LivingMusic: Nana Mouskouri – A Place in My Heart

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It seems like only yesterday since I returned from Madrid in July, and today I am packing for yet another journey – this time back to Bangkok. The good side of packing is that it not only makes you take stock of the essentials you will need for the itinerary you have in mind, but also makes you realize that the next few weeks are not meant for a mundane or mediocre life. It will be days of life in hotel rooms, of room service, taxis, laptop, different timmings ……

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Bangkok is not a Mr. Stranger to me – once a Bang (village) of thatched houses amidst the kok (wild plum) trees that eventually took the form of “Bangkok”. It is home to many of my friends and to my business connections whom we make it a point to visit almost every year since the last eleven years.

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The people of Bangkok have a certain energy and personality, a certain charm and graciousness. Thai tranquility is the result of their supreme tolerance of others.

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True to its dictum as the Land of Smiles, we have had quite a good measure of momentous and happy moments there.

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This would be our first Christmas in Bangkok even though we had a lovely time there for New Year back in 2006 having spent the Christmas of 2005 in Singapore. Being in Bangkok would mean that 2012 would be the second time since we moved into our present apartments that the Christmas decorations and the crib will not be set up.

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7I will miss the beauty that would have surrounded me in the festive decorations throughout our house, illuminated with the glow of candles and fairy lights. We will also miss making mince pies in our house, and tucking presents in secret places. However, the Christmas tree, stars and angels have all appeared in their relevant places.

Talking of angels, the other day I was playing Greek singer Panos (Panagiotis) Psaltis’ Aggele Mou (My Angel) while sorting out my suitcases. Now, that is a song with so much sadness within it that it tugs at your heart strings. In this poignant song that wafted out of my music system, Panos calls for an angel to come down to earth to give advice on how to heal his troubled heart.

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Then again, many a Greek songs have a peculiar melancholic aura that hangs around your head for a while when you first hear them – at least for me. Of the few singers from Greece of the 1960s I like, how can I forget Nana Mouskouri or Demis Roussos (Forever and Ever) whose songs capture the flavour and spirit of Greece perfectly?

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Carina has seen Nana Mouskouri (born Ionna Mouschouri) at a live performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London sometime back and, like the rest of the audience felt transported to Greece with Nana’s beautiful melancholic songs. The one song she liked in particular was the 1961 version of “White Roses from Athens” (Weiße Rosen aus Athen), which I too agree is a beautiful song.

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Born to theatre usherette Aliki (Alice) and film projectionist Constantine Mouskouri in Chania, Crete in Greece on October 13, 1934, Nana Mouskouri’s education in music started at a very early age. Aiming for a career in the classical field, her lessons were rooted in piano, harmony and vocal. Conforming to her parents wish for her to become a classical artist, in 1950, she continued to pursue the same lessons at the classical Athens Conservatoire. In spite of this, when she heard the compositions of American Jazz music and blues, her interests took a turn to pop music and Jazz which would cast a strong influence in her musical career. She wanted to sing like Billie Holliday, Edith Piaf, Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald.

15aMaking her radio debut in 1956, she became the leading female vocalist on Radio Athens. In 1958, she met the renowned classical musician Mános Hadjidákis who had provided music for the movie “Never On Sunday” (Pote tin Kyriaki). In Greece, Mános Hadjidákis and Mitzi Theodorakis are the great poets of song. Although her shift from serious music prevented her from sitting for her final exams as she was not keeping with her classical studies, she formed a small jazz group consisting of friends and started performing as a songstress at the Tzaki, a “tavern” in Athens and later in various nightclubs in the Greek capital.

16aMoved by Nana’s artistry, Hadjidákis went ahead to compose pop songs for her. Having done her initial recording in Greece, Nana went on to win honours at the 1960 Festival of Mediterranean Song in Barcelona (Spain). Her impressive performance against highly professional competitors brought her a recording contract with Paris-based Phillips-Fontana and many offers. It was the beginning of a shooting star called Nana Mouskouri.

