Mario Frangoulis: Bridging Boundaries Through Music And Giving Back
by Andrea Stassou
International singing sensation, Mario Frangoulis, returns to the US, with his electrifying voice and stunning charisma. His first stop will be New York City’s Jazz at LincolnCenter on March 21st. Part of the proceeds will benefit his homeland of Greece, still struggling from the devastating economic crisis. Lauded by critics around the world for his vast musical range and dazzling performance style, Frangoulis is working with a new US based management team and is now busier than ever with several exciting projects ahead. Look out for news about his Holiday album next fall! Meantime, on the eve of his three-city tour, Frangoulis spoke with NEO, to let his American friends know what it really feels like to have an “international career”…one that combines music and philanthropy.
What does having an “international career” mean to you?
To me, an ‘international career’ is about being present in the world. It’s about embracing other cultures, music, languages, and using your talent to embrace all people. I am focused on how I can make a contribution to humankind by creating environments (via music) for people to come together and experience great stories of love, compassion, heroism, and empathy through my music… For me having an ‘international career’ means that a little girl in Singapore is waiting for me at the airport at 6 in the morning to give me a rose and that she is on the other side of world feeling the same things that I felt as a child… Or when I am in Turkey singing in Greek, and the entire Turkish audience is singing the Greek lyrics along with me! Ultimately it is about being boundary-less.
It’s remarkable that people in so many different countries and cultures know your songs and attend your performances (you just performed in front of sold out crowds in Germany and Turkey, and you have a huge fan base in Mexico). What does that mean to you?
It means that “people are people” and politics has nothing to do with it at the end of the day. If you stand up for the right things, and relay the right messages, and embrace people sincerely – and meet them “where they are” – not try to force them to embrace something they can’t relate to, then you win hearts, minds and friends all over the world.
Every time I prepare for a concert – I have my “signature songs” that everyone who listens to Mario Frangoulis expects to hear at every show. However, I always think about where I’m going and I try to learn about what is happening in that place, at that moment. This is what inﬂuences my choices every time.
For example, I just performed with the legendary lead singer of the Scorpions – Klaus Meine, a very generous colleague on stage and such a ﬁne and classy musician. We sang Send Me An Angel in Germany at a gala event. Also, the honoree is of Persian descent and so I learned a song in Persian composed by Anoush Rohani, Teheran’s leading composer and hero to so many, with his great love for his country and support of their values and great traditions. The audience was shocked to say the least, and so thrilled! It wasn’t that easy – to be honest! But it was worth the effort because people felt respected, and I felt that I connected with them on a whole other level than if I had only sung my own songs from my albums.
What are the demands and burdens of singing all over the world for such a diverse audience?
The most demanding (and also the most satisfying) aspect of all of this is the creative process of getting into the “psyche” of what you are trying to do, and not just being one-sided about it. Some artists think “they invited me and so they will hear what I want them to hear.”
Of course, if you are attending one of my concerts, you are coming to hear my songs, but if you are attending a Mario Frangoulis concert in Montreal, then I will be thinking about songs that I can sing in French… And if the next week I am singing for the Dalai Lama at a Peace Conference, well, you can be guaranteed that the entire program will change!
The “demands” that this puts on me (and my musicians), is more about the amount of research, preparation, and study that goes into having a ﬂexible and international program. Those who know me, and work with me, are always prepared for changes. I am always concerned about what will be the highest impact to that audience in that location on that day. It’s hard work, but I love it, and there is nothing more satisfying than knowing that you have won over people’s hearts and minds because you performed something special that was just for them.
The audiences need to re-discover you and I continue to raise the bar and keep the ‘excellence’ of what we do as a team on stage to the highest level. Striving to be better every day!
When you think about your current and future projects are you concerned more with what will appeal all over the world to your fans or are you driven by your own creative desires?
All of the above! I am always gathering music, and have ideas for the next 20 years! I write ideas all the time in what I call ‘the box of ideas’ so there’s never a chance I run out! Of course, I have colleagues, friends, fans, mentors, and my team who are always helping me organize my thinking and prepare for the next project. It is very hard to prioritize and truly, sometimes, you just want to do ‘everything,’ however it also depends on what you are trying to accomplish. Our plans for 2014 are very different from our plans for 2015…
Also, it depends on what is happening in the world, what is happening in music, proposals we get, and my own life, of course. I have my own list of goals and projects that I want to pursue, and new ideas come to me every day.
How does it feel to be compared to the great “international artists” of Greek descent, such as Nana Mouskouri and Maria Callas? What do you share with them, in terms of your background, motivations, and life passions?
It is an honor, of course. I am very proud to be Greek, and I am very proud to represent Greece on a world stage. As I have said many times before, and through the wise words of Mikis Theodorakis, ‘knowing that my own people support me is what gives me the courage to perform and walk on to stages all over the world.’ I never liked to feel like an ‘import’ in my own country… Maria Callas is my “muse”, and I believe she set standards by which all others are compared, even today. She certainly is the voice that I go back to every single day. A true artist who was committed to “AEN ARISTEVIN” – “TO EXCEL ALWAYS” – which is what I aspire to artistically.
