They say they want a revolution; local world music thrives near Seattle Center at Elefthería

"I was kind of shocked. Retail and commercial space, especially with a storefront, is not readily available," Nickolas Vassili recalled.
Located at 512 First Ave. N., just up the street from the Key Arena and across from Floyd's Place, Elefthería is providing a home for the Pacific Northwest's blossoming world music scene.
Gone are the broken typewriters that once filled, for nearly 30 years, the former repair shop's modest floor space. In its place an inviting sunflower yellow storefront shelf now holds large aloe and bromeliad plants rising from dozens of terracotta pots. Ringing the plants is a display of CDs from Pacific Northwest artists skilled in the traditional and modern musical styles of such places as Greece, Turkey, Guatemala and the Middle East.
Colorful concert flyers, bright tapestries and exotic instruments line the sanguine walls and provide a welcome contrast to a large office desk sitting across from rows of CDs, and tables of plants for sale.
Eclectic world music continually flows through the air to punctuate the store's relaxed, yet exotic, feel. For those interested in exploring the sounds further, two listening stations are loaded with songs from each of the 30 CDs Elefthería currently offers on consignment.
"The response to [us] has been tremendous. People come in from the neighborhood, and they're so happy we're trying to do something to promote the people here," observed Nickolas while discussing the store's mission and the local world music scene with partners Vassili (Nickolas' son) and Eric Jaeger.
Vassili and Jaeger are also cofounders of the ethnically diverse music and dance ensemble Children of the Revolution, whose membership varies from eight to 13 and sometimes more.

The business
of music
Before Elefthería's creation, Nickolas ran a theatre production company, World Music 2000, out of an Uptown office at 308 W. Republican St.
The company was founded in 1999 to support a Seattle Fringe Festival project headed by Vassili and Jaeger involving the translation of Greek music into English. They now recognize that performance was the birth of Children of the Revolution, even though their group did not yet bear that name. After losing their lease on Republican Street in the summer of 2002, Nickolas realized the production company's new First Ave. N. location was ideal for more than just office work.
"It just dawned on me to help promote the group we could put in a record store and help promote other local and regional world music artists," Nickolas said.
Vassili explained that initially the trio debated the kind and range of music they would sell.
"We all kind of agreed on the fact that selling music that was produced in different countries from different artists essentially would be, in a small way, competing with the larger record stores," Vassili said. "Whereas if we sold only [world] music that came from the local area, and by local I mean anything from Seattle to Portland to maybe even Vancouver, we would be creating a specific genre of music in the Northwest."
Elefthería had almost immediate access to an abundance of world music from this area.
"Just from the people we work with, and have done shows with, there are so many CDs of local artists that are independently producing their own music," affirmed Jaeger. "We put together a ton of CDs right away."
All three agree Children of the Revolution, Elefthería and World Music 2000 are separate parts of the same whole with the singular purpose of helping the Seattle ensemble achieve local and national success. This multifaceted business plan often demands 60- to 80-hour workweeks. However, their hard work is paying off, with strengthening CD sales at their concerts, store, and even their nearby competitors.
Just north and within sight of Elefthería sits the bustling Easy Street Records. Import buyer Tina Forbes acknowledges her store's world music section, featuring a selection on consignment of Pacific Northwest world musicians, is steadily popular.
Forbes credits Seattlites' fondness for foreign films and their accompanying soundtracks, along with local arts festivals Folklife and Bumbershoot, for helping to whet the public's appetite for world music. When asked to name some of Easy Streets more popular local world music acts, Forbes mentioned Children of the Revolution first.
At Tower Records on Mercer Street, a similar story was related by Rob Weltzing, classics and world music buyer. Tower also takes local world music on consignment, and, overall, the world section he manages does well.
Weltzing pointed to Seattle's inherent cultural diversity and its support for programs such as the University of Washington's World Series that foster international performance art for helping cultivate interest in world music.
He also noted, during this past holiday season, that Children of the Revolution was one of Tower's best-selling local groups.
Hard work and a highly visible presence are components in Children of the Revolution's growing success.
"I always quote Edward G. Robinson. His great line was, 'All the talent and desire in the world and two bits gets you a cup of coffee.' It's very true," Nickolas asserted. "It's not a fair world in that way where talent alone isn't going to get you there."

