The Makedonians Continue to Expand their Mediterranean Sound

Tacoma group the Makedonians will bring their take on the music of the Mediterranean to Metronome Coffee this weekend. Diz Carroll is a founding member of the group, which formed in 1983. The band performs about once a month somewhere in Western Washington, from Bellingham to Olympia. They play in Tacoma about once every six months, so Carroll is looking forward to the show on June 9 at Metronome. This will be the fourth time they have played the venue. Carroll said a riser in the back is cleared of tables to make room for a stage. It has a public address system and a person on hand to run it. “They have good sound there,” he said. “It shows that they care about music.”

He noted the band does not do as many of the big festivals as they once did, such as Folklife. He noted many of the members enjoy attending the event, held on Memorial Day weekend at Seattle Center, as fans. They do an occasional wedding, he noted.

The group has released five albums. The last one was “Church House” in 2010. It featured vocals from a young Greek woman who was living here while attending Tacoma Community College. Prior to her returning to Greece, another young woman, Lizeta Walker, obtained a Greek songbook and began dropping in to their practices. She joined the group two years ago.

“She has really grown,” Carroll said. “She knows many of our tunes.” Fans have told him she has a “very arresting stage presence,” he added.

He noted the band practices more than it used to and has learned about two hours of new material since Walker joined. The other vocalist is Sonja Weidenhaupt, who has been a member for 10 years.

Carroll goes to Greece once every other year to study music, generally for four to six weeks. He is involved with a folk dance club at Aristotle and the Byzantine School of Music. They are both located in Thessalonica, the capital of Macedonia.

During his last visit a year ago, civil unrest was in full swing in Greece. Carroll said this particular city has very high unemployment and about 40 percent of its shops have gone out of business. “Things have gotten really bad,” he remarked. Many Greeks blame bankers for the nation’s economic woes, he noted.

While protests on the streets of Greece amid its ongoing economic problems have made headlines for the past year or so, Carroll noted that unrest began about 10 years ago as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A big influx of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa flowed into Europe, with many entering the continent through Greece. When other nations decided the refugees were no longer welcome, they sent them back through Greece. Carroll noted Turkey shut down its borders to them, causing many to be stuck in Greece. He noted the Greek people are welcoming to people, especially to those in need.

What role does the traditional music of Greece play during these difficult times? “It is the thing everyone relies on, the thing everyone can relate to,” Carroll said. When in Greece he performs in cafes. The lyrics of the songs are often about war, economic struggles and religious persecution. “All of those things are very relevant today,” he remarked.

Carroll plays the klarino, which is similar to a clarinet. Another member, Charles Atwood, has played violin since the mid 1980s. When Carroll returned from his last trip to Greece, he brought back an outi for Atwood to play. This has 11 strings and is fretless. It is also known by its Arabic name, oud. This one is electric.

Carroll said the addition of this instrument gives the Makedonians more of a Byzantine sound. He noted Greece has many regions with distinctive musical styles

The Makedonians play Metronome Coffee on June 9 from 8-11 p.m. On June 10 they play Olympia Farmers Market from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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