Birth of a song

Acclaimed composer, lyricist and singer Pantelis Thalassinos, is the man behind hundreds of collaborations with some of the greatest Greek musicians of all time. Here he speaks to Neos Kosmos about his first performance on Australian soil

Waiting to board the plane from Athens to Melbourne, renowned Greek music artist Pantelis Thalassinos seems anxious about his imminent long haul flight. “It’s a long flight and I’m sure it will be manageable, but I am a fanatic smoker,” he reveals.

“Hopefully, it’ll all be fine,” he says unconvincingly, like many a smoking air traveller before him. Amplifying his nervousness is the anticipation of a trip that has been in the making for a number of years. He explains “I am very excited about going to Australia. It is the first time that I’m making this trip, and I had always wanted to travel there. It is a long trip, but I believe it will be very much worth it.”

Thalassinos’ upcoming tour is a coup for organisers of Melbourne’s Antipodes Festival and Greek Festival of Sydney, who have secured him for one show only in each of their capital cities. This is the first time the respected contemporary Greek singer, songwriter and composer will be arriving on Australian shores. Over the years, there have been countless attempts to bring the coveted Thalassinos to our shores but without success.

“I wanted so much this time to come, and so did all of the musicians,” he says.

“Other times we were invited for only one performance, so it wasn’t in the interest of the musicians to come all this way for one show only. Now we have the Thursday night performance in Sydney, and the free performance for the public at the Antipodes Festival in Melbourne, it makes so much more sense this time with more than one show.”

Thalassinos’ dedication to a life of music is demonstrated in his fourteen solo albums (nearly all of which have reached gold, platinum or double platinum status) and his contribution to over one hundred albums as composer or guest singer, making him one of the most acclaimed Greek artists on the scene today. Not having experienced a Greek Australian audience before, Thalassinos still has a firm grasp of what awaits him.

“What I expect is what I’ve experienced in other areas where there is a considerable Greek population, that there is a strong Hellenic feeling amongst the Greek Australians, that they value and appreciate very much to hear Greek song. And that’s why I’m coming out there. I want to interact closely with the people there, play my music live, music that most people would have only heard from a CD previously.” His trip to Australia comes at a time of great uncertainty for the motherland, but he believes that it is more a global crisis than just a local one.

“I actually feel like it’s a general economic crisis across the world, not just in Greece,” he says. And the escalating political issues have significant bearing on his own music and the state of music generally. “Music always has a strong association with the political, and social issues regardless.” His career spans over 30 years, for which he is best known internationally for the much loved Smyrneika Tragoudia, Anathema Se and Karavia Hiotika.

“I will be playing all these songs to the audiences in Australia because I believe that’s how they know me best.” Along with these hits, he will perform songs off his last album Kalantari, a collection of 12 songs to represent the 12 months of the year. Australian audiences are in for a rare treat: Thalassinos will be playing songs from his yet to be released album Kontra sto Kero. He explains “I’ve been working on my next album, which is now complete, but it hasn’t been released on the market.”

With such a rich selection of songs to his name, how would Thalassinos describe his musical style? “My music is a mixture of everything, not just one type of music,” he says. “All of my influences have come from many different types of music. “My inspiration comes from Greek life, from emotions, places, the ocean, whatever a Greek person goes through, this is what I write about in my songs.”

His inspiration has manifested itself in work respected by some of the greatest Greek artists in the industry. He has collaborated with the likes of Mikis Theodorakis, Haris Alexiou, and George Dalaras and performed in the most highly regarded venues in Greece, fulfilling Thalassinos’ childhood dreams. Amongst his varied talents – composer, lyricist, singer – where does he feel most at home? He is quick to respond, “I feel better when I’m writing music. When I sing music, it is a secondary joy. I would say that the joy that comes from the birth of a song is far greater than any later interpretation of it.”

Thalassinos’ musical career launched when he formed the band Lathrepivates, and his advice to newcomers, based on his personal experiences, is positive but cautious. He says, “I would say that at the start, it’s best not to focus on it as a career. Music is basically a hobby at the start, it’s not something that will give back at first. It’s very rare to make a profession out of a hobby. If you are able to land that too, that’s a treasure.”

With increased exposure to international music, and an influx of other nationalities that have migrated to Greece, the face of Greek music is changing. Thalassinos believes that change in music is a necessary constant.

He says, “Music is always morphing. It might seem like there is a basic structure to it, but the way we work music into different shapes, is just as what we do with gold, with diamonds. That’s how I view music, as something that is interpreted and shaped by the individual.”

Catch Thalassinos on the main stage at the Lonsdale Street Glendi on Saturday 25 February and closing the Greekfest in Sydney on Sunday 26 February. Both performances are free.