It’s been 15 years since Marios Papadeas was last in Melbourne, playing with Apodimi Kompania. In the meantime, the santouri virtuoso has continued to broaden his CV, playing alongside some of the most important artists of Greek and international music, from traditional masters Domna Samiou, Nikos Saragoudas and Yorgos Koros, to contemporary Greek artists like Glykeria, Loukianos Kilaidonis and Ilias Andriopoulos, to world music legends such as Gerardo Nunez, Bob Brozman and Louisiana Red.
An ambassador of Greek santouri, he has performed in festivals in Australia, Switzerland, Hungary, Slovakia, France, and Austria, and also in Iran, where the santoor is one of the national instruments.
“I was shocked, because I saw that they are doing a very serious work, they really study their music.”
By comparison, Greece is failing.
“We don’t allow room for people who are really involved with Greek culture and the arts in general,” he says.
Not that this has deterred him in his quest to master the santouri. An avid windsurfer, he says that to him, the instrument is not unlike “a surfboard; I travel the world on it”.
As for his approach to traditional music, he describes it as “an effort to open a door, through my research on the songs of Smyrna and Minor Asia and Constantinople. I don’t think of myself as a traditional musician”.
Papadeas’ musical trajectory started pretty much when he was a toddler. “I cannot remember my life without music,” he says. He started piano lessons at the age of four, when he made his debut singing in an album of children songs written by his father, Nikos Papadeas. Father and son, alongside Marios’ brother Dimitris subsequently formed pop groups, but it was when he was 7 years old that he saw a santouri on a TV program.
“I understood immediately that this is the instrument for me, because it combined the piano with the drums,” he says.
Ever since, he discovered a world of music, math and healing, studying at the National Conservatorium of Athens, and taught by an enlightened teacher, virtuoso percussionist Tassos Diakogiorgis.
“He was not just a musician he was a philosopher, who taught me the meaning of music.”
The other person who influenced his trajectory was his great-grandmother.
“She knew a lot of songs, Greek songs and Turkish. I remember listening to her sing and absorbing this energy coming from this material that had been all but erased from discography.”
He is referring to the musical style which stemmed from Smyrna and Constantinople and which had abruptly stopped being played in both sides of the Aegean, in an attempt to ‘westernise’ the Greek population.
“The Metaxas dictatorship in the 1930s banned all oriental-sounding music,” he says.
At the same time, the emergence of the Piraeus rebetiko, with its simpler forms, replaced the complex Asia Minor music, which combined elements of Greek, Turkish and Arab traditions, with classical music, as the bouzouki replaced the santouri-violin combination as the dominant instrument of folk music.
“We are lucky to have the first music recordings, which preserved the last days of this tradition,” he says.
Does this mean that Greeks have a distorted view of their own musical tradition? “Certainly,” he says. “We are educated to be uneducated. Our festivities have nothing to do with plate breaking and all this degeneration. It starts as introspection which then becomes an outward expression.”
So, what is his message to those interested in going to one of his performances?
“Just let go and listen to their own soul, through these old sounds and old frequencies. These things never change”.
Marios Papadeas plays at the Greek Centre of Contemporary Culture (168 Lonsdale St, Melbourne, VIC) on Friday 15 June, and at various other venues around Melbourne.