Last Friday we went to see Savina Yannatou, who I’ve blogged about before. She and her band Primavera en Salonico played for two nights in a small club in Nea Smyrni, and we were lucky enough to get the centre front table, right under her while she sang. When she came out for an encore at the end of the night, M., who had seen her perform before, asked her to sing a particular Greek folk song (Γιάννη μου το μαντήλι σου) that she does in Chinese style. Yannatou looked around at the band and said they didn’t have the violin they need for the song, as well as some percussion instrument whose name I didn’t catch. M. told her she had the only instrument she, or any of us, needed: her voice. So she sang it.
She did it in a high-pitch nasally voice, and the band also gave it a Chinese sound. Two things that struck me, and continue to strike me:
1. My first reaction, although there was nothing funny or humorous about the performance, was to laugh. Rather, I wanted to laugh, but managed to control it. I have read that an essential element of humour is the unexpected, and I think sometimes we laugh once this prerequisite is satisfied, even if it’s not funny. We laugh out of shock.
(I remember once, when we were 14, G. and I were singing “A Day in the Life” in the music room at school. He was at the piano, I was on the guitar, and we were taping it. After the words “Somebody spoke and I went into a dream” he and I sang the melody differently, by accident, and the result was a harmony so surprisingly good that every time we played the tape back, I would burst out laughing at the sound of it.)
2. The lyrics and fundamental melody of the Yannatou performance were familiar enough that they had all the usual evocations of time and place, all the things that could make a song — especially a familiar one — moving. But at the same time, it was foreign, a kind of music I cannot really relate to. I don’t have nearly as many of those associations, but there were just enough for me to feel that a window had opened up onto another culture, even another life. I could imagine being Chinese, that the lyrics were Chinese, and that the melody was Chinese. It was as if I were being moved by the familiarity of something which is, in fact, utterly foreign to me.