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From Legal Notes to Blue Notes, Aggeliki Psoni Charts Her Tunes
When she’s not using her big voice to advocate for social justice, Aggeliki Psoni can be found singing the high sevens on her blue notes, or bringing them down a notch to a smoky low. Aggeliki is a licensed lawyer and jazz singer, and while issues of policy-making and legislation are important to her as a lawyer, her real passion is singing.
She was inspired by her dad to go into law. She and her father would debate with each other endlessly, but it was always a struggle on who would have the last word. That ended with her dad saying “you have a big mouth. You should become a lawyer”. After speaking with her I didn’t get the sense she had a “big mouth”, at least not in the negative sense of the word. I found her to be very sweet, delightfully charming, and eager to chat earnestly about her work as a lawyer and singer.
Aggeliki was always sensitive towards matters of social justice. A career in law provided a forum for her to advocate, as she puts it, for “meaningful change, either through policy-making or through litigation. It would give me the ability to give voice to others whose words and experiences – in society’s eyes – do not matter as much because of their race, sex, socioeconomic status, geographical regions or education level, all of which are interrelated. Law school taught me a completely different way of thinking, writing, and speaking than what I was used to. Respect for Human rights is key for any society to function in a healthy and prosperous way.”
Her first experience on social justice was with the United Nations through a study abroad program in Geneva while she was an undergraduate student at Boston University. She always had an interest in international affairs and wanted to make an impact. This interest led her to attend law school. As a student attorney with the CUNY International Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic, she had the opportunity to prepare a special report to the Human Rights Council. She and her colleagues travelled to Colombia and exposed issues disproportionately affecting Afro-Colombian women, including gender violence, lack of healthcare accessibility, and infringement of land rights.
With her social consciousness, Aggeliki embodies the Greek ethos of Hellenic pride, determination, and strength. As we approach the 200th anniversary of Greek Independence from the Ottoman Empire, to her this major event in Greek history means the epitome of the Greek struggle and “the will and thirst of the Greek people for freedom at any cost. It is the ultimate display of self-sacrifice and it should serve as a beacon for today’s Greeks in their effort to preserve and promote Hellenism.”
Being one of “today’s Greeks”, she likes to keep an open mind to different possibilities. Raised in Greece, she often thinks about going back and giving back, whether it’s to practice law there, follow her musical passion, or something else. She believes that law is a powerful tool for change, but can only be effective with activism, education, and culture: “In Greece, I see the Me Too Movement bringing about some much needed change. The legal framework to support bringing a sexual harassment action may exist, but the culture does not. Alas, laws are just words on paper if they do not get enforced.” She hopes to see reform of the criminal justice system too that includes comprehensive early education on systemic racism, better training of law enforcement officers, and a movement away from incarceration toward rehabilitation.
She understands that Greece occupies a special space in the world historically and geographically, located at the crossroads of three major continents: “The contribution of Greek citizens and Greeks of the diaspora is enormous and creates a sense of pride and duty to carry the torch of Hellenism forward. Since the Greek language is the root of many Western languages, a serious international effort should be undertaken by the Greek Ministry of Civilization to promote the history and culture of Greece. Science, language and culture raise historical awareness and give a sense of continuity in global affairs.”
When not talking social justice and reform, or taking legal notes, Aggeliki can be can be found singing the notes to her beloved music genres – blues, Latin jazz, and traditional Greek music, which is near and dear to her heart. The idea of blending these styles is one she finds especially intriguing. She loves languages, and speaks Greek, French, and English fluently. She has a new album coming out that will feature original works and a few covers of her favorite music genres, and will feature a collaboration with well-known jazz musician Spiros Exaras. She is honored to work him, including her past collaborations with Glafkos Kontemeniotis with whom she has recorded a number of jazz rearrangements of popular Greek songs and other songs. She is also working on projects with composer and actor Phytos Stratis who has introduced her to musical theater and interactive performing.
Music was always a big part of her soul and identity, to the point of embarrassing her family: “During family gatherings, I would silence everyone, stand up on whatever chair I could find and sing. Our guests were compelled to pay attention to the crazy four-year-old whether they wanted to or not. Our family and friends remind me of this years later, referring to my antics as ‘endearing’, but I try to convince them it was my non-existent twin sister. Thankfully, I haven’t had to command my audience’s attention so aggressively since then. Now I happily perform upon invitation.”
Although the pandemic has created some challenges in live performances, in the past few months, she had the pleasure of participating in some online events with her collaborators from Cyprus New York Productions for the Ronald McDonald House in New York, as well as the COSMOS FM Annual Phidippedes Award Ceremony honoring the Hellenic Medical Society of New York. She usually participates in musical ceremonies at various concert halls in New York and Boston, and is grateful to the people in our Greek-American community, including Grigoris Maninakis, for their efforts to preserve our rich music culture and to give performance opportunities to young artists. Like many others, she’s anxiously awaiting the reopening of music venues so that she may present some of the exciting musical and theatrical works she’s been preparing.
Aggeliki, who also plays the piano, composed her first song in high school, which was performed by her a capella group at their annual multicultural show. This inspired her to start rearranging popular Greek songs and other songs, which led her to compose original melodies.
Aggeliki admits she struggles with the idea of pursuing a career in music-full time, when asked if she could. Her decision to pursue a career in law was a conscious one, and one that her family supported most. She does not come from a musical family, but she is very family oriented, and gives her parents, especially her mother, great credit for getting her and her brothers involved with music at a young age. She has tremendous respect for those who pursue music full-time, but she feels confident in her approach: “I was always told I couldn’t do both, so I wanted to prove to myself that I could. Paradoxically, what I found is that the busier I got, the better I got at whatever I was doing. Doing law and music simultaneously forced me to be organized to the point where every minute of my day had to be planned most of the time. I try to give everything I do my very best, whether I do it full time or part time. For me, the two disciplines complement each other and give me a healthy work-life balance. It does get overwhelming, but it is all worth it.”
Aggeliki, like all artists, has her inspirations. Her influences include some of the most iconic female singers from around the world, like Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Christina Aguilera, Lara Fabian and Tzeny Vanou. She also draws strength and inspiration from the people in her life and her experiences with them.
And like all artists, will always have her dream collaborations. In her eyes,”if Andrea Bocelli asked me to sing a duet with him, I guess I wouldn’t say no. In fact, I’ve been expecting his call. It would also be an honor to share the stage with Bruno Mars, Charlie Puth, Stevie Wonder, Melody Gardot, and Vulfpeck. You might say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one.” I think that last bit of dreamer may have been her homage to the lyrics of John Lennon.
Although the pandemic has created challenges in live performances, in the past few months, she had the pleasure of participating in some online events with her collaborators from Cyprus New York Productions to the Ronald McDonald House in New York. Like many others, she’s anxiously awaiting the reopening of music venues so that she may present some of the exciting musical and theatrical works she’s been preparing. She promises to keep everyone posted through social media.
In the meantime, it doesn’t hurt to make it a Doris kind of day and “to dream a little dream” and sing like her.