It is interesting that you mention Nana Mouskouri, because commercially she is a top selling artist of all time… I don’t know if people are aware but she has sold over 400 million albums worldwide! That is unbelievable impact and reach when you really think about it, and she earned it all herself with her talent and creativity and ability to sing in so many different languages. She is one of the original “Crossover Artists” of our time!
I feel that I share traits with both of them – my pride in being Greek, my commitment to bringing the best Greek music and composers and musicians into my work, my studies and hard work ethic, and commitment to quality and longevity in a career, my love for the great works of Mikis Theodorakis like ‘Axion Esti’ with the poetry of Nobel winning poet Odysseus Elytis. Or The Birds by Aristophanes set to the music of my favorite composer Manos Hadjidakis. When I think about Maria Callas and Nana Mouskouri, as well as other very well known international artists who have carried Greece on their shoulders, like Teresa Stratas and Tatiana Troyanos and Nicola Zaccaria and Herbert Von Karajan (real name was Karayianides) or the great Agnes Baltsa and Dimitris Kavakos, Dimitris Sgouros and so many amazing musicians, it is their deep commitment we must follow — with pride that we are all “marathon runners” not “sprinters.”
I have the honor of being able to say that I have been on stage for 25 years. I have been able to survive and sustain a career doing what I love most and their examples allow me to continue evolving, learning, and reﬁning my craft every day.
As an “international artist” you have a unique perspective of what people around the world care about. How does this shape your philanthropic efforts, since we know you’re involved in so many charitable endeavors?
I care most about causes that pertain to children and peace, creating safety in the world for all human beings. I am very worried about what is happening all over the world, and I cannot bear that innocent children in various parts of the world are suffering, whether it’s a lack of food, education or love from their family. Children are the future and by destroying their lives and hearts and dreams, we destroy our own future. From my “platform” on stage, I feel a responsibility to keep this message alive.
In the United States I support an incredible organization called The Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans (www.horatioalger.org), as their Global Ambassador since 2006. They privately fund full scholarships to “high potential, high risk” children across the United States and Canada and have a direct impact on helping intelligent young people fulfill their dreams, despite the ‘odds.’ The stories are incredible and transformational and offer an example of what can happen if there is a helping hand out there to pull someone with dreams out of horrible adversity.
I had a troublesome childhood myself, with violence in my “first” home country in Africa, the former Rhodesia, where I lived before I moved to Greece at the age of four. Because of the challenges in my own childhood, I decided to give back and help as many children as I possibly can, especially now that I have the opportunity. Children that are less fortunate than I was.
In Europe, I support the work of Nobel Peace Laureate Betty Williams who has established an organization called The World Centers of Compassion for Children International (www.wccci.org). She has founded the ﬁrst “City of Peace” for refugee families coming out of war-torn areas to Italy’s Basilicata region in an incredible revitalization project there.
Of course, Greece and all Greek causes are always the core of who I am. I have pledged to do whatever I can to help my homeland and bring conﬁdence, hope, and success back to one of the most incredible places on earth.
Do you feel like an “ambassador for Greece” around the world? Your spring tour in the US involves a charitable component for Greece, in these difficult times for your homeland.
I definitely consider myself an “ambassador of Greece,” but I feel that all Greeks have it in them and must be “ambassadors” as well. We need to learn to best represent our country and not give the wrong impression or idea of Greece. I feel that it is extremely important to remind the world of the extraordinary accomplishments of Greece and the Greek people. For example, I always insist with every orchestra – whether it’s the Boston Pops or the Ankara Symphony – that a Greek composer is featured in an orchestral piece. Sometimes I feel the responsibility that even second or third generation Greeks don’t know their own music and composers. A few years ago we collaborated with The Greek Institute in Boston to create a show called “The Light of Greece” that highlighted Greek poetry set to music. So many people came up to me in tears saying they had never heard this beautiful Greek music before. This is a responsibility that we as Greeks abroad must take very seriously.
This is also why my team and I decided to respond to Mr. Jaharis’ “call to action” to give to several causes. At my NYC show, we will raise money for “Apostole” in Greece to help struggling families. And in Chicago we are supporting the Greek-American day schools and the NationalHellenicMuseum. And in San Francisco we are collaborating with the Elios Charitable Foundation that honored me this past fall, to help their efforts to support Greek culture. I was so moved because I recently learned that even my fans from other countries who are unable to attend our shows this spring bought tickets to support “the causes.” This is what I mean when I say music is the “great uniﬁer,” and this is ultimately what it means to me to be an international artist and still true to my Greek heart.
Mario Frangoulis Live in 2014:
- March 21, 2014 ~ 8PM, Jazz at Lincoln Center, New York, NY: www.jalc.org or call 212-721-6500
- April 4, 2014 ~ 8PM, The Nourse Auditorium, San Francisco, CA: www.cityboxoffice.com or call 415-392-4400
- April 7, 2014 ~ 7:30PM, The Harris Theater at Millennium Park, Chicago, IL: www.harristheaterchilcago.org or call 312-334-7777.
- If you are interested in purchasing a $500 charity ticket in support of “Apostole” for the New York concert (includes a private cocktail reception with Mario), please contact email@example.com.