Interpretation derives from within and entails a genuine experience – An internal battle between Athens and New York

Pericles Kanaris

Greek Rebetiko and American Blues

Text: Dimitra Kechagia | photographs: Pericles Kanaris' Archive
Perikles Kanaris
Periklis Kanaris, portrait photo by @Yiorgos Mavropoulos

He trails along sounds, striving to discover them. Having grown up in several neighborhoods of Athens, “discovering the Greek sound was handed to me on a plate”, points out Pericles Kanaris. At some point, he left Greece seeking the foreign sounds that had cast a spell on him. Kanaris and his family now reside in New York, and – as most Greeks living abroad – he looks for ways to intertwine these two worlds. “Ideally, I would opt for an arrangement that would allow me to both uphold my Greek roots and take profit of the raw material New York has to offer to every artist, in its own unique way. It is an “internal battle”, never-ending and each time dependent on the personal context.”

Teaming up with Greek and foreign musicians, Pericles Kanaris wishes to sent his own message on the universal dynamics of Greek culture. Having worked alongside top-notch musicians, both in Greece and abroad, he can’t help but to notice a difference in approach towards a young composer, such as himself. More specifically, comparing Athens to New York, he stresses out that “the market’s size and the rich gamut of music stimuli in New York pave the way for a more positive predisposition to experiment and give a vote of confidence to young artists.”

Testing his own limits, since the beginning of 2020 he has taken up teaching a class – conceived and set up by himself – titled “Songs of the Underdog: American Blues meets Greek Rebetiko” at the New York University, under the Consulate General of Greece in New York. “My first concern was the literal and metaphorical distance of this material from today’s generation of international students.” The class was attended by students coming from several fields of studies and different parts of the world, aged 18-24.

In his view, the scholarship granted by the Berklee College of Music in Boston was of pivotal importance for his build-up, as it triggered many events that marked his career. Other important artistic moments are the work of “Project Innocence” which was presented, in its first world performance, at Carnegie Hall in New York and the production of the first collection of Greek music “Music of Greece“, which was ever released by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In 2008 he founded the band “Synolon“, making successful appearances at major concert venues in New York for consecutive seasons and with collaborations of great musicians such as Ara Dinkjian of Night Ark and Janis Siegel of Manhattan Transfer. 

As to his domestic achievements, the one that stands out are the poems entrusted to him by the renowned lyricist, prose writer and poet Manos Eleftheriou, who described Kanaris’ debut album as “one great deposit in the bank of the future”. To him this collaboration “constitutes a great honor that comes with an equally great responsibility to endow his words with composition, orchestration and production choices that would prioritize respect and support towards him.”

He has joined forces with top-class Greek performers, such as Vasilis Papakonstantinou, Kostas Makedonas, Rita Antonopoulou and Lamprini Karakosta. One wonders though whether there are Greek performers that could interpret the blues. In the same vein, are there American performers that could interpret rebetiko songs? “In terms of tone and technique, there are, but the key word is “interpret”. In my opinion, the interpretation of a song derives from within and entails a genuine experience – a grip on music is not enough. Otherwise, the furthest one can go is a high-quality mimicking.”

According to Pericles Kanaris, during the time of the pandemic “the borderline is thin”, as some have found “mental calmness, freed from the noises of daily life”, while others are found “in a really tough spot, struggling for their survival.”