Copyright 2023 © Michael Paouris
Copyright 2023 © Michael Paouris
It all began in my home in Tavros during the 90s, when the radio and our old record player would only play folk songs. Neither of my parents had any musical education, they could not sing nor could they play any instruments. But they loved listening to Kazantzidis, Dionisiou, Zampetas, Chiotis and others.
From a young age I was fascinated by these sounds and when I turned five I asked my parents to buy me a Bouzouki. Their initial reaction was to laugh, but eventually they did indulge me and two years later I had in my hands the musical instrument that would change my life.
I had a unique ability to play the songs I listened to and I would also learn very quickly. That impressed both my parents and my teacher, Manolis Michalakis, the man whose love and technique helped become who I am today. Even though at the time I didn’t realize I was different, I vividly remember the joy I felt every time I played Bouzouki.
I was so happy with and devoted to what I was doing that when my classmates would play soccer or ride their bikes, I would sit on a bench with a 3-stringed Bouzouki. When they asked me to join them, I’d answer, “Not now, I’m busy!”
I was ten years old, still in elementary school, when I started playing music in a small family restaurant in Moschato.Then I became the mascot and patrons would come up to me every night to congratulate me.
My parents have supported me since day one. I would not be where I am today without their encouragement. On a school night, it was my father who would take me to the restaurant and then back home, in time for me to get some sleep.
By the time I was 20 I had performed pretty much everywhere, from festivals to the most prestigious nightclubs of Athens, like Asteria in Glyfada. By that time though, I had decided to expand my career and follow different artistic paths!
Although I enjoyed working, I was alienated by the competitiveness and jealousy common in the trade. They didn’t allow me to connect with the other musicians on stage. Musicians, while performing, would just stare straight ahead, having no real contact with each other… I’m used to music being a game, I like having fun with it. If I’m not exchanging looks with the guitar player, if I’m not having fun with the drummer, if we’re not on the track together, then our souls don’t meet.
And so, I decided to pursue a solo career. To advance in new musical paths and to delve into musical genres such as classical music and jazz, that had up until then been left largely untouched by the Bouzouki. Chiotis had been the first to attempt this; he had even tried playing swing and latin music with his musical instrument. I have admired him since I was a child, and he has always been a great inspiration for me. He helped me define the way in which I determine my musical identity.
“Unfortunately, the Bouzouki does not have the place it deserves in Greece. It’s seen in a steady decline since 1985, overshadowed by the electric guitar, the keyboard and the clarinet. These days, you can find the clarinet everywhere, but the Bouzouki is practically absent. Greek folk music is not what it used to be and I’m not referring to the melodies alone, but the lyrics as well. Music used to praise love, but it did so with inherent dignity.”
I wanted to incorporate the Bouzouki in genres it did not exist before, like in jazz which has a very demanding musical scene. After our concert with Al Di Meola, I started playing across the world. I didn’t want us to simply perform in music bars throughout Greece and give the impression we were experimenting. I knew this instrument could play this music and succeed. I knew it could win over the crowd.
At first, the sound of Bouzouki in jazz concerts, next to a trumpet and a piano, felt odd to the listeners. Most of them associated the Bouzouki with Zorbas, the Greek and folk music. I’d receive all kinds of comments back then, like “this is not Bouzouki”, but those were the stereotypes I was trying to break.
For many years I carried the burden of all those who advised me to stop. Few believed in my vision to bring the Bouzouki in the international spotlight, experiment with it and incorporate it in classical music. The honors and acceptance I have received from the international classical scene today, makes me proud of my struggles.
The love and fire I have for the Bouzouki in my heart will never die down. Sometimes I may feel tired, but I never lose my interest in music. The more one delves deeper into music, the more one discovers new things, new ways with which to play a melody they’ve played dozens of times in the past.
Bouzouki is, after all, my passion, my desire, I cannot live without music. I see melodies in my sleep. It’s the medium through which I express my soul. It’s my very being, my whole life.