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  • © Yiannis Karnikis

Kelly Thoma in the world of the 7 fish

A female lyra player, composer, musician of Crete and of the world. Kelly Thoma is undoubtedly one of the most exceptional pioneers of contemporary Cretan music. The sounds of her lyra converse with the lyra of Ross Daly, traditional rhythms encounter experimentation and fresh music paths, and this is how, more or less, Kelly became the co-creator of another music genre that exceeds the boundaries of Cretan music and strict music categories.

Cretazine Tips

  • Kelly Thoma will present her album "7 Fish" on Saturday July 16, 2016 at the open theater “Manos Hadjidakis” in Heraklion in cooperation with acclaimed musicians from Greece, Iran and Spain.
  • Find out more about Kelly, her projects and discography on her official website: www.kellythoma.com
Published in  City People
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We talked to Kelly on the occasion of her upcoming concert on the 16th of July in the open theater "Manos Hadjidakis" where she will present her solo album "7Fish" -and more- in the company of some of great musicians we got to know through Houdetsi Festival.

You are one of the first musicians that introduced the role of the female lyra player / composer. Do you feel that by transcending stereotypes you open the road for other women musicians who would like to try lyra playing?

I didn’t need to overcome any stereotype nor “fight” to prove that a woman can play the lyra and compose music. The truth is that I never thought that I do something strange. I just really wanted to learn how to play the lyra and the need to compose melodies came to me instinctively. So everything happened naturally for me, without feeling that "I introduced the role of the female lyra player" or that I opened new roads, as you say. However, it is true that some girls might be affected by this stereotype, they might be reluctant to take the lyra in their hands because of this powerful image of a man playing this instrument. These girls might be freed from these preconceptions by seeing me at concerts or listening to my music, and even though this was not my goal consciously, I would be happy if its achieved! Above all, it would be nice if men too are freed from this stereotype.

inner kely portrait

Next to Ross Daly you have performed in some of the biggest and greatest concert halls in the world. How does it feel to play for an unknown audience in the other side of the planet? Which experience / concert left you with the strongest impressions?

We have performed in small villages in the middle of nowhere, in the Australian woods and in the US in some of the most important theaters of the “civilized” world! The difference is not great. When we play, the importance lies in the quality of the sound, the communication with the audience and our own will to share our art with those who came to listen to us.

The feeling of playing music for an unknown audience is very special, because the people that listen to you have the art of music as a priority and not Kelly, or Ross, or Crete, Afghanistan or whatever else. When the audience is new, it is also free of preconceptions that distract it from the essence of music. On the other hand, the challenge and pleasure you get from playing for an audience that knows you and your music well is also great, because at some level you feel they understand you, since in a way you speak the same language.

inner kely carnegie

It's hard to pick an experience that left me with the strongest impressions, because many are those that gave me moments that will follow me throughout my musical life. I remember a time in Australia, we played in a tropical forest with thousands of reeds. Our concert took place in a clearing and the stage was built with dozens of very tall reeds that were tilted towards the center, forming something like a shed. That evening young and old Australians came from the surrounding villages and we played music with all our soul, without having any feeling that "we came from Crete and we brought our music here in Australia for them to listen". No! Not at all ... I felt that this concert was set by everybody and everything, ourselves and the Australians, and the reeds, the moonlight, frogs, snakes and spiders that walked indifferent between our chairs ...! The music was not ours, it belonged to everybody. I wish I always have this consciousness that I had at that time.

Your music is influenced by the Cretan tradition, but also from the sounds of the East. But you also have a more contemporary, experimental approach. Can you give a name to the music you compose?

I have studied various musical idioms and I have worked on the lyra techniques from other instruments and music traditions. So, the result is inevitably a mixture of all these. But from my very first attempts to compose music, I discovered -and I hope that this is valid- that I can have my own sound and a way of playing that characterizes me. This happens with all composers. Everyone has his or her own "sonic signature" and this is the best part of contemporary composition, especially in our case, as we are dealing with ancient musical traditions and we compose new melodies inspired by something that can have its roots thousands of years back. Ross calls this genre “Contemporary Modal Music”, which refers to new compositions based on modal musical traditions. The term is correct and accurately describes the genre, but I tell him that it sounds too academic and does not encompass the magic of music. So he has to find something else ... hahaha! Probably just "music that I like."

The feeling of playing music for an unknown audience is very special, because the people that listen to you have the art of music as a priority and not Kelly, or Ross, or Crete, Afghanistan or whatever else. When the audience is new, it is also free of preconceptions that distract it from the essence of music.

Composition for you is a conscious process, or improvisation plays a greater role? What is usually your source of inspiration?

This is a very difficult question. I actually wonder the same…

Even though you are originally from Piraeus, you live in Crete for many years now. What do you love most in the island, and what would you like to change?

