Discovering life through music
Your early musical history is shrouded in mystery as there is so little data to be found on the Internet. Please talk about your beginnings in music.
I started playing music when I was 15, but it was very occasional. My mother brought home a cheap guitar and I began singing. A year later, I left school and with it, all formal education. At the same time I left home, so I was never able to go to any music school because I had to earn my living by doing any kind of job to survive… When I was 22 I started travelling around the world, playing even on the street and making recordings. I liked the adventure of travelling and discovering life through music. It felt like music was as a tool, a kind of language to express my thoughts and feelings from life experience; a way to discover the world.
What was the kind of music that influenced you and has taken you to the place where you are now as a musician?
For me, as a native of the Balkans, there were lots of different influences in music due to the strong traditions that remained or just passed through these lands through the years. One would get a cultural shock living in the Balkans. You can be into the East music, the sound of the Maqams and at the same time in Western European well tempered sound. This has influenced various languages and songs in the region. In the area where I grew up, the musicians played those typical Macedonian rhythms and melodies with trumpet, trombone, clarinet, accordion and tapan. So I got used to dancing to those “strange” rhythms since I was a small kid. My village is situated very close to the border, in between Edessa and Florina. I used to listen to that music a lot. It was when I was 12 that I saw an electric guitar for the first time. That was a cultural shock, I must say (laughing). Later, as many people of that age, I used to listen to a lot of rock stuff, and when I was 17, I was lucky to meet someone from Athens, a musician, who was serving in the army at my place. He was a very good piano player, 8 years older than me and we shared a small room for more than a year. His choice of music to listen to at that time was Keith Jarrett, Cecil Taylor, Bill Evans etc. and I could never have imagined that these things existed. I started listening to Charlie Haden. I was pretty much surprised at the sound of the double bass. That’s how I started listening to a lot of jazz music, ECM stuff, Blue Note, and at the same time a lot of traditional Macedonian music, as well as Greek, Bulgarian, Turkish, Arabic, African etc. Music from various corners of this world. Somehow all this music came very close to my heart.
At that point you chose to embark on a voyage and lead a nomadic lifestyle, playing and living around the world.
When I was, let’s say, old enough, I started travelling around western Europe. I bought an old van that I transformed into a house on wheels, and travelled through the countries, earning my living by playing and just travelling to the next village or town. I did that for a long time. Gradually, from the streets I began playing in theatres, clubs, doing recordings, and so on. Later, I got back to Thessaloniki, and formed my first band trying to play the music I composed on the way… It was then and there that I started working also as an arranger, as I was writing arrangements for recordings. I worked behind the albums of several important and well known composers.
Please talk about the work you did on the Greek music scene.
During that period starting from 1993 I worked as a session player. I’m credited for playing on more than 80 albums, and I produced and arranged several other albums. From 93’ until 99’ I worked a lot. After that, it started to become very boring for me. And that was the reason I stopped collaborating with all those big stars.
What are some of the names of the people you have worked with?
The list is long. I don’t want to mention it because it is sure that I will forget someone and that wouldn’t be fair… During that period until 2001, I used to work constantly either in Athens or Thessaloniki and was always responsible for the arrangement, the recording, mastering, mixing, etc, etc. I had great responsibility for other people’s music. At the same time I had many compositions of mine that remained on the side waiting. It was then that I decided that it would be better to starve on my own music than to be working for others. It was nice to be working with those people, but I didn’t wanted to be on that scene anymore.
So, how did your solo career begin?
In 1995 was recorded my first album “Nostos” and I released it four years later. At the same time I formed a quintet with some of my friends and since then we have played all around. In 2004 was recorded my second album “Rousilvo” which is the second part of a trilogy that started with “Nostos”. “Rousilvo” was released in 2010 (laughing). I kept it in my archive for six years. It has been always difficult for me to release something. So many releases on this world…
How did you start working with Savina Yanatou as part of her band Primavera en Salonico. You even played in Skopje at the Offest 2009.
I began working with Savina very soon after I decided to change my direction in music. At that time I met Savina because I had to stand in for the bass player of the band for two concerts. Some of the musicians were already my friends. After a while, the percussionist could not follow them anymore, so they asked me to replace him too. That’s how I started playing percussion with this band and I’ve been a permanent member since 2002. We did two recordings for ECM, “Sumiglia” in 2004 and “Songs of an Other” in 2008. Presenting this work we tour all over the world.
How important is the aspect of collaborating for you?
For me the most important thing in music as well as in life in general is to be able to share. When I feel that someone has this value as an important thing, then good music, or what ever, comes naturally.
How do those collaborations with musicians from the Balkans work?
Balkan Horses was an interesting project. I met Theodosii Spassov, Vlatko Stefanovski, Sanja Ilic, and the others in the year 2000. We did a concert in Sofia and then we did a Balkan tour. I think we played here in Skopje in 2002. At that time I even played at the Skopje Jazz Festival with Theodosii and Haig Yazdjian from Armenia, when Glen Velez cancelled at the last minute and I had to replace him at short notice. It was an adventurous thing to do and it turned out well. Then I met Toni Kitanovski, Zoran Madzirov, Jordan Kostov and some other good musicians and I still play with them these days…
You are one of the rare people from Greece that actually collaborates with musicians from here. In your opinion, how much do musicians from Greece and people interested in music know what is happening here.
In general people in Greece know what is happening for example in Los Angeles or in London but they don’t know much about what is happening in Albania, Bulgaria or in the Republic of Macedonia. The media in Greece is such that they don’t really show what is happening around. There is some kind of a big taboo and it is related to politics. That always kind of ruins the community in the Balkans and we are deprived of news from our immediate surroundings.
Are there any other musicians in Greece that are willing to collaborate with other musicians from the Balkan like you do?
That has started happening more in recent times. In the past there were only a few musicians willing to do that. We, the artists should think in a different way about political issues from our politicians. We should be dialectical about what reality gives us. Borders are just visual reality. If you fly, from an airplane you don’t see them. We make them and build them inside of us.
Can you foresee the disappearance of those borders between nations and cultures?
As I mentioned previously, there aren’t any real borders but the ones we make. We have many things to share. It is just another point of view to see what people can share with each other and not what to divide. It’s like with the example with the glass of water – you can say it is half full or half empty. If you say it is half full then you opt for the sharing and vice versa. But we tend to divide things. Real artists make you see those divisions, and inspire you to share. Maybe it will take two or ten generations for people to realize it, but I’m sure that eventually they will, and then we will be free.
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