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Music on the eastern edge of western music

NikoTeini… Foteini Kokkala and Niko Papageorgiou at Smiths Alternative. Photo: Graham McDonald

Music / NikoTeini. At Smith’s Alternative, March 5. Reviewed by GRAHAM McDONALD.

NikoTeini are a Greek musical duo who live in Istanbul and are currently touring Australia under the auspices of The Greek Fringe, a collective of young Greek-Australian artists presenting music and theatre with a Greek connection.

The duo are Niko Papageorgiou, who plays a latva, a long-necked lute that is a cross between a fretless oud and a Greek bouzouki, and Foteini Kokkala, who plays a qanun, a plucked zither with a three octave range.

The latva uses nylon strings like an oud but is fretted with many tied-on frets, four where there ordinarily be two, to allow micro-tones, between the normal notes of the western scale. 

Similarly, the diatonically tuned qanun has small levers that can also shift the tuning of individual strings to incorporate micro-tones. It is played with metal picks over the first fingers of each hand, with the right hand mostly playing melody and the left a rhythmic accompaniment, but also able to double the melody when necessary.

Smith’s Alternative was an ideal venue for such intimate music. Both performers also sing and the songs were mostly love songs from all around Greece, mixed with dance tunes in and around the songs themselves. 

The combination of the strummed latva and the plucked metal strings of the qanun was hypnotic in its beauty, with the two players swapping between melody and rhythmic accompaniment. 

This is music that sits on the eastern edge of western music. The scales and modes of many of the songs sound quite alien to western ears, but these two confident and highly skilled musicians presented a couple of hours of captivating music. 

The two were not confident enough with their English to fully introduce and explain the material, but were able to crowd-source translations from the audience in a light-hearted and casual manner to explain the songs to the non-Greek speaking part of the audience. A most enjoyable concert.

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