From 21 to 23 October, Thessaloniki was tinged with music. The city welcomes accordion lovers for the Reedblocks Thessaloniki Accordion Festival for the fifth year in a row. The program was full of events that saw workshops, conferences and concerts. The accordion met the voice and the music of the duet Klemen and Maria Leben, the cine-concert with Pascal Contet’s improvisations and the traditional folk music from Southern Italy with the Encardia band.
And it’s just the last group I met for my interview, specifically Vangelis Papageorgiou, one of the group founders. He guided me through the band’s history with his kindness and radiance. A magic “trip” that shows me the deep tradition of Southern Italy, to which I’m very bonded.
How was the Encardia born?
Our group was born first in our mind, in our soul. When I was 7 years old, I met my aunt Gia, that lived in a little village close to Avellino in Italy. I heard some Italian songs, such as “Bella Ciao” and “Bandiera Rossa”, and I found the voice stunning. From that moment, my love for Italian music started, a love that continues in my life. As a student, I played “Kalinitta”, a song from southern Italy, with a group here in Greece.
After my study in musicology here in Thessaloniki, I went to Hanover for 6 years to study accordion.
I created a duo in German with a famous greek Mezzo-Soprano, Theodora Baka. We played Greek music using the accordion and the voice, and, in the last part of our project, we started performing Southern Italian music.
When I returned to Greece after Germany, I didn’t know anything and no one because of many years abroad. Initially, it was very difficult, but this time I met Kostas Konstatatos.
In 1993, he was a painter in a church in South Italy, and there he heard traditional music for the first and thought to create a group in Greece inspired by this sound. When we met, he had a group that was not so successful, and I spoke with him, explaining my dream and my idea. After one year of the creation of his group, this one dissolved. He called me to say: “Let’s do the group!”.
Officially the group started in 2004.
We met Anastasia Doulfi, our first singer and the guitarist Michális Kontaxákis. Michalis won a classic competition in Valencia in 2005.
From 2006 collaborates with us the double bass player Dimítris Tsekoúras.
Anastasia, after some years, left the group and in 2012 arrived, our current singer Natalía Kotsáni.
We have two dancers from the beginning: Konstantína Kalkáni and Gianna Chamaleli.
During the last 10 years, we have added researching sound, academic musical structure and theatrical interpretation.
What is the meaning of “Encardia”?
Kostas Konstatatos found the name of the group. One day, he opened the Latin dictionary and saw the word Encardia. The meaning in Latin is “unknown precious stone”, but the noun came from Greek: “en” is the preposition, and “Cardia” means heart, but also the soul. So, Encardia means the stone somebody has in the heart to protect, to take care.
You present melodies and songs from the rich musical traditions of Southern Italy, especially from Grecia Salentina, an area in the peninsula of Salento (Southern Italy). A greek minority community inhabits this part, Griko people that speak Griko, a Greek variant. In Italy, traditions and musical heritage from this zone are very felt. How do you think this tradition influenced Greece and Italian folk music?
Historically, Southern Italy and Greece belong to the same empire (Magna Grecia), and from this moment, our similarity began. When we went to Southern Italy, we realised that people are like us, as friends, brothers and sisters. We felt like a single community. I think that dialect sounds more in heart than in logic. When you listen to the dialect from Italy, surprisingly, you understand some words, and you can also understand the meaning. This process, for me, is guided by the heart. It’s the heart that guides you to understand the dialect.
What is the main topic of the lyric of the song you perform?
Love, work, immigration and social feelings. The topic is the meaning of people living in poor conditions, who lost people in other countries or during the war, who went abroad to find a job, and who love someone.
The thing that moves music from Southern Italy is the story and culture of Tarantismo. It was something dark that no one wanted to speak about it. Basically, it was the story of a girl bit by a spider called Taranta. After this bite, the girl had a sort of hysteria, and the only thing that helped her to be healthy was the music.
The spider represents the social problems of women, and the only way for them to express it was the scream, their voice.
You cooperated with the most important representatives of Southern Italian music traditions, such as Roberto Licci, Giovanni Avantaggiato, Enzo Pagliaro, and others. Among them, there is also Daniele Durante, art director of Notte della Taranta, the most famous traditional folk festival in Italy that take place in Melpignano based in Grecia Salentina. Unfortunately, Daniele Durante died in 2021. What was your relationship with the artist and one of your best memories?
We met him the first time in Salento when he was the leader of the folk group “Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino”. He told us: “In Italy, many traditional musicians that play pizzica and tarantelle say that they have grandfathers who teach them the real pizzica, and everyone wants to be the best at this type of music. You, Encardia, took the Greek and the Romanian dialect, mixed them up together, and with your artistic heritage, you made the perfect song Santu Paulu”. It was unbelievable for us!
We recorded his words in our documentary “Encardia – La pietra che balla”.
We also played in Lecce some years ago, and he said in the auditorium: “This is a group from Greece who knows the music of South Italy better than I know”. Of course, it’s not true for us, but it was a big honour.