Sophia Bilides

 

"Greek Legacy"

E. Thomas

 ETD  101

     Total Time - 49:36   

As the daughter of a Greek Father and an Italian Mother, it would seem the old Greco-Roman Heritage & tradition is alive & well and living on the East coast. Apparently it also occasionally gets taken on the road. I first came across Sophia Bilides when I somehow happened to wander into her Web Site about a year ago. I have to admit I was at once both intrigued as well as a bit skeptical.The thought of an American vocalist trying to recreate the old Smyerniac materiel did a bit more then just raise an eyebrow or two. As we mentioned in the Introduction for the "Review" section, Rebetiko fans are a VERY "testy" group. So when I came across this Web Site that listed Ms. Bilides credits and particularly a repertoire, that includes everything from the old Pre-Rebetic Smyrnakia to Cole Porter, I couldn't help but think .... "Great, Just what I need, another upscale East Coast Academically trained female vocalist (out of "Banned in Boston" no less), who for some mysterious reason has the unmitigated audacity to think she can somehow actually interpret the Classic "Golden Oldies" of an Eskenazy, Ambatsi, Marika Papagika etc". I was dead certain, that this CD was probably going to sound about as exciting and authentic as a "Special Circumstances" Undergraduate Grade Point Average! It put me into a very irredentist frame of mind, that inspired thoughts of "Please somebody just shoot me, then bury me under the site of the old Chicago "Athens on Rush" Bouzouxidiko". However as mentioned, I was also somewhat intrigued as well as curious. So a few weeks ago during a moment of weakness (I have a lot of those) I impulsively clicked on over to a Web Site that sells this CD and immediately proceeded to do no little damage, to the old Visa card. Sometimes a little bit of intrigue can be a little bit pricey. Anyway to make a long story short, I thought I would take the infamous Missouri (show me) approach, knowing full well this CD would no doubt prove my somewhat unabashed presumptuous nature 100% correct. After all, what the Hell could a Post-War, second generation, New Age, New World born descendent of the old Diaspora, (who's Paternal Grandparents [pictured in background] just happened to be part of the great Population Exchange in 1923), possibly possess in the way of authentic Old World substance & exotic charm ?  I can now answer that question with a single word. PLENTY !               

From the moment you first hear Sophia, you can't help but be thunderstruck by the very rich Contralto tonality of her voice. It just seemed to grab me right between the ears and say " Sit down, shut up, open your ears and try to learn something Mr. Chicago Hot Shot !". I did!  In fact I was so taken with the sound of her voice after the first few minutes of listening to it thru computer speakers, I immediately ejected the CD from the old "Rebetiko Row" Workstation and proceeded to insert it in what we call around here "The Box".  "The Box" is actually a reference quality Audiophile sound system, that (among other things) consists of a pair of 8 year old (I've yet to find better) Apogee Stage Signature transducers driven by a Bi-wired 400 watt per channel amp. They are notoriously accurate in the reproduction of the human voice and probably because of that fact, are presently having a Madcap & torrid Mediterranean love affair with the good Ms Bilides. You lucky girl! These Dipole transducers each utilize a set of full range "Ribbon" drivers to reproduce and facilitate the most uniform dispersion characteristics, thru-out the widest possible frequency range. The net effect of all this Audiophile techno-speak Mumbo-Jumbo, is that these speakers will practically always give the listener an uncannily realistic approximation of how someone might actually sound, were you to hear them live and in person. In other words they can be and usually are, brutally revealing. So what do these Hi-Tech Hi-Fi contraptions reveal in the case of the good Ms Sophia Bilides?  Simply that her vocal presentation is exceptional and absorbing, to the point of becoming addictive. One certainly does not need anything approaching the exotic nature of an Audiophile setup in order to appreciate this CD either. Sophia sounds pretty damn good on just about anything you might have at you disposal. Including those "Such a deal" cheapo PC speakers you just bought on sale at the local "Office Max" next door to the Mall. However there is no getting away from it, the better the system the more engrossing will be her performance. That is not exactly always the case. Very often an "Artist" will sound ingratiating enough on an average system, but the moment you take the media a bit up the scale so to speak, certain details may be revealed, that probably would have been better left unheard. Definitely not the case here. The better your system, the more impressive Sophia becomes.  

