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Without refugee flood during the world wars, people would not have known Einstein and Gershwin

05 November 2015 / 17:11:56  GRReporter
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World famous Bulgarian musician Theodosii Spassov visited Athens on occasion of the opening of the 11th World Meeting of Bulgarian Media. For the Bulgarian kaval virtuoso this is one of his numerous visits to Greece, where he has worked with famous musicians such as Dionisis Savopoulos and Vasilis Papakonstantinou.

In an interview with GRReporter he is speaking of his first appearances on the Greek stage, the interactions between the musical traditions of the Balkan countries, the globality of music, calling for a humane attitude to refugees arriving in Europe.

Maria S. Topalova and Anastasia Balezdrova talked with Theodosii Spassov.

Mr. Spassov, when did you start working with Greek musicians? Have you collaborated with some of them?

In the mid 1980s, maybe in 1985, we started to come to Greece, touring with my student band "Jazz Line", which no longer exists. Then it involved Veselin Koychev (guitar), Docho Panov (bass guitar), Radul Nachkov (drums) and singer Yildiz Ibrahimova. We had dozens of concerts here in Greece, both outdoors and in halls, including joint appearances with a Greek band named "Spark". One of the performers was American, and the others were Greeks. We shared the concerts with them. I remember that even then we had fans travelling with us. They liked us that much.

They began to ask me if I had heard about Jethro Tull and Ian Anderson. I replied that I had not, and they told me that I was playing like him. They gave me tapes to listen to some recordings for the first time and I found out that the Bulgarian tradition had very much in common with the music of Jethro Tull and Ian Anderson, who sings playing. This is something that is with us.

I have many pleasant memories. I was only 25 years old. In the 1990s, I started working more actively. I received an invitation to participate in a festival for solo instruments, together with colleagues from Romania and other Balkan countries. Famous Greek musician Dionisis Savopoulos was there too, we met and liked each other. He asked me to play something from his repertoire and thus I started playing in his projects as a special guest. I can say that I know Greece thanks to Dionisis Savopoulos and the concerts. I know how beautiful Greece is and what places it has. While working with him I made joint appearances with Vassilis Papakonstantinou. I met with many Greek musicians and together with the bassist in Dionisis’s band, Costas Theodorou we organized the release of an album that included jazz and Balkan ethno music. We invited about 15 Greek musicians who worked in this direction. The name of the album is "Echotopia". My presence here somehow had some impact and impressed those people who were engaged in mixing genres, styles and influences in music.

Does music connect us in the Balkans?

Yes, it does. I organize The Yellow Cobbles festival at the Theatre of the Bulgarian Army. Its second edition took place this year under the title "The Spanish influence in world jazz music." My colleague Lubomir Denev was at the festival and when I met him later, he told me that he liked it very much. He said that if you sink into music in remote times, you will feel that it is the same for all nations, for all human beings. It has common roots somewhere.

Do you think that cooperation in the field of music is enough in the Balkans?

I think there is no cooperation, not only in music but also in general. For years, global political interests have divided us. Much more is known about the West or Northeast than about us in the Balkans. We need to meet again and become truly close as we are destined to be, because long before these processes in the 19th and 20th century, things were much closer between our peoples.

In view of your significant experience in working with Greek musicians, can we talk about some specific characteristics of Greek jazz? Is it distinguished for something, or should be talk instead about Balkan jazz that brings something to the world stage, or are we too far away from modern jazz trends in general?

To be fair we must first note that each country has its own character in music and at the same time, common grounds with other countries. For example, if you analyze Greece in terms of geography, the influences are Mediterranean, island, even African. The closer you go north to the border, the more Thracian and mountainous the land becomes, which happens in Bulgaria too. The music in Romania carries the whiff of the north and in the south part of the country, the music is close to the music of Dobrudzha, the northern music of Bulgaria.

We are in the centre. We have the chance to feel all these differences close to us. Musicians from our neighbouring countries are of the opinion that music in Bulgaria has developed well and the state has had a very serious attitude towards our national music school and culture. We have two types of music schools. One type is for national culture frim which I graduated. There are such schools in Kotel, Shiroka Laka, Pleven. Our system is a mix of European musical culture and Bulgarian national culture, with Balkan influences, of course. The other school is for Western classical music with influences from Russia, Germany, Italy and some from France. It is no coincidence that our musicians who have been seriously engaged in improving their skills often can be seen as concertmasters of symphony orchestras throughout the world. We have a very valuable Academy of Music and Dance in Plovdiv. There are no such musical institutions in Bulgaria’s neighbouring countries and not much attention has been paid to this issue. Trends reminiscent of our system are yet to be seen, including in Turkey.

What is the future of jazz?

Jazz is the most open, the most liberal music. It is always alive. Jazz perceives and accepts all that is alive and develops precisely under those laws. Every jazz conservative falls in the category of museum workers and the others remain in the living life. In recent years, there have been a lot of impacts of world music in jazz. There are African and Spanish influences, there was Indian years ago, and Balkan now. This is very nice. It gives life and somehow a global perspective, which we need now to become close with people of other cultures and other nationalities.

Who is your favourite musician outside of jazz?

Oh, there are many. I listen to a lot of, and varied, music, and often change directions to keep the interest. I have many favourites, I am full of favourites. There are such geniuses in the world that a lifetime will not be enough to listen to all this music.

We see that the refugee flood to Europe has sparked different reactions in local communities. Some accept refugees with good feelings while others are more conservative and fear that their arrival will change their way of life. Do you think music can help towards rapprochement and how could it predetermine a common way of life?

If there had been no refugee flood during World War I and II, we would not have heard of Einstein, Gershwin and many others in different areas.

It is seen as something dangerous by those who are conservative and want to keep the world, as they know it. But with a good organization everything could seem orderly and proper. Were refugee floods during the two world wars smaller? How many millions migrated due to the mass extermination of millions of people at that time? These are processes of war. Unfortunately, it exists. And we should not keep silent about it but react adequately, as we would in wartime. To organize everything and to give the chance of life to those who need to be saved. We should rescue people in distress and liquidate this situation of war. The sooner the better.


Tags: Music Theodosii Spassov11th World Meeting of Bulgarian Media in AthensJazzMusic interactionsRefugee flood
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