Greeks’ New Goddess of Dance”
By Athena Vorillas
NEW YORK – Greek New Yorkers were pleasantly surprised this year when for the first time, one of Greece’s top pop star, Despina Vandi could be heard on New York City’s radio dial. Did we hear what we thought we just heard? Was that a Greek song playing on WKTU? Could it be?
Many probably took a double-take. Perhaps it was one of the local Greek radio stations. No, it was WKTU-FM 103.5. Indeed, one of our own had made it to the playlist of New York City’s top-rated rhythmic music station. The song, “Gia,” by Despina Vandi had made it to #1, making it the top requested song four weeks in a row.
The track’s popularity was enough to have the stations programmers invite Vandi to their popular annual summer Beatstock concerts to perform alongside well-known dance artists, TKA, Judy Torres, Mynt, Grand Master Flash and Cynthia.
We have been playing “Gia” for over a year now and it is a huge record for all of the KTU audience,” said WKTU-FM’s Program Director, Jeff Z. “The Greek Americans in the tri-state area are big KTU fans and it feels good to give them an artist that in Greece is a huge star.”
“It’s time to embrace the Greeks’ new Goddess of Dance,” wrote New York DJ, Joey Rivaldo, in the February issue of U.S. Dance Magazine. “If there is ever a dance song to crossover to radio right now this is the one. It’s full of all elements of a true Greek song as it keeps its original elements of Greek culture that makes this track unique and special.”
More than 30,000 of KTUs two million weekly listeners are expected to attend the Beatstock 2004 concerts on August 21st at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, New Jersey and on August 22nd at the Tommy Hilfiger at Jones Beach Theatre in Wantagh, N.Y.
It is great for a station like KTU to be able to play songs in other languages. It makes us more diverse and brings new sound and excitement to our listeners,” said Jeff Z.
Joey Rivaldo, who scans the Greek charts for new music, plans on reviewing “Opa Opa” — currently being played on KTU as well — for the September issue of U.S. Dance Magazine. “The beat gets the girls going, and in turn that gets the guys going,” said Rivaldo in a telephone interview.
Jeff Z agrees. “The response to Vandi’s track has been positive. The song has a great hook and makes you want to get up and dance.”
The popular men’s portal Askmen.com (that boasts a 5 million a month readership) recently profiled Vandi in their weekly “Singer of the Week” feature noting that they “like her” because “even though she’s achieved international success, Despina Vandi continues to live and work in Greece, and we admire a girl who appreciates her roots.”
“GUARANTEED TO MAKE YOU FEEL GOOD”
Summer in New York City could be brutal: hot, steamy, and, yes, often stinky. But on recent walk downtown on Bowery Street, I was met with the cool voices of Andreas Andreatos, Melina Kana, Pantelis Thalasinos and Anastasia Moutsatsou. The melodies helped transport me – albeit briefly – to the quaint neighborhood of Psiri, where the breeze of meze-scented and music-filled boites overflows onto the cobblestone streets.
I walk in and scan the place that is playing Greek entexno or “artsy” music. It’s a funky bar, with an even funkier crowd, Mojitos, and Caipirinhas.
I’m attending the Putumayo World Music launch party for one of their latest ompilations: “Greece: A Musical Odyssey.” The world-renowned recording company — easily recognized by their unique CD cover designs – now offers dedicated world music fans a selection of contemporary Greek entexna or art-folk music.
The party is unlike any other Greek CD launch party. Not that there have been many in downtown New York City. Close to 500 multi-ethnic Putumayo fans — clearly part of New York City’s happening music scene — filled the two-level Manhattan bar and lounge (the emission of the n is intentional) on Manhattan’s lower East Side. The crowd — that also included models, journalists and music producers — seemed to enjoy the music while nibbling on hors d’oeuvres a la Grëcque and hanging with friends.
Dan Storper established Putumayo World Music in 1993 to introduce people to the music of other cultures. The label has since become known primarily for its upbeat and melodic compilations of international music that are “guaranteed to make you feel good.”
“We sent our VP of Artist & Repertoire and Product Development, Jacob Edgar to Greece in search of new tracks to be included on the CD,” said Storper. “We then sat in a room with a couple of colleagues and picked the ones we liked.”
“Greece: A Musical Odyssey” includes 12 tracks including “To Parelthon Thimithika” by Apenanti with Melina Aslanidou; “Eleni,” by Kostas Mantzios; “Pino, Pino,” by Anastasia Moutsatsou, “Sou Axize Mia Kaliteri Agalia,” by George Dalaras and a rendition of “Ragizi Apopse,” by a new group out of Seattle, Washington, Children of the Revolution.
I squeeze my way to the bar to get a drink when I hear Greek being spoken by the people also trying to get a drink next to me.
Hara, Dionysus and Elena – Greek college students – are enjoying the event and the music. I sit with them for a while and listen as they discuss the lack of promotion — on Greece’s part — of quality Greek music.
“My mother works for the GNTO,” says a slightly-charged Elena. “And yet, I heard about this event through Hara.” Hara found out about it when she saw a poster in a downtown boutique that sells items from Tibet and Morocco.
“It’s great to be able to listen to something other than Anna Vissi,” she continues. “Ultimately, non-Greeks are the ones that promote Greek music.”
I thank them for their time and continue to mingle. I bump into Anthoula Katsimatidis, former aide to Governor George Pataki, who is there with her dance group – Akrites — that will perform at the event. My friend and I take an inside stairway that leads to a lower level. The vibe here changes instantly. DJ Nightshade is spinning some of the hottest pop Greek music. The walls and ceiling pound with Vissi, Vandi …
This is like Greece!” says my friend with excitement, referring to Athens’ nightlife she came to know this past summer. We stay for a bit and then return to the entexno music upstairs. “I had no idea Greek music had so many forms,” she says in wonderment.
Leandro Herbstein, Putumayo’s publicity manager, slips her a sample of their latest Greek CD.
The following weekend I hear songs from the CD playing in her Woodstock kitchen as she bakes blueberry pie. A few days later, at Empire, a gourmet coffee shop in Hoboken, New Jersey, I hear “Arnisi” by Melina Kana. Atop a sack of aromatic coffee beans, is the artistic and colorful Putumayo CD “Greece: A Musical Odyssey.”
“Congratulations on winning the Euro 2004” says the svelte blond woman behind the counter. A woman who knows about champion Greek soccer, I thought, and, Greek music.
For more information on Putumayo and “Greece: A Musical Odyssey, visit
www.putumayo.com. To attend a Putumayo World Music event, send an email to
Copyright Athena Vorillas
Athena Vorillas is a New York and Athens-based journalist and media consultant who has worked with NBC Olympics, The New York Times and Antenna Satellite Television and Radio.