There are 12 numbers on "Greek Legacy", which represent everything from  Symrnakia to old Amanedes, along with a few I would categorize more as Dimotiki. Anyone who has ever attended a Greek affair such as a Wedding reception or even an Orthodox Church festival, will immediately recognize a few of these tracks. What was especially interesting for me in this regard, was that listening to Bilides interpret these old stand-by's, was almost as if I were hearing them for the first time. That's not exactly something that happens every day. Especially with this kind of music. What I also thought interesting was her interpretative style, that seems less an imitation of the old Smyernaic artists, then a personal approach she has adapted to try make these songs just as much her own. Nevertheless, she is clearly influenced by such Artists such as Roza Eskenazi and states as much in the CD's Liner notes. Notes which she herself has taken the time to write and which also include English translations for all the included tracks. High marks for presentation once again. The single track chosen for our "Real Audio" demo, is an upbeat little Smyrnaic ditty, written by the redoubtable Panayiotis Toundas called "Dervisaki".  Below (in blue text) is a brief intro for the track written by Sophia Bilides, followed by an English translation (in purple) of the Lyrics.

"I adapted this Rebetic song, an example of Smyrneic influence on Rebetic style, from a 1931 recording by the Smyrnaic vocalist Andónis Diamandides.  His professional nickname, Dalgas, was derived from dalga, or wave, referring to the virtuosic “waves” in his voice, in this song dálga also refers to waves of emotion. The lyrics deal with two Rebetic pastimes, smoking hashish and gambling, used to soften the harsh realities of outcast life In this case, at the insistent urging of a lady friend, our dervisáki (“dervish,” slang for "hashish-smoker" ) vows to give up his vices".

 Dervisáki 

(Dervish)

 

My dervisáki, won’t you stop smoking the  dalmira.

     Again you want to get stoned and take it all out on me

               Amán, dervisáki, again you break dalga (escape your blues ),

 

Amán, dervisáki, don’t smoke the black stuff

That’s what I want, to smoke this worthless dalmira,

Because they’ve taken everything from me in barboüti

           My dervisáki, as long as you play pasetta and barbouti,

           ( gambling games )

           and smoke the dalmira, you’ll never see your fate with me

Aman, dervisáki, again you break dalga.....

       Widow I’ll make the decision, and I’ll give all of this up,

    I’ll throw away the dice and break the smoking bowl .

It was interesting to compare and contrast the Bilides interpretations with various recordings from the originals. Bilides seems more to try and capture a certain spirit of the music, rather then attempt to recreate the performance attributes of the original practitioners. I believe that probably is a very wise approach. Bilides rich Contralto is not exactly reminiscent of a Roza Eskenazy to be sure. Furthermore in the interesting department, it has always seemed (to act me at least) that many of the old Rebetissis of days gone by, did have a certain rudimentary "Bite" to their vocal style. Something I rarely hear in contemporary singers. I had just about come to the conclusion, that this "Bite", may be something of a performance artifact from another Era. However Sophia seems to touch upon this somewhat rarefied area as well.  

All things considered, this CD offers a very rare and refreshingly updated perspective, of a now legendary Ethnic Genre from another Age. I have a sneaking suspicion, that somewhere, both Roza and Rita are sitting around a table with the old Bilides Clan, looking down smiling and wildly applauding this, their collective Legacy. A Legacy that is now embodied and best expressed in this dark haired, dark eyed stunningly beautiful Brunette with a Golden tone. A Legacy that is not only theirs, but for more then a few of us, also our own.  

  Visit Sophia's Web Site by clicking on photo