Monday, August 13, 2012

(265) MUSIC AND ME (Aug. 9) Playing Greek Music in Bahrain

This black and white flyer of Khayam Taverna (Greek Restaurant) in Bahrain features its 3 resident musicians -- -- Akis, bouzuki player, Helen -- singer and Roberto Hernandez, keyboard player in 1988.
(Flyer designed by Michael Stankiewicz)


WHEN I accepted an offer to play keyboard with a Greek (actually Cypriot) bouzuki player in January of 1987, I only know one Greek song – Never On Sunday. I didn’t anticipate that we will be playing 90% Greek music.

During my first week, I sat near the stage where I am studying the style of playing/accompanying of an Indian keyboard player (part-time) playing with Antonis Sergio, a good-looking, gigolo -type Cypriot musician.

The Indian keyboard player uses his left hand as ‘bass’ and the right hand for chords and additional accompaniment. For one week, I listened to cassette tape music that they are playing every night. At first, it sounds all the same to me. That’s the biggest challenge in my musical career.

Antonis has his own rhythm box that has a set-up for the most complicated beat that I encountered, the 9/8 beat. In my more than a year partnership with Antonis, I can’t play the 9/8 beat without stomping my left foot just to get the feel of the beat.

My first two weeks with Antonis is the most difficult part. But after 3 months, I can sing Greek songs which became the reason for Antonis to get lazy. Usually our playing schedule is I play solo instrumental music from 8:00 – 8:45 pm and then 15 minutes break. We play together for 45 minutes starting at 9pm and 15 minutes break up to 12:45. On Thursday evening, it up to 2:45 am especially if there are lots of guests because Friday is rest day in Bahrain and other Arab countries.

When I can sing and play some Greek songs, Antonis break became 30 minutes as he lets me play extra 15 minutes alone before he joins me for 30 minutes. It keeps going on for a while until Antonis contract has expired and he was replaced by Cypriot couple Akis and Helen.

This time I don’t have to sing because Helen did the singing most of the time. I remember one time when they are arguing about the way Helen is singing without much expression. Akis likes Helen to sing all out in every song which is impossible to do if she is singing about 20 songs a night.

Helen never sings standing. She is always sitting while singing which is not a good thing to see a performer sitting while singing. It’s okay if she’s playing a piano but she’s not.

My partnership with the couple lasted only a few months and they were replaced this time by Mavroudis, a very sentimental guy who always misses his baby girl. He treated me once to a Dairy Queen food chain and he’s crying in front of me because he misses his wife and daughter.

A few months before the end of my 2-year contract, I’m playing by myself as Mavroudis can’t handle being away from his loved ones. My contract was extended for another 3 months before I went back for good to Philippines in April 1989.

One of my funny memories with Antonis was when Mr. Abdullah requested a song to him“Zorba, the Greek”, which he knows very well and we’re playing it every night. He said to Mr. Abdullah, “I don’t think I know the song.” It’s just a way of Antonis to make Mr. Abdullah do something so that he will remember the song.

Mr. Abdullah then would ask a waitress to change his 20 Bahraini dinars into single ones. He will ask her to staple 10 single Bahraini dinars to make it like a“dinar lei”. He will then put on our neck 10 dinar lei each and presto, Antonis remember the “Zorba, the Greek” right away!!!

It is also in Bahrain that I met my high school classmate (1973) Remedios Bautista Roy. At first, she is not sure that it’s me. She asked the waitress if the name of the keyboard player is Roberto. When she said yes, she asked her again, “is his surname Hernandez?” When it’s confirmed, I sat with her and her Lebanese employer. They are just passing by in Bahrain for a week. We haven’t seen each other since graduation—15 years.

During that week, she borrowed $500.00 from me which she was able to pay fully in pesos while we are staying in Philippines in 1989. During her final payment, she went to our house in Hagonoy, Bulacan and gave us jackets that they are making in the factory, as a show of gratitude.

I was able to teach some students in Bahrain as part-time job. I taught Pakinee Shuler, a former Miss Thailand who is married to an American banker. Also I taught 3 Taiwanese girls in which the youngest one, 8 years old, is doing better when she’s eating something while I’m teaching her!

When I’m attending church service there during summer, the mass is shortened by 30 minutes because it’s too hot. It’s the same thing during winter where it’s too cold.

Playing the keyboard using my left hand as bass was the best thing that I’ve learned in Bahrain which I was able to use that technique when I come to Palau in 1992.

A 3-member band (lead guitarist, drummer and keyboard player) became and sounds like a complete band because of that technique when I played with Wilson Prima and Willy dela Cruz at Image Restaurant in July 31, 1992 till 1994.

Source: Music and Me by Roberto Hernandez
Tia Belau Newspaper
Pages 8-9
Volume 21
Issue 54
August 09, 2012

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