopolitical artistic motivation and vision. In the last 35 years many incidents and events have taken place in Modern Greek history, but the aforementioned vision is no longer there. There are still sociopolitical songs written but those who write them, even though they appear to be progressive intellectuals or leftist rebels, are no longer in touch with the people. This makes them no different from other mainstream artists who only care about securing an audience, even if this is conservative or religion-opinionated. It once met a songwriter who although in his political songs he addresses the problems of the 600-euro generation [a term used to describe entry-level workers who make only 600 euros per month, far below the cost of living] he didn’t hesitate at one of the events that Orfeas sponsored to ask for 600 euros just for his hour-or-so long performance. Well, this makes it hard to believe in anything.