Global repercussions on Tate Street

by Brian Clarey

It’s wintertime on Tate Street and drops of precipitation freeze in the air before smashing wetly on the street, causing the blacktop to reflect the streetlamps’ glow and bicycle tires to lose purchase in tight turns. A velveteen red ribbon wraps around a telephone pole, making it look like a tobacco-stained candy cane.

Inside the Lager Haus the crowd is in transition. Dinner patrons swill the last of their wines before calling for their checks as the nocturnes come in from the cold, flushes in their cheeks, to begin the processes of inebriation.

A waitress from Long Island navigates the tables on the floor, and in a booth in the corner two guys wage serious battle on a chessboard. They’ve got a clock and everything.

On the small stage by the window, Chronis DeVasili strikes a comfortable pose as he balances his Greek bouzouki on his lap and strums a few stray chords. Sandy Blocker, his hair pulled back in a long, thin braid, positions his drums in the center of the stage.

‘“We’ve known each other since ’94,’” DeVasili says of his musical collaborator.

‘“When my dad died,’” Sandy interjects.

‘“I used to help out with Talking Drums,’” DeVasili says, referring to Sandy’s now-defunct business venture that encompassed a store on Lee Street, weekly drum circles and free lessons for anyone willing to smack a djembe until his hands turn red and swollen. DeVasili left Greensboro for Tempe, Ariz. to study sound engineering. He came back about four years ago, but it’s only been a couple of weeks that he and Blocker have started this oddball, world-music jam at this tiny stage on Tate Street.

‘“Lately things came back to the way they were,’” DeVasili says. ‘“To the way they were supposed to be, I guess,’” he says.

The man speaks with a pronounced Greek accent, though he’s been in the states since his teenage years. His bouzouki, too, speaks in melodies tinged with traces of Thessaloniki.

It’s a delicate and agile instrument, the bouzouki, with a distinctive twang, a bit like a mandola and kind of like a banjo: eight strings in four pairs run down a thin neck and the body is shaped like a gourd, with intricate inlays and a single word, ‘“Geusenis,’” etched into the headstock.

Sandy’s drums are equally exotic: the West African goblet-shaped djembe; the conga from Cuba; the Middle-Eastern bass drum called a ‘“tupan’” and a tambourine known as a riq.

‘“My passion is world music,’” the drummer says. ‘“It has been for’… I don’t know’… sixteen or seventeen years.’”

The men sit down and begin to play. Halfway through the second number Omid Aghamaleki, an olive-complected man with Iranian roots, walks in the door and wordlessly takes one of the three empty seats on the stage, unsheathing a small hand drum with a flame job painted on the body. He seamlessly joins the fray.

The music is dramatic, with crescendos and tempo fluctuations, flourishes and delicate strums. It’s sultry. Passionate. It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.

A jingling comes from the back of the room. A belly dancer shimmies between the dinner tables, zils on her fingers and her ornamental belt creating a top layer to the noise while she wears a beatific expression on her face. She calls herself Sylvana, but really her name is Chris Campbell. ‘“Like the soup,’” she says. And the belly dancing thing started about three years ago, when on the tail end of a Europoean backpacking trip she stopped over in Turkey.

‘“I saw a belly dancer,’” she said. ‘“When I came back to the states I had to find a teacher.’”

After some training she threw in with Omid and they were embraced by DeVasili and Blocker for their global jam sessions.

Sylvana sits the next number out in another of the empty chairs on the stage, using her zils as adroitly as she used her hips.

Save for a small group at the bar who are resolutely trying to ignore the show, the crowd is engaged. Dinner patrons order more wine after their plates are cleared. A table of women, one of them wearing a jolly red Santa hat, clap in time to the music. Even the chess dudes look up from their game to take in the musical splendor.

At set break an enamored fan crowds the performers and peppers them with questions.

‘“How did you’….’”

‘“What are these’….’”

‘“When did you’….’”

When the second set begins, the fan is sitting onstage with the band, taking the last empty chair and playing his knees as a percussion instrument. Sooner or later someone gives him a drum.

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