This is why I am still blogging after fourteen years
Others boast of 1.5 million chimerical readers, but my approach to blogging is influenced rather more by radio presenter and writer Libby Purves' credo that "You have to believe that if even one person is swayed, or inspired, or changed, or comforted, by a programme, then that programme has been worthwhile". Communication is not measured in metrics, it is measured in strength of connection and ability to inspire change. Connections work both ways, and I am writing this post because the new album featured above has swayed and inspired me.
Cyprus is stereotyped with an image of all inclusive resorts and English pubs. But the picture beneath the tourist veneer is very different. Like that other large Mediterranean island Crete, Cyprus lies on a cultural fault line. Just 60 miles of sea separates the island from the Syrian coast and Limassol, Cyprus' second largest city, is just 255 miles from Aleppo; so the soundtrack for the sun lounge lizards in the tourist honeypots of Paphos and Limassol is the sound of Tornado and Typhoon fighters leaving for strike missions in Syria from the nearby RAF base at Akrotiri.
Even closer is Turkey, which is just 45 miles north of Cyprus. In 1974 Turkey responded to the doomed Greek military junta's attempt to overthrow the Cypriot president Archbishop Makarios by invading the north of the island. The total number of deaths in the ensuing conflict will never be known, but estimates of those killed and not accounted for on both sides are in the region of 7000. Four decades later Cyprus remains divided: a UN peace keeping force patrols the 'green line' buffer zone between the Republic of Cyprus - an EU member - in the south, and the Turkish occupied north. Little understood is the Russian presence in Cyprus. Ten thousand Russians live in the south. While the bail out of Cyprus' economy by the EU was widely reported, less attention was paid to the the 2.5 billion euro ($2.8 billion) loan made by Russia to Cyprus in 2011. A quid pro quo for this loan was giving Russian military ships access to Cypriot ports, a not insignificant concession given Cyprus' proximity to Syria.
As in other regions of geopolitical tension, creativity flourishes in Cyprus. One bloom from this flowering is Monsieur Doumani, an acoustic trio from the divided city of Nicosia. A litmus test of true creativity is a refusal to gallop with the herd, and Monsieur Doumani pass this test with flying colours. They eschew the bastard child of Theodorakis' Zorba heard in Cyprus's tourist traps, instead developing their own unique mix of contemporary Cypriot rap and the venerable Greek rebetico tradition of dissident song - see video above. Their new album Angathin takes the band further into activist territory. One track is a passionate plea to halt the proposed development in the environmentally sensitive Akamas Peninsula in the north-west of the Republic of Cyprus, a development that seems likely to despoil this area of outstanding natural beauty with tourist factories masquerading as eco-lodges. As the translated lyrics explain 'When the money starts to smell/dragons gather, come to suckle/Come to pounce and to suck the barrel dry'.
Angathin - which translates as 'thorn', a theme reflected in the distinctive artwork - is the work of latter-day troubadors. The album's perennial wisdom - 'What is the need to have so much/why keep torturing yourself/Since it all stays behind and you return to dust?' - is a blast of fresh air after the box-ticking platitudes of so much contemporary art music. Below are the singularly pertinent lyrics from the track Mishmash written for the band by Cypriot baglama player and fellow rebetiko exponent Yiangos Yiangou. Monsieur Doumani's music is challenging, dangerous, original and relevant. Being able to share such discoveries is why I am still blogging after fourteen years.
You’ve sunk into that couch,Also on Facebook and Twitter. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).
you play with little buttons
Your brain is turning into a rambling mishmash
Get off the couch,
get rid of those little buttons
You turn where you’re told to turn,
you believe whatever you’re told to believe
They’ve made you really scared,
you’re falling over their precipices
Stop turning where you’re told,
stop believing what you’re told