Yanni finds inspiration in ethnicity 2004-03-05 By Sandi Davis The Oklahoman
Yanni may look more like the cover model for a romantic novel than a world-famous musician, but don't let it fool you.
You can hear Yanni weave together a globe's worth of notes to create music that is evocative and full of his own worldview Thursday night at the Ford Center during his "Ethnicity" tour.
Yanni was in Houston in late January when he had time to talk about the Oklahoma City show. He was in Texas to play in the opening concert for Super Bowl festivities. He was going to the game, but his concert was for luminaries.
"The concert honored 38 Houston athletes, but President George Bush and his wife, Barbara, were there, too," Yanni said in a phone interview. "I did the music. There were plenty of touching moments in that show, and my music included pieces from the show I did at the Acropolis, like 'Santorini.'"
Yanni, a native of Kalmata, Greece, was a member of the Greek national swimming team and broke his nation's freestyle record when he was 14.
After high school, Yanni came to the United States and got a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Minnesota before deciding on a music career.
He credits his past for his musical instincts.
I grew up in a different culture. I listened to Middle Eastern and African music, then rock," he said. "I experimented until I found the sound I like."
While Yanni concentrates on keyboards, he's hired his own orchestra made up of what he calls virtuoso musicians who bring their culture with them. That helps him when he writes, and he carves out a sound that has global appeal.
"We're all different religions, different schools of thought and beliefs," he said. "I give them music, and they interpret it using all they know.
"I think it's safe to say, excluding myself, that my band is the most versatile in the world," he said. "I'm like a sponge. Whether the music is American or Indian, if I listen to it, I absorb it like a sponge. Anything I hear stays with me. I don't remember the names of things, but the sounds."
The musician also has written a book with David Rensin, "Yanni in Words," that details his life from Greece to now.
The 49-year-old musician doesn't take his success for granted.
"I hadn't done an album in three years, and I was worried when I came back if I would have an audience," he said. "I started touring when the war in Iraq started. It was a difficult time, but the fans came back."
His "Ethnicity" album includes instruments such as the Australian didgeridoo, the Armenian duduk, Celtic violin and India's tabla. His mixing of music reflects his "one world, one people" outlook. "There are similarities in music worldwide, from the sound of the didgeridoo to Tibetan throat chanting," Yanni said. "Human beings around the world arrive at similar ideas of their own in music."
Looking back to his beginnings, he remembers when he played synthesizers and the music he made wasn't considered real by purists. That outlook has changed as hip-hop, techno, electronica and nightclub music mixes brought electronic music to the forefront.
Yanni's concert Thursday will feature a lot of musical pyrotechnics, a great light show and huge screens so that everyone will have a good view of the dark-haired artist at work.