Yiannis Kotsiras [Photo Courtesy: Yiannis Kotsiras official Facebook page]
CAIRO – 19 November 2017: Bestselling Greek musician Yiannis Kotsiras speaks with Egypt Today about his career, his passion for Egypt and his relations with the Egyptian community in Greece.
Beginning his career in 1990, the ambitious artist has been previously chosen to perform the official theme song of the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004. He has always had a love for Egypt, not only filming a video in Alexandria but also dedicated an entire song for it.
Yiannis Kotsiras [Photo Courtesy: Yiannis Kotsiras official website]
ET: How did you get into the music business?
YK: It was early 1990 and I was working at a car service station. A customer there called Christos Konstantinou heard me singing while I was fixing a tire and he asked me if I wanted to perform at a historic music place called Perivoli tou ouranou (Garden of Sky). I auditioned and they liked me. That is how I started—like a movie. My mother didn’t have any arguments as long as I was very careful, but my father didn’t like it.
He told me that singing was not a job and I would starve. Thankfully, he was a sailor so I was working behind his back. When he found out we had a very small argument and I told him that some day, he would pay to listen to me. And that is what has happened. The first time he came to listen to me I made him pay for everything that he ordered just to remind him of my promise. Of course the next day I bought him a very expensive suit.
ET: What challenges have you faced throughout your career? YK: The biggest challenge was refusing promising propositions. I preferred to say no to a lot of money than sing at places and music I didn’t like. For me, music is not just a ‘job’, it is politics, a way of living. And in Greece you can choose between real music and a glossy lifestyle. I chose the music.
ET: What influences you when producing your music?
YK: My influences are many. I listen to national music because I admire its tunes and I get my inspiration from daily behaviors, politics, and world incidents. But my standard influences are from my loved ones. First of all, there is traditional Greek music called ‘Rembetiko’, and of course I have rock and ethnic music inside me as well, so my music is a mix of all these.
ET: Tell us about Alexandria, from your point of view.
YK: My mother was born in Alexandria, and to be honest when I look at my origins I feel closer to the Greek people who were born in Egypt than the [those born in the] mainland. There is a great difference in cultures. When I came to Alexandria I had a very strange feeling, like I had been there before. I knew where to go, what to eat and where ‘Qait Bay’ citadel was. It was very strange but wonderful experience. I love Egypt and its people. We have many Egyptians in Greece and they are very nice and polite. They respect Greece very much.
ET: What was it like working in Alexandria?
YK: In 1996 we were planning to film the song in Alexandria, but a few days before we travelled there was a terrorist attack at a hotel so we had to stop. When we were trying to think of other ideas for the video, the director asked me how I imagined Alexandria. I answered “like the naked body of the most beautiful girl on earth.” That was the click. He told me it would be very expensive but that we would make the video on a woman’s body with the symbolic message that Alexandria is the place where life begins. Of course, it was a little provoking at the time so many TV channels didn’t dare to play it. But the art people saw it as a piece of art and they loved it. The other one “Kapou tha vrethoume” (We Will Meet Somewhere) was just my desire to make a film in my mother’s homeland, so we made this trip.
Kotsiras at Qaitbay Fort - A Scene from “Kapou tha Vrethoume” [Photo Courtesy: Yiannis Kotsiras Vevo/Youtube]
ET: You say “Ya salam” [wow or peace, depending on context] a lot and use it in your Facebook posts, even though it is an Arabic word and you always post in Greek. Why?
YK: This is the main word of my first song and because I like the meaning. I am astonished by music, with what I am doing and especially including the word Salam, which means peace. And finally, as my song says, “Ya salam means Alexandria” for me.
ET: What do Egyptian and Greek music have in common?
YK: I think they are the last music [genres] that have no influences from Western music. Greek and Egyptian music managed to include Western music without changing its base. That is the most important thing and the most common point of view. You can also look at it as a matter of taste. I mean Greek people love Egyptian music and I want to believe that Egyptians love Greek music.
ET: If you had a chance to collaborate with an Egyptian singer, who would you choose?
YK: I really, really admire Amr Diab. He is one of my favorites. I believe that he continues the great history of Egyptian traditional music with today’s sound.
ET: In 2004, you released “Pass the Flame” for the Olympic Games Athens 2004, can you tell us more details about this?
YK: It was a wonderful experience in which the Olympics EMI World took the responsibility to produce the Official Olympic Torch Relay Song. So they asked Trevor Horn to write the song and he called singers from all over the world to make a rehearsal. From Greece EMI send me and after the rehearsal Trevor Horn chose me to be the main artist of the song. Pass the flame released globally and wherever the olympic torch traveled the song was played. It was a great honor for me and a really beautiful experience.
ET: Tell us more about your current album Pseutis Keros
YK: In Greece we’re experiencing one of the most difficult periods of our history. The economic crisis is accompanied by cultural, refugee and social crises. So I decided to make an album about normal lives with the message that we can solve everything if we are all together. We must stop searching for enemies and create friends. We must stop searching for saviors and we must stop seeing other people from other countries or religions as our enemies. We are all made the same and everybody’s God is talking about peace and love.
ET: Can you share details about your upcoming European tour?
YK: It’s a project I started four years ago with the main title “Greece on the road” and the point is to communicate Greek music and culture to other countries. We started in 2014 with two concerts and now we are visiting five European countries (UK, Holland, Germany, Belgium, France) but also Israel, Australia, Russia and the US. We love to play Greek music outside Greece and we love to communicate the reality of what Greece is today.
ET: Are you considering touring Arab countries including Egypt?
YK: It is very difficult at the moment. We are trying to find people who want to bring Greek music to Egypt but we still can’t make a connection. We are looking for connections to Algeria and Egypt but we are just at the very beginning. I hope that we will find some professionals to do the job.
Kotsiras in Bibliotheca Alexandrina - A Scene from “Kapou tha Vrethoume” [Photo Courtesy: Yiannis Kotsiras Vevo/Youtube]