Featured Artist: Martha Mavroidi – traditional music in playful and cosmopolitan forms

Freegan Kolektiva is always intrigued by the nexus of tradition and continuous exploration. Thus, we support artists who rest firmly on tradition while they push it towards new directions.

It is a shared conviction that if any type of sustainable development should occur it will begin by looking inwards, discovering ourselves and our culture; sustainable development is endemic. That does not mean isolation or withdrawnness from the global village, on the contrary it is an enrichment of a global cosmopolitan society, an enhancement of cultural diversity.

Martha Mavroidi, daughter of ethnomusicologist and radio producer Marios, was immersed since a very young age in the music of world’s cultures. By exercising her passion in music and after she collected experiences from many places abroad, she has developed a music style rooted in the love of tradition yet novel, well-studied with deft musicianship yet lightsome and playful.

Harvesting experiences

Martha Mavroidi graduated from the Music High School of Athens, where she focused on Greek Folk, singing and playing the lute, and the Department of Music Studies of the University of Athens with a diploma in Byzantine Music. After her interest in Turkish music she studied the saz with Periklis Papapetropoulos and Talip Ozkan.

She followed more studies in ethnomusicology in London where she began also her long-lasting relationship with Bulgarian singing. She studied with some of Bulgaria’s most eminent singers: Dessislava Stefanova, Galina Durmushliiska and Tzvetanka Varimezova. After that she focused on improvisation in contemporary music with non-western techniques during her Masters in Contemporary Music at the Conservatorium of Amsterdam. It was there, when she started developing her first compositions.

martha mavroidiHer journey into musical knowledge seemed not to have an end as she moved to California to find herself amidst of a burgeoning Balkan music scene. There she continued her studies in ethnomusicology with a specialization in Balkan music.

It is fascinating to hear all these experiences imprinted on her music. When she came back to Greece back in 2005 she immediately begun collaborating with many renowned local artists (Antonis Apergis, Savina Yannatou etc.). At the same time she formed her own band and built an innovative electric lafta, with which she always performs. Additionally she has composed music for films, documentaries, dance and theater shows.

Her highly-praised debut album ‘The Garden Of Rila’ came in 2010, when she also founded the Martha Mavroidi Trio with Giorgos Ventouris on contrabass and Giannis Aggelopoulos on drums. The trio’s debut album, named ‘Portaki’ came out last January.

The music

Martha Mavroeidi’s music is an amalgam of her experiences so far. She has not only collected knowledge but has also incorporated every bit in her own compositions and performances – for that you need to be skillful and visioned. Her music could be easily labelled as ‘Balkan Jazz’, and it is not far from reality, however her musical language is too idiomatic to be easily bulked in a category.

martha mavroidi trio portakiFirstly, instrumentation is very important and many songs are instrumental. The Balkan melodies predominate with a preference in Greek folk albeit performed in a fresh, contemporary way mostly defined by jazz. Martha’s singing is primarily following the rich Bulgarian and Thracian traditions as fused with other Greek and Middle Eastern methods (she runs also workshops on vocal polyphony).

For Martha, storytelling is an integral part of songwriting and music. In her first album she narrated the stories of the secret garden of a monastery up in the highest peaks of the mountainous Balkan peninsula, th Rila mountains of Bulgaria.

Her latest output as a trio is more minimal and (post-)modern compared to ‘The Garden Of Rila’ – a challenging shift as well. However, both albums are equally stunning in their own distinct ways, which implies a high degree of versatility. While she has cooperated with some established artists she has managed to push her own unique style.

martha mavroidi trio

Martha Mavroidi Trio

Nonetheless, she managed to avoid some impermeable, rigid forms in the ‘artful’ music scene, which have caused stagnation at times; Martha Mavroidi has showcased that the study, inquiry and passion in music do not have to hide in the caverns of tardy ‘elitist’ seriousness, but can create open, playful and genuine forms and sounds of dazzling quality.

With instances of inspired and visioned work like this, endemic culture and traditional music can further disengage from the notions of backwardness, closed-mindedness and neophobia. For that we also need to disengage from the deeply implanted cultural hegemony of the West and the ‘televisation’ of art as it manifests by spectacles, celebrities and stardom. We need then to redefine our ethics as for instance ‘what success means’.

Visit Martha Mavroidi’s website.

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Discover more innovative traditional music via Freegan Kolektiva:

Niyaz – Sumud (2012, Six Degrees Records)

Vieux Farka Toure – The Secret

Psarantonis – epitome of deep-rooted tradition and genuine innovation

Tiwarinen – Tassili

Cultural and innovative: Daulute’s first steps into Cretan music


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