Marc Dubin looks back on the lives of two key figures in Greek music – Yiorgos Xylouris and Nikiforos Metaxas – who both died in November
Nikiforos Metaxas, co-ordinator of the groundbreaking Greco-Turkish groups Vosporos and Fanari tis Anatolis, died in November in Istanbul after a long illness. Vosporos’ 1987 vinyl debut, Romioi Synthetes tis Polis, was a revelation for Greeks and Turks alike, spotlighting Orthodox Christian composers of Ottoman court music. The two ensembles toured Greece periodically until 2005, steadily releasing (up to 2013) compelling CDs on both Greek and Turkish labels despite a deteriorating recording industry. His life/musical partner Vassiliki Papageorgiou was the vocalist with Fanari tis Anatolis.
Nikiforos was born on Kefalonia but moved to the then-Rhodesia aged two. Catholic priests at school in the Congo added French to his linguistic repertoire of English and Greek (later complemented by Turkish). He pursued higher education in Ottawa, London, Athens, Thessaloniki, Mount Athos and Istanbul, becoming in the process a competent psáltis (Byzantine chanter) and kanun player.
Since 2008 Nikiforos had devoted himself to creating a cutting-edge rehearsal, concert and recording space in the former Greek girls’ school on Halki (Heybeli), the Turkish island where he and Vassiliki lived; sadly this bi-national project stalled, three-fourths complete, when funding ceased in 2014. Nikiforos chose to be buried on Kefalonia, where he had last stayed as a sword fisherman during the 80s.
Also on November 19, Yiorgos Xylouris – the son of the late Cretan vocalist Nikos Xylouris, and cousin of musician Yiorgos Xylouris (A Family Affair, reviewed in #113) – was killed in November, aged 55, in a road accident just outside Athens. While not a professional musician, Yiorgos was a linchpin of the Greek music scene. His Kokkino (105.5 FM) radio show showcased talented performers and promoted Cretan music; with his mother Ourania, he ran a CD shop in central Athens, and since 2010 a branch of this at the Museum of Popular Greek Instruments in Athens’ Pláka district. Foreign journalists writing about quality Greek music made obligatory pilgrimages to either shop when visiting Athens; courtly Yiorgos was always ready to steer you towards emerging new traditional talent (and not disposable Greek pop, which he refused to stock), while Ourania would arrange coffee or alisfakiá (sage tea). Even better were the weekly summer sell-out concerts Yiorgos organised in the museum’s lawn-courtyard, getting name performers to play for the bargain admission of ten euros. The shops (xilouris.gr) will probably not long outlive him – an equally big loss.