ATHENS DAY 3
Estimate 5 minutes reading
We prepared to meet Damien and Colin, two musicians and organizers with the group Pangea FC of San Francisco.
We arranged to meet them at Syntagma, the central station of Athens, and to introduce them to Husein.
We met at Viktoria square again and entered the metro. On the train Husein tried out a mandolin that we had brought, he seemed very interested. When we arrived the photographers explored the plaza, looking for shots, and Husein continued to study the new instrument, and he quickly found ways to play songs that he usually played on the Oud.
Damian and Colin arrive from their journey eager to meet Husein, join the team, and get to work. However, while the rest of the team waited patiently to film the encounter, Damian and Colin were greeted by a station agent who aggressively asked them for their passports. The agent was concerned about our filming and photography in the station. Damian and Colin were stunned speechless and didn’t respond. Marc graciously closed in to inoculate the assertion that we were doing anything incendiary. But to calm any concerns, the “meeting” point had to be moved to a place where the station agent did not mind our meeting.
Later we joined Salim, art project coordinator of the nonprofit “Love Without Borders – For Refugees in Need,” and local musician Bobby, of New York City.
Salim, from Syria, works on compiling works of art by refugees for art shows in the United States, supporting refugee artist by giving them international exposure. Later that night he told us his story. He was happy as a successful businessperson with a greeting card company in Syria. Now, the town where he grew up is gone. Here in Athens, its hard for him to support himself, much less find a legal place in the world. But he is using his skills and intelligence in any way he can to help his fellow refugees. Thanks to him, an art show was occurring in San Francisco as we spoke, including works by Husein and other refugee artists, giving them some economic reprieve.
Bobby, as an American of Greek ancestry, had expatriated to Greece to learn more about a genre of traditional music called Rebetica. Rebetica is a bit like American blues, and other subcultural music around the world in that it originated in the late 19th century, which was a time of rapid urban expansion and war in Greece. Generations of disenfranchised people from the countryside were crowding into the cities looking for better lives.
The music is intricate and dark, despite the light folkloric sounds of the instruments used, such as the Bazouki, and a guitar tuned a half step down. We decided to go to Exarcheia to visit a tavern known for this kind of music, and off we went. We found the restaurant, a cellar decorated with old photographs of famous poets and musicians. Some of them would have been considered criminals, as this kind of songwriting was at one point brutally censored during the Metaxas dictatorship in the late 1930s, because of its roots in the Ottoman Empire.
At the restaurant, we sat next to the musicians, who all crowded around a table and sang, absorbed in their instruments. The place was crowded with people young and old, who came to partake in this very social music, and the bar, in the middle of the anarchist district in Greece, had an air of humanism and revolution. The atmosphere felt like a Trova bar in Chile, with the lyrics of poets sung so heartfully that all that matters is what they meant, not how they sounded. Husein and Salim were almost able to sing along; the eastern scale was so much like the one they were accustomed to in music. We left feeling like we were all part of something bigger than ourselves.