Nana was soon to become popular all over the world as one of the greatest Greek singers. But before all this, when she was thirty-three, she embarked on a tour with Harry Belafonte throughout America which turned out to be highly successful. Belafonte had been looking for a partner having decided to part from Myriam Makeba (yes, the one who sang “Pata Pata” in 1957). In her “Memoirs”, Nana writes about how she embarked on this tour.

17aIn order to audition Nana, whom Belafonte had seen on Eurovision, had sought the help of Quincy Jones and Irving Green to have her brought over to New York. Although Nana met up with Belafonte and his wife Julie for dinner at Trader Vic’s at the Plaza Hotel, the next day he was absent “due to a last-minute problem” when she appeared for audition at his headquarters on Sixty-Seventh Street. Taking stock of the situation, Nana had put all her heart into that audition, her voice resplendent with melancholy, nostalgia and dreams. The audience gave her a standing ovation after she sang half-dozen Greek songs followed by a couple of her favourite French songs. Even Belafonte, who in fact had posted himself in the adjoining room listening to her in order to avoid having to get rid of her if she disappointed him, turned up in the audition hall to cheer her at the beginning of her last song. The next day, she won the part – stepping into the shoes of Myriam Makeba.

18aIn 1962, Quincy Jones produced her first U.S album titled “Nana Mouskouri in New York” which also became a great success. That album featured a dozen songs including “That’s My Desire”, “No Moon at All”, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” (written by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach for the operetta “Roberta” (1933)), “I Get a Kick Out of You”, “But Not For Me” (Written by George and Ira Gershwin for musical “Girl Crazy” (1930)), “Almost Like Being in Love”, etc.

The voice is the most natural instrument that exists. It is with vocal music that the history of music had begun. Nana has a voice that is flawless and perfect, surprisingly mellow, far reaching and dynamic. Without a trace of an accent, she had sung in Greek, German, Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, Hebrew, Maori, Welsh and English, perfectly at ease as a native of the country whose language she sings. This is one quality that would act as an important factor in her success and propel her into a life surrounded by musicians, assistants, sound engineers, technicians, press officers and a private secretary.

19Winner of numerous gold and platinum records, Nana’s beautiful voice and songs sours beyond the national boundaries, winning her endless admiring listeners from all over the world. She had earned this acclaim by simply being herself, her style devoid of any allegiance to that of any other renowned singer. Europe’s answer to the American songbird Barbra Streisand, Nana’s records met up with good sales in Continental Europe and the UK while in Germany, they were once constantly appearing in the top of the hit-charts.

20aDuring a career that spans half a century, Nana has recorded over 1,500 songs, selling more than 300m records. When she sings, she appears to dig deep into the depths of the lyrics, her voice blending them into magical melodies. Sometimes described as “the voice of dreams” and “the voice of nostalgia”, her songs sparkle with that inimitable Mouskouri touch like the unmistakable tones of a bouzouki. In “A Little Paper Moon” (Hartino to Feggaraki), Nana whispers in confidence of the emptiness of life when her beloved is not with her; “Never On Sunday” (Ta Pedia Ton Pirea) provides a glimpse of the life of people in the suburbs of Athens. Then there is: “Where Has My Little Boy Run Away” (Pou Petaxe T’Agori Mou), “My Love is Somewhere” (Kapou Iparhi Agapi Mou); “You Were Sweet and Kind” (Issoun Kalos); “My Dear Little Mother” (Manoula Mou); “Behind the Rose Bushes” (Pisso  Apo Tis Triandafilies); “Hello Love”; “Dance Till Your Shoes Fall Off”; “Only Love”; “Love Minus Zero/No Limit”; “Even Now”, “The Last Rose of Summer”; “Feelin’ Groovy”; “Land of Dreams”; “Christos Genate”; etc…. the list of songs are endless. With an essentially pure yet complicated voice, her songs are delivered with a proud modesty, always striving for that perfection regardless whether the lyrics she sings are tragic poetry or pedestrian commercial phrases.

21As a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, she had helped raise funds to help children. In March 2010, having served as a member of the European parliament for five years from 1994 until 1999, she offered her annual pension of 25,000 euros to tackle the crippling economic crisis of Greece, pledging it until debt-laden Greece climb out of its economic black hole.