Beginning to
get noticed
Eleftheria is becoming a destination. "People are starting to come here, to specifically come here, which hadn't happened until pretty recently, the past month or two," said Jaeger. "Fans of ours, and fans of other groups we carry here, are starting to find out this is somewhere, if you're into world music and local world music, you can come and basically hear everything that's in town and not have to go store to store trying to find CD's you're looking for. You can actually hear them all here."

A rising revolution?
Seattle has long been famous for do-it-yourself musical movements that break big. The garage-rock style of the 1960s saw the rise of legendary fuzz-guitar heroes The Sonics. During the 1980s Queensryche emerged from a Bellevue suburb and went on to dominate the national music scene with cerebral, progressive metal albums such as Operation: Mind Crime.
As the 1990s dawned, the independent record label Sub Pop established itself as the prime carrier of the torch of self-reliance by exposing the world to grunge and the heavy and innovative sounds of Mudhoney, Soundgarden and Nirvana.
It's too early in the movement to predict whether the local world music scene will pass through Seattle's creative crucible with the same strength. But so far it has underground stirrings that may grow beyond the Northwest and spread across the country.
Darek Mazzone, DJ and host of KEXP-FM's Tuesday evening world music showcase Wo' Pop for the past 10 years, noted that the music scene is very organic.
"What I mean by that is that it has a tendency to grow in isolation, like a plant in a garden," Mazzone said. "It has very little outside attention until something breaks, then it breaks huge."
One of the most prominent indicators such isolated growth exists in the local world music scene is its burgeoning and broad fan base, built by the unconventional marketing strategies exemplified by Children of the Revolution. The group's consistently sold-out concerts prove the point.
"Our business strategies are always very underground oriented," Vassili said. "Every person we talk to we tell them about what we're doing and try to get them interested. When it comes right down to it, that's the best advertising you can get."
Jaeger said they approach their music like it was a political movement.
"The reason we go about things in this way - in this kind of grassroots way, almost a political way - is because we believe so much in what we're doing that we don't need anyone else to convince us to do it or not," Jaeger said.
The audience response is likely more than a sufficient barometer of the group's tactics and music. People, regardless of their age or their country, are typically stunned when they walk out of a Children of the Revolution performance, according to Vassili.
"We played the same kind of music to the same reaction in Taiwan in front of tens of thousands of people who didn't even know what world music was," Vassili said. "We had the same reaction from the same songs we get here."

Taking the stage
A prime example of this grassroots building of Children of the Revolution's fan base recently took place Jan. 24 and 25 at Seattle Central Community College's Broadway Performance Hall.
Without the aid of paid advertising, the group sold out both concerts by simply telling everyone they could about the show.
The night's performance by 11 players from 10 different countries featured uplifting Moroccan-spiced melodies and beats, a refreshingly original melding of the Greek Rembetiko and Spanish Flamenco styles, and powerful Venezuelan folk singing and quatro playing.
Conventional acoustic guitars and bass were layered against searing violin work, shimmering Greek bouzouki playing, and infectious Middle Eastern and Latin percussion, including the sexy and masterful rhythms of flamenco dance.
The vocalists took turns harmonizing in various combinations of Spanish, Greek, Arabic and English.
To accentuate this sonic landscape, dancers - flamenco, belly, Greek folk and salsa - used their bodies to capture the music with fluid grace.
"Mankind has been fighting with each other for thousands of years. It's in the history books. It's in the Bible," Vassili announced as the group dropped into an energetic groove during the second act. "Except when we play music together. When we sing and dance together. This is not about politics or sexual preference or religion. This is about love and respect. Peace and love."
The audience cheered, clapped, danced and became one of the most striking aspects of the whole show. Not only for its appreciative reaction, but also for its variety, which mirrored the band's. Grade school children shook their booties next to 20- to 70-somethings of varying socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds. It was truly an all-ages show.
It's undeniably powerful to witness a group of, for the most part, strangers disregarding their assorted ethnic, cultural, political and religious backgrounds to unify in the joy of music.
Such diversity in the audience and on the stage may create the peaceful musical revolution Nickolas, Vassili, Jaeger and the rest of their ensemble partners desire.
Ultimately, the judge of such ambitions is the audience.

Freelance writer Erik Hansen is a Seattle resident.
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