Grammy-winning producer and avid record collector Christopher C. King shares his discovery of the music and heart of Epirus, in a new book released today.
Producer, Collector, and Author Christopher C. King
Two years ago, we introduced readers to Christopher C. King, the Grammy-winning producer and passionate collector of old 78 rpm albums, with the release of his “Why the Mountains are Black: Primeval Greek Village Music: 1907-1960”, a collection of music from Epirus.
Chris hails from rural Virginia, where he was exposed to ‘American’ mountain music. The raw sounds of that music are catalogued deep in his soul, and echo in his mind. Later, he learned to play violin and accordion, which offered him the opportunity to experience the music in a whole new way. This aroused his curiosity about folk music – not just the sounds themselves, but the way people react with and experience the music.
It’s no wonder that he gravitated to old music, particularly that which was recorded on 78 rpm. His affinity and growing curiosity led him to begin collecting old records. Over the years, he became exposed to many types of ethnic music, including Polish and Ukrainian, resulting in his growing interest – and collection. He started a company called Long Gone Sound and for more than 20 years, has produced collections on CD of old 78 records. In 2002, he won a Grammy for Best Historical Album, Sound Engineer for Charley Patton “Screamin’ & Hollerin”.
The music of Epirus
As the story goes, on a trip to Istanbul, he went strolling in the marketplace. In a stand, he discovered a stack of old 78s. Chris had studied Ancient Greek in college – a choice that helped facilitate his later curiosity for his find. He could read some of the writing and bought them. He said upon listening to them, he became ‘fixated’ and ‘obsessed’. The music spoke to him, reaching deep into his soul. It reminded him of the music of his youth. He had to learn more.
He traveled to Epiros and set out to learn all he could about the music: its history, its essence. Since then, Chris has acquired the largest collection of old Epirotic music and has entrenched himself in the hearts of Epirots, so much that they’ve named him an honorary citizen of Vitsa, Epirus.
‘Why the Mountains Are Black’ is Chris’ 5th collection of Epirotic music, released on Jack White’s Third Man Records. A new collection of the recordings of Kitsos Harisiadis, is also out today.
While each collection’s liner notes included stories of Chris’ research and connection with the music, he had never considered writing a book. Then one day he was contacted by an editor at W.W. Norton & Company, his publisher.
“He contacted me out of the blue and asked if I’d thought about it. I liked writing, I liked stories, and of course the subject. But I never had an aspiration to become a writer.”
Lament from Epirus took him on a 2-1/2 year journey to bring to life a full account of his travels to Epirus, his research, and his interactions with the locals. This odyssey – which led him to another “home” – was filled with surprises. Chris elaborated.
“Everything was unexpected. It seemed as if every day researching and interviewing, I stumbled across some discovery that mattered a lot to me but left me floundering. What shocked me the most was that as an American from the South – who has absolutely no connection to the Greek music of Epirus – when I allowed myself to see the world through the eyes of particular villagers, during the panegyria, I was able to respond or react to the music not different than the Greeks, by accepting premises they’ve accepted in their lives. Music is medicinal, healing, cathartic – and not notes. I was privy to that because I opened myself to the way they saw it.”
Chris added that he is now a firm believer in the “miracle-endowing properties” of tsipouro, and that it “helps your dancing, too!” He ends the book with most profound words:
“You may see what I have seen, or perhaps the music will shape parts of you differently, since we carry disparate maps of experience and history. What I have described persists until you dance the musicians out of the village with all of your friends who have now become your family. When you wake up the next day, you feel as if you’ve been made whole.”
Review of Lament from Epirus
In Lament from Epirus: An Odyssey into Europe’s Oldest Surviving Folk Music, Christopher C. King has lovingly compiled the history of Epirotic music, revealing the soul of Epirus. He brings to the masses the sounds of Epirus, from the mirologoi, to xenitia, and more. His connection to it allows him to get to its very core – that music is more than sound. The music is history, a connection to the past; it’s life – love and loss, pain and joy; it’s medicinal; it’s eternal. He shows that music isn’t just for listening, it’s for experiencing, through dance, through communal experiences. Chris’ eloquent words open the world of Epirus to us, and he explores the music in a way that only a true aficionado can. As a musician, he also interprets the music through its odd meter and scale and compares it to the music of his youth. He transcends all the layers to reveal the beauty within. Ultimately, through this journey to the music he experiences Greek philoxenia, and in his kinship with the Epirots, discovers the very heart of the Greek experience. Lament from Epirus has something for everyone – Greeks, non-Greeks, musicians, historians, and aficionados of music. This book will make you look at this old, “heavy” music in a whole new way.
Lament from Epirus hits the stores today. Be sure to pick up a copy.
By: Christopher C. King
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (May 29, 2018)
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