A Cypriot band officially launches an album this week but it has already taken the rest of the world by storm says ALIX NORMAN
While I’m interviewing Antonis Antoniou he’s accosted by three friends. We’re sitting on Ledra Street at a local café and the three bounce up to our table. “Listen to my ringtone!” grins one, brandishing his mobile phone, “go on, call me!” Somebody else obliges, and a catchy tune fills the air. Antonis laughs, and shyly explains his friends’ enthusiasm: “It’s one of the tracks on the new album, number four I think.”
Antonis is talking of Grippy Grappa, the latest album by the band in which he plays, Monsieur Doumani. For an album which is about to be officially launched, with an event at Axiothea on September 18, the album has already created an astounding buzz. And we’re not talking about people using the songs as their featured ringtone – oh no, this album of world music has already gone global…
Consisting of three members – Angleos Ionas, Dimitris Yasemides and Antonis himself – Monsieur Doumani has been playing together for almost two years, brought together by their love of traditional music. “All three of us had collaborated on a number of projects before,” says Antonis, “but we formed Monsieur Doumani – which translates as Mr Smoky – with the idea of rediscovering and reinventing our musical selves. As a band, we want to talk about the problems people face, and write music that unites the Cypriots of today – and then the rest of the world. It’s global music in a local sense!” With their musical emphasis on reworking the traditional music of Cyprus, the band has found a niche: “We were brought up listening to this music, these sounds,” Antonis explains. “It’s in our heritage and embedded in our bodies.”
The songs on Grippy Grappa – a name coined during the group’s visit to Italy – consist of a mixture of original works and a reworking of traditional folk songs. “Basically we change the original songs to make them more accessible to the modern world,” Antonis continues. “We deconstruct the music, play with the different elements, changing the rhythm, the tempo or the harmony.” What remains is still very much recognisable, but with a twist, an added edge: “By bringing our aesthetic to traditional music, we’re allowing a new generation to appreciate the music of our ancestors.,” he explains. “They say ‘I know this song, it’s familiar but there’s something a bit different about it’, and this style seems to appeal to a lot of people. What we didn’t expect is the huge appeal abroad!” he says.
In this, Monsieur Doumani have surpassed their every expectation: not only have they been invited to numerous concerts abroad, the album reached No 12 on the World Music Network charts in August, has been named Songlines Magazine’s ‘Top of the World’ album and received four stars from the Guardian newspaper. “Every day there’s a request for an interview, a proposal for a gig!” Antonis exclaims. “Our album has been played on the BBC and in America, and we’re getting reviewed all over the world! It triggers something: first people like the music, and then often ask about the words.”
Looking at the English translation of the lyrics, it’s easy to see why there’s such an appeal: amusing, often satirical, many of the songs relate to the current situation in Cyprus. While there’s a variety of musical styles (Number 2 has a surf music style, No 7 a bossa nova beat, and there are elements of jazz, ska and rock throughout) the songs themselves frequently parody events affecting the people of the island: “Number 9, talks about the financial crisis,” Antonis says. “It’s humorous, very satirical. It’s about a young Cypriot guy – he’s borrowed money to buy a big house, a nice car, he’s a social climber… and then the crisis comes!”
Grippy Grappa was produced completely by the band too, in Antonis’ home studio. “Even the cover artwork was donated by famed printmaker Hambis Tsangaris.” Having faced “quite a lot of rejection” from the established sponsorship channels, Monsieur Doumani has created, mixed and produced the album entirely without financial aid. And now they’ve gone global. Don’t miss the chance to catch the official launch of Grippy Grappa this week – who knows which song could be your next ringtone!
Grippy Grappa launch
Monsieur Doumani are officially launching their album Grippy Grappa on September 18 at 8.30 pm at Axiothea in Nicosia, featuring special guest MaroullaConstantinou. For more information and reservations call 22 894 531-2.
Tickets cost €10, €5 for students. The album costs €10 and is available for sale through the band’s website www.monsieurdoumani.com, at Kala Kathoumena, New Division, Kafenion 11 and also through Amazon.com and iTunes.