To the list of entrancing women singers of Judeo-Spanish or Ladino music such as the more familiar Mor Karbasi or Yasmin Levy you can add this very fine young Greek/ French singer.
Biographical info is thin on the ground – she doesn’t even seem to have a web site – but apparently 26-year-old Dafné was born in Paris to a Greek father and French mother, and – in the same way that Karbasi is part of a duo with guitar accompanist partner Joe Taylor – her Facebook page indicates that she’s normally to be found working live in a duo with guitarist/singer Paul Barreyre whose considerable talents are a key part of this album’s arrangements. Others participating are her cousin, improvising pianist Camille El Bacha (think Bojan Z in places), and percussionist Naghib Shanbehzadeh. All three accompanying musicians are top of their game and provide perfect, mostly understated settings – even in complicated time signatures – in which Kritharas’ lovely voice can make its mark without resorting to unnecessary over-emoting.
What makes this record shine in its own right alongside those other Judeo-Spanish singers is the Greek flavour of seven of the twelve tracks, mostly rembetika and songs from Smyrna originating in the 1920s and ‘30s. There’s just the right smattering of more familiar songs, though the beautiful piano-accompanied Bournovalia that closes the album doesn’t seem to be the celebrated song of the same title recorded back in the 1920s by the legendary Marika Papagika. And among the Ladino tracks, her version of the familiar La Rosa Enflorece, aka Los Bibilicos (the nightingales) is impeccable.
Like many beautiful, subtle and under-stated records, it’s an absolute grower. A few times through and it’s hard to prise it out of the CD player. Hear one of the more upbeat tracks on this issue’s fRoots 69 compilation.