“Annabouboula” is a Greek expression meaning a mixed-up noise, but for years, Annabouboula the group has been exploring a seductive alternate musical world where Greek, Middle Eastern and Balkan traditions are re-tooled and re-imagined with an anything-goes attitude befitting their Athens-meets-downtown New York origins. Featuring the spellbinding Anna Paidoussi singing provocatively over the rhythms and soundscapes of guitarist George Barba Yiorgi and friends, their new release Immortal Water picks up where their classic critically-acclaimed World Beat albums like In The Baths of Constantinople left off, injecting surf-rock, big-beat electronica, and gypsy-pop flash into their unique blend of Greek folk, rebetika, and contemporary flavors. From the hard-rocking anthem of the Athens underworld Hello Sailor, to the haunting dub-reggae inflected What Do You Care, to the odd-meter electronic dance workout of The Drum Lesson, to the title song, a reworking of a 1920s folk tune for the 21st century, Annabouboula will take you on a trip to the outer limits of global pop.
In the 1980s, Greek-American producer/anthropologist Chris Lawrence set out to put together a pop music act named Annabouboula to embody his vision of a totally contemporary, progressive electric rock sound rooted in traditional music of Greece and the Near East, a concept that was, at that time, unheard-of. He enlisted fellow Greek-American singer ANNA PAIDOUSSI to be the “Anna” to front this downtown New York-meets-Athens experimental recording project. After hearing demos of Anna backed by psychedelic trance-rockers Saqqara Dogs, composer/producer GEORGE SEMPEPOS came aboard as musical director, bringing along his alter-ego, guitarist GEORGE BARBA YIORGI. Like Chris and Anna, George had grown up in a bi-cultural environment and had long nurtured a dream of combining Greek and modern pop influences to create something altogether new, that could hold its own in the emerging alternative rock and electronic dance club scenes. In 1986 Annabouboula’s utterly other-worldly debut single “Hamam”, recorded and mixed not far from the old belly-dance clubs of New York’s West Side, was released by Virgin Records in Greece; exported to the U.S., France, and England, and propelled by Anna’s soprano keening over a relentless Go-Go funk-meets-the-Casbah rhythmic fever dream, it soon became an underground cult sensation. In the years that followed, the project evolved into a proper band with an international following especially in what would come to be called “World Music” circles. They played to the crowds at festivals such as WOMAD and appeared on U.S., U.K. and Japanese network television; their American releases on Shanachie generated critical praise and college radio airplay– even though almost all of their material was sung in Greek. In Greece, their influence continues to be heard today in numerous Hellenic dance music and would-be “World Beat” productions.
For all their modernist attitudes and production styles, which anticipated the likes of Trans Global Underground by several years, ANNABOUBOULA members did their homework and exhaustively researched the more obscure corners of Greek and neighboring musical cultures. These include Rembetika–the so-called Greek Blues, originally the songs of hashish clans and outlaws; and Smyrnaika, the elaborate oriental cafe music of the refugees from Greek Asia Minor. ANNABOUBOULA’s noisy confusion has embraced deliciously vulgar belly-dance tunes, romantic oriental tangos, pentatonic dirges from the mountains of Epirus, crypto-Turkish laments, proto-feminist rants, sampled Orthodox clerics, wailing clarinets and drunken baghlamas…
Ironically, Annabouboula went into hibernation in 1993 just as the concept it had pioneered– fusing contemporary electro-pop and rock with traditional music from “exotic” sources– was becoming an accepted genre. But in 2008 Anna Paidoussi , George Barba Yiorgi and Chris Lawrence re-united to pick up where they had left off, dusting off early tracks from what was to have been their third CD album, a collection of tunes named for their version of a nearly-century-old Asia Minor rembetika folk song. After re-recording and writing new material, they proudly present the now-complete IMMORTAL WATER. This contemporary release effectively re-launches Annabouboula, and more surprises are planned for the months ahead. The sound they create today is an extension of the sound they pioneered in the ‘80s and ‘90s: Drum machines, funky loops, surf-rock guitars and African percussion underscore Anna’s soaring vocals, but the songs are always the real stars of this Mediterranean sideshow. As always, some tunes are covers or radical re-workings of old bouzouki and folk songs; others are original compositions inspired by the modes, textures and rhythms of old genres. The new Greek lyrics express the irreverent attitude of an uprooted culture forced to create a kind of dream-world modern Greek pop. As Annabouboula write in the CD liner notes: “We all imagine ourselves, and this is the Greek music of our imaginations”.