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In this photo of Rodopi Ensemble, five men play musical instruments: Kyriakos Petras (violin), Nikos Angousis (clarinet), Alkis Zopoglou (kanun), Yorgos Pagozidis (drum), Drosos Koutsokostas (lute).
Rodopi Ensemble: (l-r): Kyriakos Petras, Nikos Angousis, Alkis Zopoglou, Yorgos Pagozidis, Drosos Koutsokostas

Homegrown Plus Premiere: Rodopi Ensemble’s Traditional Music from Thrace

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We’re continuing the Homegrown Plus Premiere series with Rodopi Ensemble, an accomplished traditional band playing music from the Thracian mountains of Greece, North Macedonia, and Bulgaria. As is usual for the series, this blog post includes an embedded concert video, an interview video, and a set of related links to explore!

Rodopi Ensemble has been presenting the sounds, rhythms and melodies of Thrace for almost three decades. The group started its musical journey in the 1990s, and took the name Rodopi Ensemble to indicate its border-crossing musical style. The mountains of Rodopi, the largest mountains in Thrace, act as a musical unifying link that connects people living in the three countries crossed by the mountains: Greece, North Macedonia, and Bulgaria. “The idioms and nuances of Thracian music derive from the harmonious coexistence of people from different cultures…people who use music and singing to come together as one,” says vocalist and lute-player Drosos Koutsokostas.

In this photo of the Rodopi Ensemble, five men hold musical instruments. Photo is accompanied by the Homegrown 2022 logo, which includes the words "Library of Congress American Folklife Center Homegrown 2022 Concert Series, "Homegrown at Home."

Rodopi Ensemble is composed of Koutsokostas on lute and vocals, Kyriakos Petras on violin, Nikos Angousis on clarinet, Alkis Zopoglou on kanun, and Yorgos Pagozidis on percussion. These instruments comprise the classic lineup known as the café-amán orchestra, the rural precursor of the more urban and better known rebetiko style. Rodopi Ensemble plays romantic love songs and lively dances native to the region, such as the chasapiko, tsifteteli, karsilamas, and zeibekiko. Rodopi Ensemble sticks to its roots by working at local and regional events such as community celebrations, weddings, and traditional fairs. But the band has also performed internationally at festivals and in concert halls, and has released the CD, Thraki: The Paths of Dionysus to international acclaim. So without further ado, we’ll let you see the concert. Watch it in the player below!

In the interview, my colleague Michelle Stefano talked with band member Alkis Zopoglu about his music and career, as well as the band’s history. They touched on the history of his instrument, the kanun, as well as how he came to play it. They also discussed Greek traditions and their connections across the mountains to Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Turkey; the meanings of the songs and dance music in the Rodopi Ensemble’s repertoire; the connections of the music to social events within local communities; and conversely the place of the band’s music on the international festival circuit. It’s a fascinating conversation which you can watch in the player below!

[Transcript of interview]

After the premiere, you’ll be able to find both these videos with more bibliographic information at this link on the Library of Congress website. You’ll also find them on the Library of Congress YouTube Channel.

Also, make sure to visit the Rodopi Ensemble’s website, at this link.

Collection Connections

If you enjoyed the concert and interview, check out the Collection Connections below. You’ll find links to archival collections, guides, and other materials related to the culture of the Rhodopes, which are mostly in Bulgaria and Greece, but which also have populations of Macedonian and Turkish descent.

Event Videos

AFC has had several concerts of related music:

Spyros Koliavasilis & Karpouzi Trio performed music from Greece & Asia Minor.

Sophia Bilides performed traditional Greek Smyrneika music.

Neli Andreeva, who comes from the Bulgarian Rhodopes, performed traditional Bulgarian songs.

Tzvety Weiner, Valeri Georgiev & Varol Saatcioglu performed traditional Bulgarian and Turkish music.

Esma Redžepova & Folk Masters played Romani & Macedonian music.

Al. Spendiaryan Qanon Ensemble performed traditional Armenian Qanon Music, on the Armenian version of Alkis Zopoglu’s instrument.

Field Collections Online

The Chicago Ethnic Arts Project Collection features documentation of Greek and Macedonian Americans in Chicago in 1977.

The Ethnic Heritage and Language Schools in America Project features documentation of Greek and Turkish Americans in several cities in 1982.

The Lowell Folklife Project documented Greek American culture in Massachusetts in 1987 and 1988.

Sidney Robertson Cowell recorded kanun music in California in 1939.

Finding Aids and Guides

Visit our guide, American Folklife Center Collections: Greece at this link.

Visit our guide, American Folklife Center Collections: Bulgaria at this link.

Thanks for watching, listening, and reading! The American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert Series brings music, dance, and spoken arts from across the country, and some from further afield, to the Library of Congress. For several years, we’ve been presenting the concerts here on the blog with related interviews and links, in the series Homegrown Plus. (Find the whole series here!) For information on current concerts, visit the Folklife Concerts page at Concerts from the Library of Congress. For past concerts, including links to webcasts and other information, visit the Homegrown Concerts Online Archive.

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