Music & Sounds Around Aristotelous Central Square
Greece is having a hard time deciding if it really belongs to the west or the east and some say that is the root of the country’s current financial distress.
Thessaloniki in particular, is such an example of diverse identity formed both by strong western and eastern influences. A city of refugees from Asia Minor, after the 1923 population exchange between Greece and Turkey and Jewish refugees as well, centuries before that. The city of Thessaloniki has changed over the last three decades, and with it whole neighborhoods that some will remember were totally different during the 70ies.
In these old regional neighborhoods, the refugees fled after the Asia Minor catastrophe, and later came the refugees of World War I, the second wave as the elderly used to say. This war brought the first wave of refugees from the west and east coasts of Turkey and Thrace in 1914, when 150,000 refugees arrived in Greece. However troubling that number seems, they always managed to make it through, to survive as well as to adapt.
Furthermore, that city has been a pathway for traders through all of its history. Combining all the different cultures, Jews, Muslims and Greek orthodox Christians, Thessaloniki was indeed a crossroad of religions and a case study of peaceful coexistence up until World War II.
Like in almost every field, the same goes in music. Trade didn’t only have to do with products like herbs and spice, coffee varieties, flavors or clothing but also sounds. Combining those sounds made a great mix. It is balkan, it is folk, it is rock, it is rebetiko, it is sometimes Italian, it is all and none and has the mix of every culture that had an impact on the city.
Being a musician myself I always was curious on the music, the history, the origins and the combinations. And truth is this city never ceased to amaze me. The other day we decided to go and check out this traditional tavern which we’ve never been, in the Kapani, this traditional market, almost 100 years old, in the heart of Thessaloniki, named after the Turkish “Un-Kapan” which means “flour market”.
We walked through this beautiful complex of paved roads with two stories high buildings around it, which houses shops and a flea market in the morning where you can find spices, cheese, coffee varieties, fish, meat and even clothes but when the night falls, the store fronts suddenly become small traditional taverns. When we found the place we were looking for, we sat down and noticed there was a band setting up to perform. When they started playing it was like nothing I have ever heard before. It was like traditional music met jazz, a mixture of oriental sounds, the influence of the eastern tradition was obvious, but the influence of the Western canon was obvious as well.
Thessaloniki has a huge music culture. Known amongst Greek people as a “student city” it currently has about 100.000 students, one tenth of its population, a figure that keeps the nightlife exciting and the city always refreshing. There are so many bands and so many bars and taverns that few musical tastes will be left unsatisfied. There is, almost literally, a place for every liking and every taste. The small roads in and about the city center are full of small beautiful bars, traditional and modern taverns.
There are tons of breathtaking music & sounds around Aristotelous Central Square. Not only that, but there are places like Bit Bazar, a small square surrounded by buildings, which houses open taverns and on a Saturday night is fully packed with young people, students most of them, where all have such a fantastic time they could never forget. This used to be the place where all the old tobacco shops were and there are still some left.
Passing through there you can see the fronts with all those old items and with a history lost in time. Old pic-ups, cameras, photographs, furniture, little metal boxes and memorabilia in general.
One other really special night we had was this performance that took place in the Ancient Agora, the Roman Forum. It is a field surrounded by pillars located right in the center of the city, just above Aristotelous Central Square. Just as we sat there listening to this euphoric music, gazing in the not so clear night sky above us, it was like I was transferred back in time. When these stones were just cut, shaped and moved to form the baths that stood there centuries ago.
There, on those same rocks people sat and reflected on the meaning of life or what they were going to eat for dinner, or if the Odyssey was a good sequel to Iliad, or if they should learn to read, or maybe write, or if their horse is good for races, or if democracy is overrated and the same rocks where people sat after they closed their shops from the market and some guy was preaching about … anything that used to be of importance in the second century BC.
So maybe Thessaloniki is both east and west, a modern Jerusalem standing in the crossroads of civilization.