Somnambule - Writing About Music

Savina Yannatou & Primavera en Salonico ~ Terra Nostra

Terra Nostra gathers 20 songs from Greece, Bulgaria, the Hebrides, Sardinia, Lebanon, Spain, the Caribean and Provence in a fast paced, extremely varied concert recorded live in Athens in 2001. Savina Yannatou is a Greek singer who is involved in early, baroque, renaissance and traditional musics as well as modern jazz. Here she sings with Primavera en Salonico, a group of musicians who provide backing using percussion, oud, guitar, tamboura, kanoun (a hammered dulcimer), accordion, violin, nay and double bass. She is also joined by another vocalist, Lamia Bedioui on a number of tracks.

On “With The Moon I’m Walking” plaintive violin is joined by a voice whose slight breathiness is soon discarded as it rises into the upper registers and evokes a metaphorical flight to the heavens. Yannatou’s voice is heavenly, pure but experienced as though it belongs to somebody who has known suffering. It is perfectly matched by its accompaniment which sobs momentarily before echoing and circling Yannatou again.
“ Ivan Said To Donka” is earthier with a melody played on nay. After a couple of minutes of sprightly but stately progress, the whole group suddenly join in racing forward helter skelter like a mad dash for a finishing line.

"A Fairy’s Love Song" is defiant, questioning why the author should be ‘dreary, sitting and sighing’ – it’s a cry to the heavens against fate’s unkindness, but there is much courage in the repeated words.
The cd booklet includes the lyrics to each song and short cultural genealogies. Though tantalisingly brief, these notes provide slender threads of association by which each song may be understood e.g. “Traditional from Provence. The song refers to the Carnival’s ending, implying also the defeat of Napoleon.” These entries remind the listener of the great weight of history of the common people, of their experiences and negotiation of their lives – absent of course from the history books. From “Hey Het (Song of the Emigrant)” come these prosaic but resonant lines:

"Looking at the horizon in May
I hope to see my homeland again”

and from “Ballo Sardo” – a traditional dance from Sardinia:

"Be careful, barons, to moderate your tyranny
otherwise I swear to you that you will lose your power…”

It’s clear that these traditional songs are calinterpreted with spirit – there are no dusty, overly-respectful museum renditions here. The intention is clearly to maintain a living, breathing tradition and it’s fully realised. As a result the form of the songs is stretched and teased and renewed with improvisation by both Yannatou and her group. “Ballo Sardo” is a prime example of this with gorgeous vocal and nay solos and a point in the song where the group verge on noisy free improvisation. At times it’s difficult not to resist jumping up and dancing round the room or at least clapping vigorously.

Yannatou’s breadth of expression is remarkable, both temporal, geographical and emotional: from the ribald to the sophisticated, from the gentle to the violent, the possessed to the angelic. Primavera en Salonico are imaginitive and wonderfully spirited accompanists. Ultimately one listens intently with a sense that whole worlds are encapsulated in each song, worlds alive with sorrow, passion and the will to endure. Highly recommended.
Colin Buttimer
August 2003
Published by All About Jazz