Musical Selections from the mini-course "Musical Nationalism in Times of Crisis: A Greek Case Study"

Welcome to the class blog for the University of Michigan mini-course "Musical Nationalism in Times of Crisis: A Greek Case Study."

This course invites students to explore the socio-political repercussions of the current global economic crisis through the framework of music. Our case study is Greece, a nation situated on the margins of the European Union but at the focal point of the current financial and cultural crisis. Drawing from various types of musical expression, we examine how music shapes and reflects contemporary cultural and economic realities in Greece including: political and cultural globalization; the economic crisis; the balancing of regional and national governance policies and the creation of a contemporary Greek national identity.

This blog contains selected listening examples examined in this course.

Click the Class to View the Listening Assignment.

Class 1:

Class 2: (10/06)
introduces students to the broad spectrum of "Greek music" and challenges them to question just what is "Greek" about the songs.

Class 3: (10/11)
focuses on the Eurovision Song Contest. How do Helena Paprizou and Kalomira balance "Greek" and "European" identities in their performances?

Class 4: (10/13)
introduces students to the difficult socio-economic situation in Greece. It gives a small sample of the wide range of musical responses to the contemporary crisis.

Class 5: (10/25)
challenges students to question their own definitions of music. When does a sound become "music" and when is it just plain noise?

Class 6: (10/27)
examines the phenomenon of musical nationalism. Which musical styles are promoted on local and national levels to represent the nation? Which styles are avoided and why? How does the style in which a song is performed affect its reception?

Class 7: (11/3)
introduces students to various Greek composers who composed "national Greek music." In what ways did these composers musically identify their works as Greek? Do their compositions sound "Greek" to you?

Class 8: (11/08)
examines various musical reactions to the contemporary socio-economic crisis in Greece. It focuses a) on the songs and chants of the Indignant movement and b) on the phenomenon of musical parody as a means of resistance. How can we characterize the differences between musical mockery and musical parody?

Class 9: (11/10)
focuses on various mainstream pop songs whose lyrics discuss the injustices of the contemporary Greek crisis on the Greek people. What is strange about the use of mass music production and distribution technology in an effort to resist the injustices of the Greek economic system?

Class 10 &11: (11/15 11/17)
examines the phenomenon of contemporary rebetika performance as a means of protesting the social, political and economic Europeanization of Greece. It focuses on the performances of rebetiko musician Pavlos Vassiliou and his music tavern "Rebetiki Istoria" [Rebetika History] in Athens, Greece. Why is rebetika a particularly appropriate genre for this musical resistance?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Class 3 The European Union and the Fate of the Nation 10/11

Balancing Greek and European Identities Through Music

1. HELENA PAPARIZOU: "MY NUMBER ONE" (Official Music Video)

2. HELENA PAPARIZOU: "MY NUMBER ONE" (Eurovision Performance)

3. KALOMIRA: "SECRET COMBINATION" (Eurovision Performance)

The songs "My Number One" and "Secret Combination" have represented Greece in the Eurovision Song Contest. In what ways do these songs a) represent Greece; b) represent Greece as a European nation; c) appeal to Greek audiences; d) appeal to international European audiences? Is it significant that their lyrics are in the English language?


  1. “My Number One” by Helena Paparizou is a catchy pop song: The first time I listened to it, I had the impression that I had heard before. “ My number One” is a typical fast, upbeat, pop song, perfect for the radio, for a dance club or for a discotheque. As with most pop songs, a repetitive melody with little variation is paired with generic lyrics and a repeating chorus. The song has a sexy and seductive element to its sound that is emphasized by the appearance and dancing of Paparizou and her back-up dancers. The words of the song are in English, but there is a certain Greek element to the background instrumentals. There is even a short upbeat solo from a traditional Greek instrument the lyre.
    In class we discussed the difficulties of identifying with the entire European Union while also identifying with one nation. I imagine that if this song had been composed for a Greek contest it would have sounded very different. Since “My Number One” was composed for the Eurovision Song Contest, the song had to be universally appealing; this helps explain why it has generic English lyrics. At the same time, the song still needed to show a hint of Greek culture, of the stereotypical image of Greek culture, and one an international audience might expect. I believe that this song represents the struggle to fit into the big and diverse community of the European Union, while at the same time, trying to represent Greek national culture.

  2. “You are the one, you’re my number one...” starts the refrain of Paparizou’s Eurovision-winning single. Unfortunately the lyrics hardly elaborate any more about who this “number one” might be. With a simple chord progression, repetitive verse-refrain form, and its standard pop 4/4 time signature, there is little variety to keep listeners’ attention, but nonetheless, “My Number One” topped the charts all over Europe and was especially popular in Greece in 2006. Could it be the subtle sounds of a toumperleki (similar to a bongo-style drum played with the hands) behind the standard drum kit, or the couple of breaks in the music that allow a lyre to steal the melody from Helena for a few measures? It is difficult to say. But I believe that the simplicity of the English lyrics allow Greek speakers and other Europeans to easily understand lyrics that might seem rather elementary to a native English-speaker.
    Eurovision’s goal of unifying the nations of the E.B.U. through a common interest has worked rather well, considering the fact that the contest began in 1956 in a war-torn continent. Today, the contest has attracted between 100-600 million viewers, and consists mostly of songs written and performed in the English language, perhaps to appeal to the broad audience. Unfortunately, song selections generally do not represent national traditions due to the massive pressure put on the performers to do just one thing: WIN. Does Eurovision inspire unity throughout the European Union and amongst those countries that participate, or does it inspire defensive feelings of nationalism?