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There is always music in our house. I have always found it wonderful for relaxation – even just a little background music when I work would provide me with the emotional charge. I have a couple of Nana’s albums (LPs) and for the rest of her songs, for the time being I will have to depend on the Internet.

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At Christmas, play and make good cheer, for Christmas comes but once a year,” wrote Thomas Tusser four hundred and fifty years ago. Now that Christmas is around the corner, its message of peace and goodwill is loud and clear. The joys of giving and sharing; of cards and Christmas trees; of family reunions and good friends meeting once again – that’s all part of the essence of Christmas. At this time of hope – of joy – of love, I will be remembering many of the happy days; of days of laughing conversations; and other treasured times of good and bad now past. And I would welcome that peace which comes down to earth during this time of the year to find a resting place in my heart.

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But what is Christmas time without Christmas songs? For every Christmas we add new decorations to our existing collection. Likewise, we fondly carry over a tradition of choosing one main Christmas music album for each Christmas season. Last year, it was the Sinatra family.

25aThe year before, we were entertained by the album of cherished carols by The Hamburg Students’ Choir who had made those recordings on the Christmas Eve of 1955 during a service attended by British Armed Forces in Hamburg.

This year it will be Nana Mouskouri who will provide an overall mood which is encompassingly mellow. I do not have “The Christmas Album” of Nana but that would be available at MBK or elsewhere in Bangkok. I am sure, Nana’s “The Christmas Album” would provide the perfect musical accompaniment for this Christmas season, especially since it contains the German versions of “Silent night” (Stille Nacht heilige  Nacht), and “O Christmas tree” (O Tannenbaum) and “O come all ye faithful” and “Hark the herald angels sing” in English.

26Lobby of The Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Bangkok

27Now that we are leaving the well-padded perimeter of predictability of our home to be amidst the many activities in the fascinating Krung Thep, the “City of Angels” (Bangkok), I wonder when I will be able to make my next post. But I would think of this break as the rose bush that is cut back in the winter so that it may grow strong in the spring. However, the one thing I know for sure is that I will find time to visit the blogs of my great circle of friends and enjoy the company of each one of you during this wonderful season of the year.

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Moon in the sky softly creeping
Over the town from above
And I lie awake hardly sleeping
So lonely for only your love

Even now, each night, I remember
Days of summer when blossoms filled each bough
In the cold, gray days of December,
My darling, I miss you even now

When will I see you again?

Come to my arms where you belong
My world will be empty till then
For you are the words to my song

Even now, each night, I remember
Days of summer when blossoms filled each bough
In the cold, gray days of December,
My darling, I miss you even now
In the cold, gray days of December,
My darling, I miss you even now

Ciao, Jo

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 (Lyrics of song: “Even Now” by Nana Mouskouri can be heard in YouTube:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qA2MYrElKco )

(Music albums of Nana Mouskouri are available with main dealers such as amazon.com, HMV, etc)

(Text and all photos (except of Nana Mouskouri and album sleeves): © JS/Manningtree Archive)

40 thoughts on “LivingMusic: Nana Mouskouri – A Place in My Heart

  1. Lovely post. Thank you. I saw one of her concerts in Montreal years and years ago. It was fabulous! She’s a great choice for your Christmas soundtrack this year. Can’t wait for your posts to begin again because Bangkok is somewhere I want to visit. Until then, travel safe and Merry Christmas! And all the best for a peaceful, happy and healthy New Year.

  2. OMG Nana Mouskouri !!! Never stopped singing Never on a Sunday , after I first heard it ! What a voice – so captivating ! Thanks so much for sharing this. Can you put one of her songs up on FB if you have the time ?
    Much love to you and Carina for Christmas and the New Year. . My daughter and her family are also spending Christmas in Bangkok, but will be back befor the New Year.
    Have fun both of you !!

  3. Oh my Goodness! I’d forgotten all about Nana. I used to listen to her when I was a teenager. I can’t wait to get to iTunes and download some of her beautiful work.

    And Bangkok looks like an enchanting place to visit. Maybe one day I’;; get to go there. 🙂

  4. You take me back! And yesterday need not necessarily be a ‘cancelled cheque’ as in the saying! Hope I may share with dear friends who would feel the same emotional heart tug!!

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