Indeed, I was born and grew up in Piraeus, but by family comes from Cephalonia and Crete. My relationship with the island, however, was built not because of my heritage, but thanks to Ross and the Musical Workshop Labyrinth. I have lived here for many years and it’s very difficult to imagine my life anywhere else. When we return from a trip and we land in the airport “N. Kazantzakis” I always feel warmth and I have the feeling that I returned “home”.

inner lyres kely

Crete has an incredible natural beauty and special people, hospitable and warm. These characteristics, of course, can be found in many places of Greece and the planet. Thus, this boastfulness we often meet around us about how exceptional we Cretans are and how beautiful Crete is unfortunately reduces the real value of the island. If only we could respect and take care of the undoubtedly beautiful natural environment and limit our egotism that attributes almost “supernatural powers” to the Cretan man with his black shirt, his 4Χ4 car and his gun, then I believe the real beauty behind the veil of narcissism would be revealed.

Since its summer already and the time for Houdetsi Festival approaches, and since you are one of the “souls” of the festival, would you like to share with us something about this year’s events? What should we expect? 

As you rightly put it, I am just one of the hundreds of "souls" in this festival. There are really many people who work hard to make this celebration happen every year. And most of them are not visible. Children and old men from the village whitewashing their yards and planting flowers to make our village even more beautiful for the guests, others cleaning the streets and setting up the chairs. As every year, the music program includes many new bands and great artists from around the world. This year the festival will be held on August 4-7. The program is still under development, so I have nothing to announce, but what we expect this year is to make our wish come true: to see less commercialization and let volunteering shine together with the love for art ... .This is what I would like to see this year.

houdetsi inner kely

On July 16 you will perform on the stage of the open Theater M. Hadjidakis together with many great musicians from Greece, Spain, Iran.  Musicians we already know thanks to Houdetsi Festival. Our feeling, speaking on behalf of the audience, is that these collaborations have developed and reached another level, in terms of music and friendship. How do you experience it?

On July 16 I will present some of my own compositions from the two albums I released in collaboration with great musicians. In this concert I will perform together with Ross Daly: lyra, tarhu, saz, Efrén López: hurdy gurdy, saz, drum, Bijan Chemirani: percussion, Taxiarchis Georgoulis: oud, Sofia Efklidou: cello, Pavlos Spiropoulos: contrabass, Marijia Katsouna: percussion, Aris Kornelakis: lyra. Each of these musicians is a good friend of mine and we have shared many moments, not only musical.  I personally find it very important to collaborate with people you can communicate in many levels, beyond music. The relationship is then much deeper, and the musical outcome is multi-dimensional. I cannot imagine playing music with someone I do not respect as a human being, I haven’t shared a glass of wine, laughed together in good company. On stage we all need help, mutual support and love. It is great to share this experience with people you feel close to you.

inner kely others

7 fish, 7 compositions. And the 8th track of the album “7Fish” has the mysterious title “S”. What does it mean?

The eighth track is called “S” because the shape of this letter represents the movement of the fish in the water… Furthermore, in music notation S signifies pause, Silence. This piece encloses a dark feeling, like being at the seabed and some mysterious sounds take the listener to a deeper level of his soul, a place where silence and serenity prevails. Or at least this is the feeling I tried to create…hahaha! I have no idea if someone was convinced :) 

Tell us your favorite place for holidays in Crete, a place that relaxes you.

We always go south with Ross for holidays. I think the south part of the island is magical. We take our instruments with us, our dog, and wherever we go we relax and we rest….I really like Ligkres, Ferma, Preveli and Kato Zakros. I am sure I’m forgetting something, but these places immediately came to my mind.

what we expect from this year’s festival is to make our wish come true: to see less commercialization and let volunteering shine together with the love for art ... .This is what I would like to see this year.

Finally, we couldn’t skip the typical, cliché questions: next steps, future plans … musical or personal! ☺ 

After our concert on the 16th of July we go on tour with Ross to Patras, Paros, Crete and North Greece in August, and then in September we travel in Iran, Cyprus and Kalamata, with different musicians. In the winter we will travel to Bulgaria and Germany and generally we will be abroad most of the time. Unfortunately, there are not enough opportunities in Greece for musicians to make a living, so we mostly work abroad. However, this is my home and my base will always be here.

lyra kely portrait

Soon we will release a new album together with Evgenia Damavoliti – Toli (vocals) composed by Ross. The album features 10 new songs, interpreted by the beautiful voice of Evgenia together with Antonis Xilouris (lute), Yiorgis Stavrakakis (lute), Marijia Katsouna (percussion). I will play the lyra, Ross lyra, tarhu and lute, and sound design by Vaggelis Apostolou.

I would like to produce another album with my own compositions and, of course, to continue playing as much as I can together with my favorite musicians and to share my art with as many people as possible. This is my “plan”.

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