TAKIM: Somewhere in between East and West

TAKIM is a group that I added to my music collection only a year ago, when their second album was released, ten years after their debut album. Their music takes us on a journey to the neighborhoods of Smyrna and Constantinople, transports us to beautiful Preveza, Ioannina, and to other corners of Greece.  Based on traditional sounds with a nostalgic feeling, TAKIM’s music is centered on a love for diversity, for something new. The message they want their audience to hear, is a message of brotherhood between people of all cultures.

“Everything began in 2001, among a group of three friends – me (Thomas Konstantinou) playing the oud, Kostas Meretaki on percussion instruments and Gianni Plagianatou on double bass. The composition of the group has gone through a lot for us to bring it to its current state”, Thomas explained.

And that’s how TAKIM hooked up with more musicians and their group has currently expanded to six people. In addition to the original three members, there’s Alexandros Arkadopoulos on the clarinet, Panos Dimitrakopoulos on the kanonaki (or psaltery, which is a traditional stringed instrument), and Giorgos Marinakis on the violin.

“We saw the group as something like a hobby, outside of work. As professional musicians, sometimes we have to play in groups that we feel don’t necessarily express us 100%.  For example, I play the oud. When doing a folk music show, the role of the oud is limited, and thus, I’ve had to learn to play other instruments as well. This was one of the main reasons why I created something where I can play the oud from start of a show to finish.”

In talking with Thomas about the early years of TAKIM, the discussion centered on the basic musical instruments in the band, such as the oud and the kanonaki, which mainly originate from the East. So, just how do they manage to blend, so masterfully and naturally, Greek traditional songs with the sounds and music of various regions of the East?

“The bouzouki and clarinet play a major role in traditional Greek music. The oud came back during the 1980s, with Christos Tsiamoulis and his group Dynamis tou Aegeou, (The Power of the Aegean), and for example, with Ross Daly. During that time, the ‘neo-traditionalists’ began to develop on the scene. And that’s how my generation was introduced to these instruments of the East, which I prefer we call Byzantine. And so, this sound was resurrected in the large cities – places like Preveza and Ioannina which, 80 years prior, had been freed from Ottoman rule. Smyrna and Constantinople… We always coexisted with the cultures of the East and this has not left the music of Greece unaffected.”

 

Our conversation became more and more interesting as the interview progressed. I began to get to know Thomas – a citizen of this society, a person with sensitivities, who is articulate and assertive. These, in my opinion, are characteristics that are necessary for young people who live and create in today’s difficult times. Of the topics we discussed, we couldn’t overlook the subject of refugees and migration – about Smyrna and songs of pain and displacement, songs that are included, among others, in TAKIM’s repertoire. This made us compare the past to the present. History repeats itself and unfortunately so do the same mistakes. What’s it like, then, to live in multicultural societies today trying to prevent fear and suspicion? Greeks, in comparison to central Europeans and other western cultures are more accustomed to living in those circumstances…

“As a sort of continuance of Byzantium, we were ‘neighbors’ with Muslims, thus from an early time we had developed a channel of communication with those communities, on a political and a cultural level. This is something that Westerners have trouble understanding. The gap, for them, is unbridged.”

As for fear and suspicion, Thomas first expresses his opinion about the northern, more developed countries which are characterized by a serious state mechanism and are dedicated to the values and services of a well-organized social state.

“When under threat of a social crisis, as we are experiencing today, even those (northern) countries have begun to waver. The entire ‘iron’ foundation upon which they had built the so-called European Democracy, is crumbling. To me, that means that fear is a human characteristic which, once it ‘permeates’ society – no matter how open-minded and progressive one is – fear is hard to get rid of. And this is something that frightens me. Despite all this, Greeks, with a lack of a state mechanism, have shown an incredible humanity.”

After a while, our conversation came back to the subject of music – of man and his personal experiences. It was an appropriate opportunity to express a more personal question that I had… I tend to lean towards ‘romanticism’ and many times I compare the past eras to the present. This comparison leads me to the personal conclusion that genuine sentiments and their expression, is what is lacking in today’s era.

“The nostalgia for past greatness is the basic feeling of the Greeks right now, during this time. We must, however, move past this, let time take us elsewhere to something new. As a people, we have remained with this nostalgic feeling. We have lost our redemption.”

TAKIM collaborates with a large array of professionals – notable artists from traditional music to eclectic, even with artists representing the alternative pop and rock scenes. For example I could point to the groups Burger Project and Calexico (from far-away Arizona), who included elements of Greek music in their latest album, ‘Edge of the Sun’.

“If we weren’t different, we wouldn’t have collaborated. In short, this is our ideology: collaboration with different people and artists. This is what makes us relevant and continue to exist today.”

 I’ll end this article with the hope that something similar could happen on a societal level. The coexistence and cooperation between ‘different’ people, working together to create something new, to increase our energy and inspiration for the future, for life. For five months, Athenians enjoyed listening to TAKIM live every Wednesday, at Athenaeum Kelari in Thisio.  Due to other obligations (and procrastination), I only managed to catch their last show, but I was lucky enough to hear for the first time, Areti Katime in person. (Killed two birds with one stone!).

You too have the chance to see them live:

  • July 1 they’ll be in Kanali, Preveza;

  • July 17 in Xyrokambi, Sparti;

  • and on July 25 in Loutraki at the Loutraki Festival.

Like TAKIM’s facebook page here!

Takim and tamām!

Written by LidiaMavaraeidopoulou  |  Edited by Gigi Papoulias

photo credits: Takim

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