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Monsieur Doumani: Grippy Grappa

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Monsieur-Doumani-Grippy-Grappa-fnlWhile most of the world has heard of the celebrated Cyprus-born pianist Nicolas Economou, perhaps not too much of it would have heard of Angelos Ionas, Demetris Yiasemides and Antonis Antoniou. But the world is about to get to know these supremely talented musicians from Nicosia. These are members of the superb trio who call themselves Monsieur Doumani. The name they go by is a reflection of the wickedly humorous irony that pervades throughout their music. The three musicians are something of a revolutionary band. They are politically aware which might not be a rarity in Cyprus, but they make no bones about that fact. And that is rare in an island that does not brook non-conformity. Still, the group of musicians is unafraid of either the stasis that grips most Mediterranean societies or censure. But they are clever as well. Their unique brand of protest is communicated through exquisitely intellectual music that is recreated from the folk songs and poetry of Cyprus. Thus their music has romantic allusions, but is concrete in metaphor and is dripping with sardonic humor. If this seems like minstrelsy that is a touch Provençal it is because it is probably true that some of this fascinating Occitan culture might have crept in from the Cypriot Diaspora spread into the region.

Remarkably the music is played sans regular rhythm instruments such as the piano, bass and drums. But this is because Monsieur Doumani is deeply influenced by traditional folk ensembles that combine flutes with tzouras. The flutes are still there in their repertoire, but the group have added the trombone, that gives the music a somewhat forlorn slant soaking in distinctive colours and timbre. The addition of the guitar adds colour and a sense of dashing rhythmic flair to the music. This music has been recomposed based on old folk tunes. It is naturally story-like and features wildly interesting characters that seem drawn out from films by Federico Fellini. It is this aspect of the music’s personality that gives it a magnificent burnished character. The neo-classicism aspect of the music is revealed in the interesting call-and-response from one vocalist to the other or from vocalist to instrument. This is typically Cypriot and is what the classicists would have called “tshiatísta” or “spite (song) competitions”. However this form has been stood on its head because of the unique counterpoint in the vocal arrangements and in the vocal-instrumentation relationships as well. No wonder the group is catching the eye of all of Europe already.

The music of “The Forest Ranger,” “Dark Beauty from Morfou” and the plaintive “Wedding Song” are extraordinary by any standards. The vocalists, quite aware of the freedom of the jazz idiom, inform their music with an impulse for tonal inflection and rhythmic elasticity combined with the deportment of great singing actors. That is often combined with the trombone and other bass-inclined winds that provide these concrete vocalisations with an unshakeable force of nature. Elsewhere what begins with a kind of folksy chaos: muffled vocal cries and whispers soon meanders inevitably and urgently towards the anchoring tonality of guitar and flutes. And the witticisms of “My Baggy Trousers” is edifying. If this album is any indication there is no telling where Monsieur Doumani will go and the heights they might scale in their forthcoming album.

Track List: The Forest Ranger; Woman from Tyllria; Syrtos Mavrommatis; Out-of-touch Guy; I Tossed An Apple; The System; Kofto Zeibkiko; Dark Beauty from Morfou; Young Upwardly-mobile Professional; My Baggy Trousers; Cypriot Sousta; Tsiakkara Makkara; Wedding Procession Song

Personnel: Angelos Ionas: guitar and vocals; Demetris Yiasemides: winds; Antonis Antoniou: tzouras and vocals; Maroulla Konstantintinou: vocals (9); A. Antoniou: electronics; Symis Soukiouroglou: clarinet and background vocals (9); Demetris Aristidou: background vocals (9); Efthymia Alphas: background vocals (9)

Label: Independent | Release date: July 2013

Website: monsieurdoumani.com | Buy music on: amazon

About Monsieur Doumani

Monsieur Doumani, nominated for ‘Best Newcomer’ in Songlines Music Awards 2014, was formed in 2011 in Nicosia by Antonis Antoniou (tzouras), Angelos Ionas (guitar) and Demetris Yiasemides (wind instruments). Although each member of Monsieur Doumani comes from a different musical background all three are influenced by Cypriot folklore on various levels. They focus on rearranging Cypriot traditional songs adding their own particular color to the sound and feeling of the songs. They also compose their own songs in the Cypriot dialect, which are inspired by contemporary Cypriot society, as for example the recent financial crisis that hit the island and the corrupted political system. Read more…

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