Yanni: I talk to music and music talks to me


Yanni was featured in an interview with Gulf News. Read more to find out Yanni's thoughts on songwriting, his orchestra and the tour.

The composer, who loves being in Dubai, will perform this weekend at Dubai World Trade Centre

By Manjari Saxena Deputy Editor The weekend tabloid!
April 3, 2013

Having performed at sold-out shows around the world, the latest ones being as close as Muscat and Doha, you’d expect to hear at least a little bit of weariness, if not arrogance, in the voice at the other end of the line. However, Yanni called me Monday with a cheerful, friendly note in his voice.

It really doesn’t help if you are a fan of the artist you are about to interview. But with a good laugh over the technological glitches of long distance conversations, we set about talking of his “World Without Borders” shows this weekend at the Dubai World Trade Centre.

“I have a lot of new songs and a few surprises. We are very excited,” said the composer, who “will never forget the audience in Dubai”.

“We’ve just finished playing last night in Bucharest and we had an amazing audience. [In Dubai in 2011] we played at the Burj Khalifa. What a magical night it was and the reaction was awesome. I could see all these buildings around and I know people who stay in these apartments watched the show that night,” he said.

“The first time I came to Dubai, as I was going through customs, the border patrol looked at me and said ‘Welcome home’,” he laughed. “Wow, I hadn’t even set foot in Dubai yet. It was my first day, first time and he made me feel at home”.

He has been described as a “new age” musician, composing music ranging from jazz to Greek, classical to rock and roll. However, Yanni refuses to be typecast.

“I do not like typos, including music. I’d say I write music and I have tremendous amount of influences from all over the world. It just comes out like that. My heart feels that. I don’t say I’m going to take some classical music and mix with some Greek music and some rock and roll and make a song. It’s just an emotion that excites me I want to describe.”


Yanni on... his orchestra

“The orchestra is mainly the same people, with maybe one or two changes,” Yanni said. “The main people — my drummer, my violinist, my cellist, my bass player, my percussionist, my keyboard player — they are one of a kind, irreplaceable. They are some of the best in the world, I think. They believe in me. I prefer a smaller size orchestra with the best players in the world rather than a big one. I have the ability to travel around the world. I can’t travel easily with an 80-piece symphony”.


On... a World Without Borders

“World Without Borders for me is the point of my whole career. It’s my dream. For me there are no borders in my mind, there never were. I’m talking about the lines on the map, and some day — probably I won’t be around to enjoy that at the time — the world will be as I see it: one magical beautiful place called earth and music. The kind of music I do, which comes from my soul because I tell the truth with music; because I talk about the things I believe in without having to use words. And if I’m good at what I’m doing and I’m successful, then the emotions translate because the music is instrumental, the message is never lost. Language is never a barrier. I can go play the same music in China, North America, South America, in Russia, in Gulf countries and they understand what I’m saying because they feel it”.


On... his songwriting (without lyrics)

“Because I am talking, music is talking to me,” he explained. “When I hear a note it’s not just any note or a matter of pitch going up or down. It’s that particular note and it has a name. I can never go to sleep with music in the back because any music has notes and the notes are speaking a language. When I compose it appears in my mind. I don’t have to play any instrument at all. It’s a place where all music is available to you simultaneously and it’s simply a matter of deciding which songs to bring down to reality. There is no judgement. I don’t say ‘I like this, I don’t like that’. At that moment creativity expires. So you have to completely surrender. It’s difficult to explain how to do it. I’ve learnt to do through repeated failures to write music when I was a kid. It has got better and better and better over the years. Now I maybe sitting on the balcony at my home and all of a sudden I can hear the whole song”.


On... not singing.

“When I was a kid I really liked to play the keyboard — the piano and the guitar. I never really liked my voice so I didn’t develop it. You’re maybe right, but it’s too late now,” he laughed.


On... sadness in his songs

Yanni’s songs are happy numbers and the emotion is clearly visible on his face when he performs. Yet there is an underlying pathos in most of them, especially those he plays on the piano.

“I’m a very optimistic human being and I tend to want to write music that is positive,” he says. “However, I feel sadness like everybody else. Recently, I was told about a fan who wanted to commit suicide. But he was listening to my music. It picked him up and afterwards stopped him from doing it. It filled me up, made me cry. There are lots of such stories. All I can tell you is this that sometimes my music gets to be sad. If you are in a sad phase, and you listen to music that is sad, maybe it would make you sad. But, [this man] said ‘when I was listening to your music, it allowed me to be sad but gave me hope, picked me at the end’.

“I feel the sadness, I feel the pain, I feel everything that everyone else in the world does but I always know and believe that in the near future, all my problems will be solved and I’ll be OK again. It’s an innate attitude I have and I think it was probably put in me by my mother and father”.


On... the impact of his psychology studies

“The fact that I studied psychology has affected me as a human being and if you affect me, you affect the music I write. My travels around the world have affected my singing. I wanted to learn, I wanted to feel the different places, I wanted to understand different cultures. I’d heard a lot about Dubai and it looked amazing. I saw the videos but you have to get there and feel it. You have to walk on the street, you’ve got to see the people and the look in their eyes, feel their reactions — all of that. And it’s different in each place whether it is Oman, Qatar and now we are going to Bahrain for the first time. I’m beginning to understand the soul of the people”.


On... no room for improvisation at his shows

“It is very difficult to change on the spot. Sometimes I do but not a lot. Depending on the reaction of the audience, I may extend a piece or make a solo little different, take a song out or add a song. I’m very particular about the notes. I don’t want them changed, even though I give leeway to the solo players. They are allowed to change a little here and there but not a lot. Like I said, the songs that I write have a message”.


... or in his life

“Oh my God, no, because if you change one little thing in my life, I wouldn’t be who I am today —even the smallest thing. I’m very approachable and tend to be humble. I treat everyone equally. I believe if you spend time with people to make them feel comfortable, then you’ve served your purpose in life. But when I’m alone, I’m a very complex person with complicated emotions and am competitive in a good way, which I think is necessary to be creative. Some things were very difficult — I’ve gone through painful times but I’ve learnt so much from the pain. I’ve no regrets”.