Peter J. Casey.
The Canberra Times
Singer Maria Yiakoulis was invited to perform in Canberra as part of the Oneira Winter Festival of Dreams, a cultural celebration over six weeks leading up to the Athens Olympics.
As a Sydney resident who sings traditional Greek music in a contemporary style, Yiakoulis could be said to represent the cross-cultural ideals of the festival itself.
Her voice is a powerhouse. with a husky break near the top of her range that does a great deal to break down any language barrier. Yiakoulis spent nearly two hours in her chest register on Saturday night and was showing no signs of tiring by the end of the performance.
“Greeks sing about the sea, love and death,” she remarked. She presented a number of songs on those themes, with occasional explanations into English for those of us who needed them. As the title of her show suggested she would, Yiakoulis covered a range of styles within the vast repertoire of Greek music, but never strayed into what aficionados describe as “bouzouki-lite”.
The too-well-know Misirlou (courtesy of surf guitarist Dick Dale and Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction) sounded fresh and passionate in its original setting. “See, that is a Greek tune”, Yiakoulis said, adopting a rock pose. Much of the material was from the Rembetika tradition (Greek music’s equivalent of the blues), including two songs by the legendary Vasilis Tsitsani. There were sounds of delighted recognition from her audience on occasion, as they began to clap along – and when an audience claps along perfectly in five-eight, you know they’re familiar with the song.
Yiakoulis projected a combination of modesty and don’t-mess-with-me confidence from the stage. She accompanied herself a little, on guitar and a tiny baglama (a long-necked lute), but allowed her able musician friends to carry the musical weight of the evening, and even to take the limelight. As good as her band was, Yiakoulis seemed hemmed in by their presence. As an act, her program kept threatening to take off, but never quite managed to become more than a series of songs.
There’s a terrific one-woman show waiting to break out of this singer, a performance with more stories from her own experience, accompanied by just one or two sympathetic guitarists. In such surroundings, she could take a shopping list, translate it into Greek, and make the hairs on your neck rise.