In Athens my main concern was to continue studying with Ross. I sought him out and asked him; he agreed, as always, with pleasure, and we started lessons at once. I also became interested both in other types of music and in other traditional instruments. A whole new world of music, hitherto unsuspected, was opening out in front of me. The lessons soon became rehearsals, and the rehearsals gradually became mini concerts. I too was becoming a member of the “Labyrinth” group, which Ross had founded years earlier and which had offered (and continues to offer) so much to Greek and other music.
Labyrinth is an open group consisting of a small core of people. All these years, it has hosted great musicians and teachers rom mainly Eastern musical traditions, presenting live dialogues of different types of music and traditions in the form of performances and recordings, utilising the creativity of all its members. As part of this group, I had the great good fortune to play with musicians such as Ross Daly of course, the Trio Chemirani, Vassilis Stavrakakis, Sokratis Sinopoulos, Necati Çelik, Mehmet Erenler, Huun Huur Tu, Ballake Sissoko, Zohar Fresco, Periklis Papapetropoulos, Haris Lambrakis, Hosein Arman and many others.
Ross had spoken to me of Giorgis Xylouris as a benchmark of the Cretan lute (laouto). He lived in Australia, visiting Greece for only a few months in the summer. On one of his trips I was able to meet him in Athens, at his brother Lambis’s house. When we took out our instruments and played, I felt that the music emerged easily and naturally, as though we had already been playing together for 40 years… When we stopped for a break, we found three hours had already passed. That day certainly showed that we had not met by chance..
A year and a half later, Giorgis settled in Crete with his family and suggested we work together. We have been playing together at concerts and traditional fiestas ever since, giving me an in-depth knowledge of Cretan music and dance. (And, of course, we have a great time whenever we play together – and even when we don’t play…)
I am also obliged to Labyrinth for my meeting the great musician Bijan Chemirani, who invited me to my first official recording in 2000 for his CD “Eos”, released in France by a Marseille company. Bijan is not only a top musician (and firm friend); he also has the gift of approaching music in a free and extremely creative spirit, and he was the first to encourage me to collaborate with him, composing and recording our own pieces. So, almost without my realising it, we started recording my first CD (“Dikoi mou Filoi” – “My Friends”) in 2002, completing it in three months.
The guest musicians who willingly contributed to the CD (Giorgis Xylouris, Vassilis Stavrakakis, Ross Daly, Haris Lambrakis, Hammidreza Khabazzi) endowed the overall sound with such spirit that the CD was a great success by the standards of Cretan discography at the time, and is still many people’s favourite today. Following the success of Bijan’s “Eos” on the French market, the door of L’empreinte Digitale of Marseille was open for my own CD “Akri tou Dounia” (“Edge of the World”). It was soon released in France, to critical acclaim from the French press.
That same year, Achilleas Persidis (the guitarist and “laoutieris”) suggested that I join his group “Notios Ihos”, in which my teacher Ross Daly had played until then. I already knew Achilleas’s work from his CDs, so the rehearsals were few, fun and creative. Our live concerts were a success, and I count my time at Notios Ihos among the most valuable musical experiences of my artistic career. I also took part in the recordings of Achilleas’s third CD with Notios Ihos, which I hope will soon be released, although I am afraid there may be some delay.
After such a good discographic debut with Bijan Chemirani, barely six months after the release of my first CD we started recording the next, to be signed this time by both of us. The guest musicians were mostly the same, with the addition of French flautist Henri Tournier and the Thessaloniki singer Maria Simoglou, a fresh, warm and strong voice who gave the recording a new air. “Kismet” was released just a year after the first album, winning equally good reviews and awards in Greece and France.
In summer of the same year (2003) I became a member of two groups, “Palyrria” and that of Kristi Stassinopoulou. Electronic sounds mingled with natural instruments, sturdy floors, bright lights, smoke, standing audiences… Many concerts, many journeys. I had a wonderful time with both groups, warm people with respect and a sense of humour.
The following winter (2004), the composer Stamatis Spanoudakis was looking for a lyra player (lyraris) to play in his concerts. Chico (Panagiotis Katsikiotis), his oldest collaborator, with whom I had already played in Notios Ihos and Palyrria, told him about me and sent him my CDs as a sample of my work and sound. Spanoudakis invited me to rehearsals for his forthcoming appearances. It was hard work, with uncomfortable positions for the lyra and a Cold War atmosphere between the Greek classical musicians and maestros and this Cretan with his strange, untuned instrument entrusted with most of the solos… Major official venues (the Albert Hall in London, the Enescu Theater in Bucharest, the Herodeion in Athens, the Olympic Athletic Centre of Athens, Beijing…), a beautiful sound and, above all, Stamatis’s elegant compositions, some of which are already part of Greek musical history. Our artistic relationship continues to this day, including, apart from major appearances, Stamatis’s unpredictable, unfailing and radical humour, and my contribution to the recording of two CDs (“Alexandros ΙΙ” and “Live in China”).